Whenever someone does a great job, we want to recognize their effort. We want to give them recognition or rewards in front of the team members to make them feel appreciated.
However, having worked in a few startups, I notice that a wrongly attributed recognition can cause the best engineers to feel frustrated. If it happens frequently, they quit.
"everybody knows that you need more prevention than treatment, but few reward acts of prevention." ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
In the book, the author mentions that we always reward the person who solves the problem. But we fail to reward the acts of prevention because the problem does not appear in the first place. People around it fail to recognize the impact the problem will cause and therefore no recognition is given.
The best seniors engineers are always there to prevent the problem from happening. They are the one who says no to the shortcut that often leads to catastrophe errors. In contrast, the engineers who give in to the tight timeline took the shortcut and hope for the best are often the ones who gain recognition.
Why is that so?
The engineers who took the shortcut, create the problem. Regardless if they deliver to the timeline, they are closer to the problem. They are now tasked to fix the problem. Even if the engineer can only solve the problem by reverting the shortcut and implement a new solution, they are the ones being recognized for resolving the issue.
The problem happens. The damage is done. Management who has no technical knowledge now knows the impact of the problem. They gave recognition to the engineer who resolves the issue. The very same engineers who cause the problem in the first place.
Your best engineers are at the side secretly shaking their heads. They could have prevented the problem from happening in the first place. But would you have seen it?
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