My wife, Trish, and I had a great conversation the other night about work and it can be summed up in one word: “heart”. If your heart’s not in it, then don’t expect anyone around you to feel the same or to want something to work.
It’s not necessarily about loving your job (although that helps) but putting your heart into it. Those who work around you can see it in the way you approach things and will want to contribute. Lose heart and you’ve got nothing : an empty shell that can essentially be replaced by anything or anyone.
As developers, we’re lucky to work in an area where inspiration can be seen in so many different products and concepts but in larger companies, it’s easy to tell when people have lost heart in what they do. I see it in some developers though – they do their jobs fixing bugs, writing code, etc but fail to get excited about it or contribute a sense of anything except “oh well”.
The most successful projects are ones that have proven schedules and approaches to development : almost a “cookie-cutter” type of development so the work can certainly seem repetitive but if your heart is in it, even the most mundane task can inspire others around it.
This isn’t just true in software development but everywhere. Customer Service relies on people who have “heart”. Successful sales people have “heart”. Every Saturday morning, I see Honda Victory with Rockin’ Rick and Austin (terrible web site, so I won’t link to it) hawking the deals on Detroit’s Channel 4 (http://www.clickondetroit.com). While it’s simply a car commercial, they are constantly excited and on the ball – it shows because they actually have put enough into this single advertising concept, that their message changes each week – but the enthusiasm is always the same.
In contrast, many companies now rely on telemarketers to “sell” their message. That’s annoying enough – but someone actually thought it would be a great idea to have “pre-recorded” messages called into homes. You know – if you want my business, then care enough to actually have someone TELL me about it.
In Ottawa, we just had a BananaRepublic (www.bananarepublic.com) store open. Now you might think : well, they’re in retail sales – of course they’re going to be pushing – they’re on commission. Fact is they aren’t on commission. They don’t even get discounts. But the attitude of whoever hired the sales team there inspired them all the same way: they aren’t just trying to sell you a sweater, they want to sell you a wardrobe and they’re excited about the clothes! (actually, check out http://customerevangelists.typepad.com/blog/2004/10/positively_outr.html for another great story about great customer service in retail sales)
Having “heart” can be a reciprocal thing as well. I recently introduced a product called ExecView (http://www.mtihorizon.com/execview.htm) to a number of trucking companies. One company, PDQ Transit (http://www.pdqtransit.com) loved it and got so excited that they bought huge monitors to display it in their operations department. As a result, their dispatching and sales team see their results every day and are inspired to do better. Every week, we get together and discuss ways of making it do more. Their excitement has increased my enthusiasm for it, making it consistently better.
My mother in law has Alzheimer’s and is in a great home that takes very good care. But you can easily tell the nurses that have “heart” and those simply are there for the work and you can tell who was working that day based on my mum’s mood that day. She was recently in hospital where the doctors had stock responses as to why things weren’t going well (“contact the hospital administrator”) yet some of the nurses, who had to do the worst kind of tasks (sponge baths and bed pan work), provided the most amazing care for her. They had “heart” and it showed. Three weeks after her hip operation and she’s starting to walk again.
I don’t understand why companies hire people who don’t have heart – maybe they think that the job they are hiring for is so meaningless, it doesn’t matter. Well, they’re wrong – every job has a meaning, even if it’s answering phones or sweeping the floor.
Finding people who have heart in what they do takes time but in the end, it’s worth it – to both the person who’s doing it and the people they provide the service to.