Which norms should we apply in the engineering organization

In our everyday life we are dealing with two kinds of norms: market norms and social norms. Imagine you want to relocate and you ask a friend to help you. It is very likely that your friend is happy to help you, she/he will for sure enjoy the pizza and coke which you will buy her/him for 10 Euros after a day of heavy carrying. Now, compare this with a situation where you ask your friend for that help offering her/him 20 Euros as a compensation. Although, from the economics point of view, the second deal is for your friend by 100% better than the first one, she/he is more likely to reject you request and find some excuses.

What is going on here? In the first situation, where you asked your friend to do you a favor, your friend applied the social norms. In this context, people are driven by social values and they are happy when they get social acknowledgment and to be a positive actor in their social environment.
But once we offer money as compensation for work, market norms are applied. In this case the 20 Euros are for your friend a miserable deal compared with her/his daily wage which might be more than 100 Euros.

Considering the engineering organization, market norms play for sure a role. They might be important for a job decision and during salary negotiations. Beyond that and once engineers are involved in the work, market norms become less important and play barely a role in motivating them to do a good job.
The real motivator and driver for our engineers for doing an outstanding job are rather the social norms.

Applying market norms in engineering is an easy job. We just need to do the simple math and give our engineers what they deserve according to the local market.
On the other side, creating social norms and emphasizing social values that drive the engineering organization is a much harder job which requires from everyone in the organization and from the management in the first place to consciously take actions.

The following points represent some of possible practices which could foster social norms and social values within the engineering organization:

People Development

One of the most important social values in the organization is when the employees feel valued. It is a responsibility of the engineering management to work consciously on developing skills and capabilities of their team members. Having a continuous conversations, where the skills, the needs, the improvements and the targets of the employee are in the center and creating a solid development plan is essential to making the employees feel that the organization care about them and truly value them.

Knowledge Sharing

Learning/Teaching is one of our strongest social driver. When we learn something we automatically develop a positive connection to the people who teached us and to the environment where it happened. On the other side being a mentor strengthens the feeling that one’s knowledge is not only appreciated from the company but also from the community in and around it.

Also here the management could do a lot to foster a knowledge sharing environment in the organization:

  • Creating a dynamic team structure which facilitates knowledge sharing and enhances communication
  • Supporting a “show what you did/learned” mentality which could start with engineers doing small presentations within the team and end with them giving talks at big conferences
  • Creating and maintaining a tech blog where engineers could place their leanings and show their achievements
  • Fostering a significant contribution to open source projects

The Connection to the Product

Software engineers do this job because they love technology and that’s good. But technology is by itself not the purpose. The purpose is the great products that we can create by applying technology.
Each digital product (OK maybe most of them 🙂 ) is there to make the world a better place. Adopting a mantra like “I am not here to code but to help people to live a better life” could help engineers to manifest their contribution to better world.
The responsibility of the management here is to create an infrastructure where engineers are involved in product decisions and to foster an innovation driven culture based on customer needs where engineers are empowered to bring their own ideas to life.


Compared to market norms, social norms are the stronger driver in the engineering organization. Social norms and social values are essential for the overall outcome of the organization. Creating these values is a responsibility of every member in the organization. The engineering management plays a central role with establishing a social infrastructure where social values can live and grow.

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