Leadership

How to motivate IT pros

Unhappy workers are unproductive workers. Here are some tips for motivating IT pros.

I recently heard a news program remark that 85% of the people working today are either unhappy with or completely hate their job. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what effect this kind of employee dissatisfaction can have on productivity. As an IT leader, this is a huge problem for you, especially if you're on the front line.

There are some unhappy tech workers out there, but you can change that if you know what gets them excited. Here are some tips.

Starting with the obvious

It's logical to assume that higher paid workers are happier workers. Cash, in some shape or form, is a great external motivator. For example,  I was once in the final stages of a data warehousing project with a large high-tech firm, just as they were deciding to upgrade their ERP-our upstream system. They approached me with a residual project, to help maintain continuity with the data warehouse while the upgrade was being done. That's the last thing I wanted to do --until we discussed the fee. At $300,000, I actually started to like this project, and I happily did a great job.

If you use money as a motivator, keep these three rules in mind:

  • Money can be used only as a temporary motivator; it will not have lasting effect. Use it for a short stretch (i.e., three to six months).
  • Make the amount significant. A $10 gift card to Starbucks is nice, but it's not going to motivate anybody.
  • Make it clear up front what the goal is and what the reward will be when the goal is attained. If you want the team to work together, make sure it's a team-level reward and not specific to high-producing individuals.

Motivating from within

The advantage to intrinsic motivation is its permanence. If you plan to have your team for longer than a year, you must focus in this direction to keep the team members in a consistent stream of motivation. The key to understanding intrinsic motivation for technical experts comes from understanding their sense of professionalism. Most have a technical degree of some sort; some have advanced degrees. That means they've devoted a significant amount of time and energy, before they even met you, to a discipline that they care very much about. They define themselves by what they do for a living, which transcends your company.

With this in mind, you must motivate them down three paths simultaneously:

  • Through the greater good of the organization. Technical experts like to know that they're contributing to a greater good and hear what impact their contribution will have on the company. They want the company to succeed just as much as you do. Tell them specifically how their work will improve the company's situation.
  • Through the advancement of their professional skill. Give them an opportunity to master their skill as technical professionals. Send them to technical training once in a while and give them the opportunity to go vertical with their skill (i.e., learn new and advanced tools of areas they're already good at) and horizontal (i.e., learn tools in a related but different technical discipline).
  • Through the development of their problem-solving skills. Technical people are problem solvers by nature. That's what they love to do, so the more problems you give them to solve, the better they feel. It's important to note that you should allow them to solve the problems. Do not micromanage. Set the objectives and allow them to figure out the problem. It's a very rewarding experience.

Your resources are the most important part of your organization. With the vast majority of people in this economy unhappy with their jobs, it's important now more than ever that your technical team is motivated and excited to be at work, not just thankful that they have a job. Cash is OK for temporary bursts, but the real power lies in your ability to motivate from inside.

John Weathington is President and CEO of Excellent Management Systems, Inc., a management consultancy that helps executives turn chaotic information into profitable wisdom. For over 20 years, John has been an information management consultant to clients of all sizes, including Fortune 100 icons such as Sun Microsystems, Cisco, and eBay. For more information, please visit http://www.xmsystems.com.

About

John Weathington is President and CEO of Excellent Management Systems, Inc., a management consultancy that helps executives turn chaotic information into profitable wisdom.

45 comments
jeannymyx
jeannymyx

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ebrahim.rangwala
ebrahim.rangwala

Promotions of Employees is also a great motivation factor, Many a times good salary year after year, with no promotions in grade, effects the carreer growth,regular promotions with delegation of responsibility also helps motivate employees and retains them with a company for a longer time.

5bennema
5bennema

There is more to it then just motivating. motivation stems from many differing areas within the employees subconcious

dd8989
dd8989

Leadership Leadership Leadership You do not manage Marines up a hill, you lead them.

TooOldToRemember
TooOldToRemember

it should go without saying that you need to think back on what motivated you (or de-motivated you) and treat your people accordingly. Training is good, money is good, but treating your people like they really are the asset that HR defines them as goes a long way. Most people I know quit jobs because of their manager and stayed at a job for the same reason. All things being equal in two jobs would you want to be abused or appreciated?

mafergus
mafergus

Seriuosly, it is a very good write up. Money is nice, but it has to mixed with opportunities to advance, and I believe a manager has to work in the best interest of his/her people. They have to believe and know that you are their advocate. I always treated my organizations like family. My people knew, even if the crap hit the fan, they weren't getting exposed, and nobody would get called out publicly for putting in an hinest effort. There were several occasions where just a little creativity can make a huge difference, because it's not just how you treat your people, it's how everyone else treats theirs. We had an instance where training budgets were slashed and I was able to take advantage of our relationship with a local training house to provide significant discounts in training. I went and offered this to the other IT groups and they all ignored it, but I got a ton of new talent that year when people saw us getting training they could never dream of! The best part was my people knew i put in the extra effort for them.

Ashby
Ashby

Not sure that money is the be all and end all. Not enough money clearly demotivates and makes the individual unhappy with his/her lot. Enough money take the unhappiness and demotivation away but more than enough is more likely to make the bank manager happy! For me, it was always job interest that drove me. Two employers who realized this enjoyed my contributions for 16 and 18 years respecively and I think I can say I never got up in the morning wishing I didn't have to go to work. I'd call that motivation! So why did I leave them, in case you were wondering? First job, IT was a service department and there was a glass ceiling unless you were associated with the product line - meant you got forced out of IT Pro and into management. Second was a computer company, but economics closed the primary product line, so I went independent. Z.

Englebert
Englebert

. Dont give them ridiculous deadlines . Dont treat them like 2nd class employees . Dont think they do not have a life besides work . Do challenge them with technology . Do bond with them and their team . Do appreciate what they do for the organization

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

I think it was from CIO Insight, but don't hold me to it. At any rate, it stated that outside of financial incentives, a survey showed that what techs most favorably respond to are: 1). Flexible Scheduling 2). Rewarding work 3). Opportunities for development (training) It also mentioned that actual recognition for the work was the lowest reported motivator (2% of respondents listed it); which seemed to come as a surprise.

MikeG3b
MikeG3b

All too often employers treat "IT Pros" as office equipment -- no more important to the company than a printer or fax machine, and as easily replaced. The result, of course, is that many companies feel no more compelled to reward its IT members than to reward a printer for its hard work. John makes some very good points in his post, but the sad truth is that IT people are very, very often held in low regard by upper management. Middle managers may care very much for their reports, but as long as upper management controls salaries, bonuses, and promotions, many -- if not most -- IT professionals have no more significance to the company than a fax machine.

Dereckonline
Dereckonline

Part of the greater good is more of a philosophical twist - we all want to leave a legacy and contributing to something bigger than yourself if quite rewarding.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've seen guys that wouldn't put in an hour of overtime strictly for the money but would gladly put in a 14-hour day when the boss ordered pizza.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

Much better than one used by a company that I once worked for; who would motivate IT by layoffs of 10% every 8 to 10 years. They would then freeze salaries and threaten the rest with layoffs. It worked too, right up until the time that those who had been laid off told their former co-workers what the salaries were really like in the outside world. Around 60% of the remaining IT people were motivated to find employment elsewhere.

Dan.S
Dan.S

It is hard to remember those days sometimes but it IS the most important thing; put yourself in their position and think about if you were to appreciate the treatment or not. On the other hand, I have found it very beneficial to pull someone aside who was unhappy and explain him/her where I was coming from. Basically saying ?put yourself in my position and think about what you had done in this case? and it works wonders. Complains aside, I still think gift cards worth $25-100 here and there for going above and beyond is a nice thing and our guys here definitely appreciate it. Restaurant cards where they can invite spouses to is always a good thing too.

50-50
50-50

Research has clearly demonstrated that too little money is, by far, the single strongest demotivator for salaried professional staff. Lack of meaningful bonuses hurts morale and motivation, too, especially when management gets bonuses but staff does not. Until the unemployment picture improves and large numbers of IT pros start voting with their feet again, too many shops will continue to attempt to motivate technical staff by saying, "Just shut-up and be glad you have a job. We could replace all of you for a dime a dozen offshore." I disagree that "more than enough is more likely to make the bank manager happy" without motivating the overpaid employee. I've observed that paying folks significantly more than what they think they're worth results in a very strongly motivated workforce. Those folks work very hard to improve to the point where they think that maybe they're almost worth what they're being paid. They're trying to live up to very high expectations instead of living down to mediocre expectations which is what underpaid folks tend to do. JMO, YMMV.

avatar_man
avatar_man

Dead on - I don't think it will ever happen outside of a massive I.T. Union movement. They have the best of both worlds - most IT are Salary Exempt (according to FLSA, on par with engineers, attorneys and doctors) - but yet degreed I.T. Professionals are treated poorly, unprofessionally and without regard from the most basic office worker. Also viewed as nothing but a cost that can and should be trimmed, winnowed or outsourced at the first sign of non-conformity to the assumed service model (which more than likely is created by people who have no clue as to what they should do to actually serve their business properly). Very difficult to maintain motivation when the business is broken from the top down more often than not. I have a litmus test, substitue I.T. with "accounting" or "HR" and see if the work environment passes the smell test. If it doesn't, then maybe the problem isn't with IT at all, maybe it's within the entrenched management.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I mean, I have a problem receiving praise myself, it's just not satisfying that other people are satisfied with something that I'm mentally kicking myself upside the head about. So recognition for work is a low factor for me... constructive feedback however, that's a rush.

MikeG3b
MikeG3b

At first I didn't quite understand why training ranked that high, but when you figure how quickly technology changes, I can see that people really want (and need, for that matter) opportunities to stay current. As a specific example, we have several Cobol programmers in my department -- ALL they know is Cobol. A few months back I tried to help one of these guys with a problem on his machine, and he couldn't grasp the concept of a "window" (moving, resizing, etc.) -- they use terminal emulation software for their programming against the HP machines, and never have to deal with the Windows environment. Any technologist who falls behind on current technologies risks a very dull career, to be sure.

AV .
AV .

Many IT pros are undervalued and I'm one of them. They take me for granted because they don't realize that a well run network or desktop environment takes hard work. AV

Tom-Tech
Tom-Tech

I've had similar "greater good" motivations from bosses previously, only to find out that when the system was finished and delivered the people using it had no idea that our team had worked on it. The IT department got credit, the Project Manager interfacing with the business got credit, we got a "thanks" from the Project Manager. That in my mind isn't motivational, it's just people doing what's expected of them. What's motivational is when you pass someone using that system in the corridor and they give you a nod / smile / raised-eyebrows-thing-people-do-when-you-make-eye-contact, because they recognise you as being that guy that helped make that thing that makes their life easier.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

We did a project at work once where we worked 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. At first it was kind of cool that we were being fed. We even got to order out at really cool restaurants. The coolness last about a week. After that, you could've have had Emeril cater at work no one would have cared.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

One free (as in beer) bagel will motivate me til lunch.

jck
jck

When I worked as a consultant on a contract at a big power utility, that was the one great perks. They would have catered lunches. And, it wasn't anything fancy. But, they had a little local caterer that had these awesome deli sandwiches and potato and macaroni salad and stuff that wasn't expensive. So, we'd have a "working lunch" for 30 mins, then eat for 30-60 mins and just BS (often with the director there who was cool), then get back to work. That is the one place I wish I could have stayed at down here. That was a great place to work...even tho the IT software development manager was a bit of a nob. lol

ljanderson
ljanderson

Absolutely! And with some of the pizza chains having specials, the boss can be a good guy without breaking the bank! Too bad more of them don't take addvantage of providing that simple carrot.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I mean, if 85% of employees are unsatisfied, then there's more to it than lacking motivation. Motivation, as I see it, is good for taking performance from standard (which is hopefully good) to peak (always a temporary state, like a turbo boost). I figure that the employer makes a sacrifice (the incentive plus the risk of employee fatigue), to complete a critical task fast enough. I'm not sure if there is such a thing as short term demoralization, so I guess the problem with unsatisfied workers comes from a negative version of intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation seems actually to be more like benign mental conditioning. "Making people feel good about the work they do". So, how do bosses succeed in making people feel so miserable about the work they do? What do you think?

kenr
kenr

"Pay", "Be flexible", "Protect them", "Recognise them", "Don't hog the credit", and "Share the interesting stuff around". Pay - pay them enough to meet their cost of living, if you don't nothing else will matter. Fight for them on this if necessary. Be flexible - you will need IT to work ridiculous hours at some stage. Accept that and cut them slack when you can, so they'll want to bail you out when you need it. Protect them - NEVER hang a member of your team out to dry unless they are criminally liable. Tell them up front what you will not tolerate (I don't tolerate lying) and protect them when they make best (and reasonable) efforts and fail. Recognise them - this can be a pizza when they're working late, a team dinner after a successful if problematic launch, really anything. One thing that is disproportionately effective is, if you have a team working back late, staying back yourself even just to make them coffee. It lets them know they're seen and appreciated. Oh, but staying back and hiding in your office doesn't help. Don't hog the credit - you'd be amazed how much it will motivate team members if, when a "big boss" is walking around you introduce them to "the person that fixed X last month" or "the person that designed/built Y for us". The positive impact on "the person" is incredible, but don't forget to find opportunities to praise all amongst the entire team (where they deserve it). Share the interesting stuff around - there will always be opportunities to learn about new cool stuff. By sharing the opportunities around you can build a team where everyone is an expert in something. It helps with workload balancing and team dynamics too. Really the focus of the above is to make you someone that your IT team members want to excel for. That's all motivation is really, and it really is about you personally. My $0.02 worth

mafergus
mafergus

Fund a huge study to compare salaries, then announce huge raises across the board. Wait about six months and then begin layoffs because you can't afford all those salaries.

MikeG3b
MikeG3b

My experience has been pretty much what both 50-50 and Asby have to say. I'll add one more: in my current environment, many (not all) of the highest-paid technical people are the most arrogant, insufferable a-holes I've ever had to work with (I work in software development). These people are empowered to architect applications, impose coding standards, review your work, etc., but have virtually no "people skills". I'm convinced it's because of the money that goes with their titles, and has little to do with their true contribution to the company's success. OTOH, there are others who are truly helpful, considerate, and inclusive in their interactions with others. It's obvious that personality figures in, but when you give a guy 2 or 3 years out of school a (much) larger salary than someone with 20 years experience, it easily influences a person's attitude.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

Unions are obsolete and do nothing but kill the goose. Make IT workers hourly and that would end the abuse right away. 24/7/365 on call is a bit of a bitch when you're paying time and a half. U.S. Labor laws make Unions obsolete.

jtechip
jtechip

That was a super statement about the smell test. I agree about the lack of respect. Sometimes challenging deadlines get established with no wiggle room and when scope changes or staff is drawn in to another project or production support simultaneously, they still have to make the deadline. Something else that is important is allow talented developers to participate in the design phases of a project and/or do the project iteratively. It is awful to feel one is working on developing a solution that is not that good - "wish they had asked me up front, there is a much better way to do this..."

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

That's so sci-fi... like some kind of technogimp kept in the back room for specific tasks. I think "professional development" and "learning new stuff" are quite common goals-in-and-of-themselves for many techs I know. And not for no reason either, ultimately, it's not a bad situation getting paid (even a little) to learn hands-on something that can (in a year or two perhaps) land you a job in a whole other league. That work experience makes the difference between run-of-the-mill tech and technology expert. Besides, even crappy IT salaries beat students stipends, at least around here, and to top it off "exams" are going to be much less arbitrary in a working situation.

adakar_sg
adakar_sg

Take two weeks off and see how many lost calls you have, then do the math on how much money your services save the company (thinking how 1hour downtime easily is 100usd pr user that suffers)

Thump21
Thump21

Terrific, Tom-Tech! Let me add, perhaps already implied, the former is more often the rule rather than the exception, ... unfortunately. This is because it takes *effort* to recognize underlings and their contributions while it takes no effort to accept narrowly targeted praise.

jck
jck

A lot of IT pros want to help the "greater good" of the company. Of course, that "greater good" often ends up being "management bonuses" and not so much good for the greater.\ I think IT people want a healthy operation across the board, and not some lop-sided deal where the IT staff (or others) work 80-100 hour weeks for months only to just be put on another project or given a paultry gift/bonus for neglecting their family/home, while at the same time seeing management given trips to a spa, $1000s (or even $10,000s) in bonuses for abusing staff. I know what you mean about the thanks thing. Had a manager who promised she'd be with us working the long hours. She never was. When we reached the first critical milestone, we continued working 70+ hour weeks, and she took a week at a spa and got a $10,000 bonus. We, the project staff, got NOTHING. That's not only not motivational, but it's a slap in the face to IT people who are dropping everything to do for the corporation and make their future better, then get nothing for their efforts. So yeah. Making the "thanks" count is what's important.

Niall Baird
Niall Baird

Kenr - I love this one "Don't hog the credit - you'd be amazed how much it will motivate team members if, when a "big boss" is walking around you introduce them to "the person that fixed X last month" or "the person that designed/built Y for us". The positive impact on "the person" is incredible, but don't forget to find opportunities to praise all amongst the entire team (where they deserve it)."

jck
jck

I've seen unionized IT shops, and much to the contradiction of what others on TR said. I have seen some very organized places with barely an inkling of an issue. I guess really if your people are good and do their job well, they will self-eliminate the bad eggs out of the basket...so to speak. TBH, I am starting to think anymore with the "do it like corporate" mentality that's even invading public sector...unions are going to have to become more prevalent for a simple reason: to make sure that effort and real results count...not just perception and dollar amounts.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

I don't speak Norwegian and there are times when my English is questionable.

adakar_sg
adakar_sg

Then you should see the Norwegian laws ;) It's great here.. you have to sabbotage yourself on a daily basis not to have a ok financial situation here.. if you put in just a tad of effort you can have it rather nice :)

GWJones
GWJones

But you trust your employer to look after your best interests, don't you? A simple question; if you even have to think about the answer, then you know why unions (I mean the self-organization of employees- regardless of the specific affiliation) are critical to protecting workers rights. Read "Confessions of a Union Buster" by Martin Jay Levitt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_busting) if you think US law makes unions obselete.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

Programmers as organized labor? It would be like herding cats!

santeewelding
santeewelding

Looks like a good day. You look like a promising recipient.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

You really mean you don't place those things in their path? At least sometimes? Proverbially? On thursdays? In posts on TR? :D

santeewelding
santeewelding

Does not extend deeply enough to see whether you meant my retort was great, or, that I am Great. As far as those who walk in the dark, it's self-curing. They bump into things and knock themselves out without my intervention.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I'm sure you can use your transcendentant vision to see how the walkers in darkness fail?