At every company I've ever worked, it's been easy to tell the high performers from the low ones. There's often a correlation between those the level of performance and the satisfaction people have in their jobs. Higher performers are often happy, and low performers are not. That isn't necessarily 100% true, but it has seemed to work that way in most of my jobs.
I don't know if there's any causality there. Are people happier because they do better I their jobs? Or if they find something in which they excel, does that make them happier? I think it's a case of people having some level of passion about their work, that the work is important to them, and that makes them more willing to do the work and excel at it.
I recently read Drive, by Dan Pink, and it was a book that really made me rethink the world and how I view it. The book talks about motivation and the ways that we humans are motivated to work at something. The book challenges the assumptions that most companies have used to drive workers over the last few decades: monetary rewards for high performance and punishments for a lack of effort.
It's a hard concept to understand, much less buy into, but there is this idea that humans like to work, that we need a task, and more importantly, we need a purpose in our lives. There is some truth to that, and I think that many experiments have shown that the majority of people will get work done, and people do want to work. You can count on people to actually do their jobs, especially in technology where we seem to enjoy solving problems and making things run efficiently.
Not everyone is self motivated or self directed, but I think many people can be trusted to get work done, especially once they understand why it's necessary.
If you want and interesting book about business, give Drive a try, or check out this cool animation of Mr. Pink's talk on the subject.
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