CIOs Need To Know: What Really Motivates Your Workers?

by drjim on March 30, 2011

No, A Whip Is NOT The Best Way To Motive IT Employees

No, A Whip Is NOT The Best Way To Motive IT Employees

Sure a CIO needs to know his / her technical stuff, but at the end of the day you are really a manager. As a manager, it’s your job to get the most out of each of the employees of the IT department. Do you have any clue as to what motivates your employees to do their best work…?

Nope, You Are Wrong

Dr. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer have done a study where they asked senior managers what they though motivated their workers. Any guesses as to what they thought the #1 motivator was?

It turns out that these senior managers (CIOs included), believed that recognition for doing good work was what truly motivated their workers. It turns out that this is a good guess, but it’s dead wrong. The correct answer turned out to be the one thing that these managers ranked as being the least important motivational tool.

What IT Workers Really Want

The correct answer to the question of what motivates IT workers the most can be summed up in one simple word: progress. When workers feel that they are making progress towards solving a problem or achieving a goal, that’s when two very important things happen. Their emotions that govern how they see the world go up and at the same time their drive to succeed is at its maximum.

The researchers did daily studies of how workers felt each day. What they discovered is that when workers make progress, even just a little bit of progress, that’s when their emotions soar and their outlook becomes more positive.

A very interesting point is what IT workers did not find to be motivating: those complicated standard corporate incentive systems. These were not even mentioned by the majority of the workers who participated in the study.

How A CIO Can Give Your Workers What They Really Want

As CIO you are going to have to find ways to tap into what really motivates your knowledge workers. There’s no one thing that you need to do, but there are a lot of “little things” that you can do that will help your workers to feel better and work harder.

Setting good meaningful goals is a great place to start. The goals have to be achievable – it must be possible for the IT team to achieve them within a reasonable amount of time. Additionally, you need to make sure that you don’t change the goals that the team is working towards without good reason. You need to understand that changing goals is a very bad thing and you need to only do it when it is absolutely required.

As CIO you have control over company resources. In this role, you need to make sure that resources are available for your IT teams when they need them so that their progress towards achieving goals is not slowed down.

Finally, as CIO you have the ability to form a protective shield over your department. Random requests from outside of the department can distract your team and take them away from being able to focus on completing the goals that they are working on. Use your position as CIO to step in and shunt these types of distractions away from your teams so that they don’t lose their focus.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs are managers first, and technology professionals second. This means that you need to make sure that you fully understand what motivates your IT staff. The ironic thing is that most CIOs don’t know what the #1 motivation of their staff is: making progress.

In order to allow your IT teams to make progress towards their goals you need to start by setting good goals that can be reached. Next you need to make sure that your teams have the resources that they’ll need in order to reach these goals. Finally, it’s your job as CIO to protect your teams from requests that will distract them from making progress.

Nobody ever said that being CIO was going to be an easy job. However, once your realize that making progress is what really motivates your workers, then being a good manager gets a whole lot easier…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Under what circumstances do you think a CIO should change the goals that everyone is working towards?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

For CIOs, it’s all too easy for us to get caught up in, what else, the world of IT. We like to focus on things like servers, virtualization, networking, and making decisions about IP4 vs. IP6. It turns out that the rest of the company really doesn’t care about any of these things. They care about much more important things. Like, say, travel expenses.

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