Motivation is complex

Posted by Mark Sears

Wed, Oct 31, 2012

As a social business, money isn't the only or even main bottom-line we track at CloudFactory and we are learning it isn't the only motivator for our workforce either. This last year we have been making the transition from an engineering-focused tech startup to building up one of the largest distributed workforces in the world. In order to build up and manage that workforce we continue to have a crazy focus on tech - but there has been a shift. In our office you will hear Ruby on Rails, MongoDB and big data talk interspersed with behavioural psychology, game dynamics and intrinsic motivational speak.

You will see that we are spending more of our time and resources building out our network in emerging nations instead of trying to become part of the who's who in the Silicon Valley network.

We continue to live and work from the developing world so we can be close to the people we are trying to empower and connect to meaningful employment. By staying close to our workforce we can learn from and identify with them. The key for a great workforce is building trust and finding the right forms of motivation. Even in the poorest areas of the world, motivation is no longer purely based on economic need and desperation.

When I moved to Nepal four years ago I thought people would do anything to get and keep a job given the 47% unemployment and $650 average annual income. Then I saw people quitting jobs they really needed for some pretty strange reasons. Motivation is complex! In Asia there is a culture of honor and shame that supersedes almost anything to do with money.

People here are less enslaved to money than we are in the West. In North America we have mortgages, credit card debt and expenses that require us to feed that ever growing appetite of the money beast. But in developing countries, people just need a few basics like rice and vegetables to be happy and satisfied. They have their extended family to help out and in general are able to live simply and adjust better than we could ever understand.

So what drives the next generation of the developing world if it isn't money? I think it is the huge desire to learn new things and make something of themselves. It is a fairly universal motivator but in the developing world, the next generation has spent the last decade watching the developed world from the sidelines via all those pirated hollywood movies. Now they want to get off the bench and into the game so they can contribute and be a part of that world. Foreign aid money has allowed them to study English and computers and now it is about gaining that first taste of independence and climbing the modern employment chain by obsessing over self-improvement.

We have also seen the power of motivation through organizing our workforce into teams. This brings motivation through accountability, friendly competition and the desire to be in community. People everywhere have always desired to be known, to be loved and to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Our cloud workers are making life-long friends within their teams and they are investing in to each other and their own communities.

Being apart of something that is changing them and changing their nation is an important motivator. All of this is deeper than simply putting up leaderboards and allowing people to earn points and badges. It is more complicated than machine learning, scaling web systems and functional programming all rolled into one. We are all learning that figuring out people is much harder than technology!

But all the hard work is worth it now that we see happy, motivated people doing great work directly leading to happy, recurring customers. This beautiful cycle is the reason we continue to refine our workforce model and build crazy tech to support and scale our distributed workforce. So more businesses can get quality work done at scale and improve their business processes. 

So more individuals, families and nations can be transformed and lifted out of poverty. Now that is a really good motivator!