With smaller IT budgets, it’s only natural for you to want to motivate your staff to be more productive and make the most of limited resources. Motivating employees doesn’t come naturally for most. Luckily, it’s a skill that can be learned with a small investment of patience, time, and persistence. It all starts with establishing a solid motivation plan.

The career benefits
The ability to motivate has long been considered one of the most desirable traits of a high-level manager. In some cases, this aptitude makes or breaks a career. It’s so vital that Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, authors of First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, consider it one of the four activities excellent managers must do well. Buckingham and Coffman explain that, when it comes to motivation, managers need to think of themselves as catalysts.

“As with all catalysts, the manager’s function is to speed up the reaction between two substances, thus creating the desired end product,” state the authors. A manager creates performance in each employee by speeding up the reaction between the employee’s talents and the company’s goals, and between the employee’s talents and the customers’ needs.

The result of good motivation can be sterling if done right. “When hundreds of managers play this role well, the company becomes strong, one employee at a time,” explain the authors.

Creating a motivational plan
Becoming an effective agent of change without compromising the company’s bottom line takes deliberate thought and action.

First, it’s important to reaffirm what many managers already know instinctively. Motivation is not manipulation—good managers who value motivation work hard at helping people find positive reasons for doing their best. Manipulators resort to punitive measures that may seem to work at first but will quickly drive talented people out the door.

Another intuitive understanding is that a little sincerity goes a long way and is crucial when you’re seeking to motivate others. Experienced managers realize this, especially if they’ve been on the receiving end of insincere motivational efforts.

To develop a motivational plan, find out what really motivates your managers and their staff. A good first step is a brainstorming session in which you ask them what they think motivates their employees and work teams. It’s also valuable to ask them to recall incidents in which they were able to work with an employee to improve the worker’s productivity. The goal is to probe for specific actions the managers undertook that worked well.

An e-mail from glepine, sent to TechRepublic on the topic of powerful motivator elements, illustrates this point well. A software engineer, glepine said he wants to feel that what he says and does is important to the team and to the company. A key point in keeping a team motivated is “to make them feel they have an influencing power over the project, and actually they must have some of the power.”

Glepine added that team leaders should take any input seriously. “The leader must work with the team members to fit their inputs into the project’s perspective (goals, objectives, deliverables, etc.). This way, the team members will have the opportunity of providing useful input, to make it happen, and to see that the leader endorses it.”

Money isn’t the main motivator
As glepine’s feedback indicates, there are ways to motivate without adding more to paychecks. Many CIOs automatically assume money is the most powerful motivator. It’s not. Managers sometimes forget that sincere appreciation for a job well done, coupled with challenging work opportunities, can be a better motivator than money.

There are some culture issues as well when scoping out good motivational actions. Be aware of cultural differences if you have employees who were born and raised in other countries. For example, in many other countries, people have more vacation time than is typical in America, so perhaps more vacation time or comp time would be a powerful reward or incentive. Job security and inexpensive perks that publicly demonstrate appreciation, such as a reserved parking space, might also serve well.

Putting meat into the plan
Whatever you decide on in your plan, make sure that you make goals measurable and rewards public. Jeff Paddison, CIO for a global contract manufacturing company in Canada, explained that he tracks major milestones for projects and internally publishes project status as a way to motivate staff. He also publishes a chart that tracks IS accomplishments relative to IS strategy. The object is simplicity coupled with exposure. “The staff knows that their efforts are seen by the business leaders and the completion of the milestones supports the strengthening of the infrastructure of our business.”

In tough times with limited resources, you need to factor in a way of rewarding effort, not just results. Sometimes your department’s efforts might be affected by outside circumstances—a mandate to boost homeland security above other efforts at this point is a good example. In these cases, it’s important to let managers know you value their hard work even if important goals were not reached on time because of factors beyond their control.

The ultimate motivational goal
Your motivational plan should also include ways to help your managers motivate their staff and work teams. After all, you want the motivational effects to be felt throughout the department. You may need to arrange for some training or one-on-one coaching with managers. Also make sure they understand that senior management is serious about the role of motivation in the department.

Planning to motivate and actively working to build a plan to encourage your managers and their staff will help you keep motivation at the top of your priority list. Make sure your incentives are designed to fit the needs and desires of your people. Look beyond money as a motivator and include as many people as you can in the decision-making process. Overall, seek to be an agent of change for your managers and help them pass it along.