"If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Hire people who can not only manage themselves but can even manage you.
You're going to laugh, and I'll probably lose 90% of readers here :) But for full disclosure: I've just now gotten around to reading 7 habits by Stephen Covey. There's actually some good stuff in there. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mission statements, win-win, Synergy! :) yada yada yada.
But I've recently been working on speed reading, and upgraded my reading speed by 3-4X. So now I can pick up books and get a lot more value out of them, because their verbosity and redundancy isn't slowing me down or wasting my time. (I'll share some speed reading tips soon.)
Anyways, Covey has a good bit in there about him teaching his 7 year old son to take care of the lawn. He basically helped show him how and then gave his kid some basic guidelines. Here's part of the conversation with his kid, Covey begins:
"So you boss yourself. Now, guess who your helper is."
"I am," I said. "You boss me."
"That's right. But my time to help is limited. Sometimes I'm away. But when I'm here, you tell me how I can help. I'll do anything you want me to do"
Everyone's trying to figure out how to keep their employees motivated. So many of my friends and family express that the dread in their workplace is palpable. It's the economy, it's the weather, it's something. So I can't help notice the questions folks ask about hiring, or motivating their employees, or how to get them kick started again "to be innovative" :)
I've found the best "motivation" is to treat your employees like the smart adults they are. They become demotivated when they are treated like worker bees. Not every company feels they have the luxury to treat their employees this way, but look at the successes at 3M, Google, Facebook, 37signals, where they give tons of freedom to employees to invent their own projects.
Make sure your employees have some guidelines about where you want to go. Then go ask them what they want to and should work on. Maybe it can't be 100% of the time type of project, but you might be able to give them a good chunk of time to work on it. There's nothing more motivating than when they become their own bosses and start creating or just doing what needs to get done like a human being naturally does.
I make a habit of constantly asking - what do you think we should be working on?, what kind of technologies would you like to be working with?, and then we make an effort to try out those projects. I never had that kind of opportunity in my 7 years of working for other people, and I hated almost every minute of it.
I love it when folks I manage assign me tickets. "I added this feature we were talking about, can you take a look at it to see if it does what it should do?" or "I saw an issue and made the following change... can you double check it before I release it?" or "I'm thinking this new feature might really help people do..." This helps me manage my time by putting these things in the queue by priority and allows employees to move onto the next thing instead of waiting around for feedback.
Let me know what I need to do to help you.
Too many companies just want their employees to work like drones. If you want your employees to feel like drones, just keep feeding them tickets in the ticket system without opportunity for input.
Find people who can boss you around.