A Sense Of Urgency: RAMPS As A Motivation Model

Part 1 of 15 in the series RAMPS

A very common question: managers turn to me and say, "My team lacks a sense of urgency, how can I give them one?"

After I get over the snarky replies — I come from a long line of "the managed" — I do have what I think is an answer: "Study the idea of RAMPS, find the missing or depleted elements, move to restore them. And friend, don’t expect you can do it using words."

RAMPS is my acronym for the five drives I believe must be balanced for strong motivation: Rhythm, Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose, & Safety.

Rhythm is periods of tension leading to periods of release. It’s the coming and going of energy & intensity. Autonomy is the sense of being able to control one’s own situation, a kind of freedom of action within some broad boundaries. Mastery is about growth, the idea that every person has in mind a better self they want to approach. Mastery is the sense of approach. Purpose is the sense of belonging to a movement or activity that is more than just one person in the dark, it is the shared goal. And Safety is the belief that we are allowed to be different, even wrong, whether it be temporally local or temperamentally global.

I think of these as sliders — I think of everything as a slider these days — positioned on their little scales of 1-10. The managers asking me this are normally sitting at 9-10 in purpose, and with the others set very low, perhaps at 0. That’s the situation usually, by the time a manager is tearing her hair out coming to me with that question.

There is no one one best way to set those sliders. People are different, and teams made from people are different.But i’ve rarely seen a high-performing aggregate whose only motivation was their shared purpose. If you want your team to want to be at work, to want to be fired up, to want to be nailing it, you must husband & attend to all five.

Teams lacking safety lack ideas, cuz having a new idea is scary. Ideas are the fundamental unit of software progress. Teams lacking purpose got no where to go. they don’t belong to something larger, so they don’t go the extra mile to stay in it. Teams lacking the drive for mastery are drones, having locked in their achievements, never to progress again inside the team. Teams lacking autonomy lack the freedom to make things worse, but they also lack the freedom to make them better. Teams lacking rhythm are either exhausted from non-stop effort or bored from non-stop conservation of effort. Neither way works for long.

My guess is that a team "lacking a sense of urgency" has deficits in everything but purpose. And purpose is buttressed by each of the others, which are after all highly intertwined, supporting & building off each other. Stressing purpose to the exclusion of the others is a very common mistake, and often a nearly fatal one.

I’ve more to say on all of this, maybe one by one over time, but that’s enough for now.
RAMPS — Rhythm, Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose, and Safety.

Someone else said it better than me: make great software by making great teams.

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