Tech Staff Motivation – Forget What You Think You Know

Good grief, there is some real naïve nonsense talked about motivating staff, there really is. I’ve recently read yet another happy-clappy article making some spectacularly preposterous claims about staff motivation.

It upset me, as so much of this trite, theoretical, fantasy-based rubbish does. So here’s a slice of my take on motivation, as used in practice with real people.

1. Rewards Don’t Work

You cannot motivate people with a reward. This is quite simply because a reward is after the fact. This is a fundamental error made by so many would-be ‘experts’ in motivation. ‘Employee of the Month’ does not make them be motivated, it just points out they were motivated a while ago. Awards can even be dangerous – not everybody wants that kind of attention. Far better to use incentive rather than reward.

2. Recognition

You cannot motivate people with recognition unless they are the sort of people who want that. Recognising people who would rather be left alone to get on with it, is more likely to demotivate them. Recognise the attention-seekers if you must – but only as a stop gap to build an environment where self-motivation is normal. You can get to that by giving them a clear vision of what you want from them and developing their skills to deliver it.

3. Beware Morale

Do not confuse motivation with morale. These two forces are not versions of the same thing; they are opposites and they can even cancel each other out. This is because motivation thrives in and is suited to times of change; whereas morale can be high during times of acquiescence. Morale being high will incentivise people toward conservatism and away from change, which gets in the way of exciting their motivation.

4. Staff Motivation is Temporary

Motivation is a temporary thing. Accept that and work with it. Permanent motivation is stressful and exhausting. Motivation should be used sparingly and only when necessary – and allow a lapse into acquiescent high morale when the purpose of the motivation has been achieved.

5. Job Satisfaction

If what you want is staff engagement, productivity, and professionalism, there are far better ways of achieving that than trying to “motivate” people. The key here is to pursue their job satisfaction by eradicating impediments and describing consistently what constitutes success. That way, they’ll know how you measure their success, and will be able to measure for themselves, thus seeing their own achievements at work.

6. Money

Staff motivation is only associated with money by those who are incentivised by money. If your technicians were motivated by money, they probably wouldn’t be working here, or doing this job. IT is not the wealthy but skills-starved industry it was in the 1980s. Stop talking about money. It’s not a motivator except in certain jobs and for certain types of people. It can even be a demotivator if there’s not enough of it about.

7. Maslow

Be very careful of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’. His view of staff motivation is from another era. He may have been right seventy years ago, which is debatable – but in a globalised, First World economy, his ideas simply don’t fit. According to Maslow, your educated, comfortable staff should be striving for his fourth level of influence and power. But if they don’t know what their own success looks like, they may aim straight for Level 2, where security and keeping their job are located.

8. Know Your People

You cannot motivate people with ‘techniques’. People are not machines, for pity’s sake. Everybody is already motivated in some way. Find out a bit about your people, discover their innate motivators and incorporate those as incentives into your staff relationships.

9. Understanding ‘Team’

When it comes to staff motivation, forget ‘team building’ exercises. The chances are, your IT support workgroup (service desk, desktop support, sysadmins, developers) are not a ‘team’ at all, but more an apt collection of technical specialists and diagnosticians. Having them build rafts in Welsh rivers won’t necessarily contribute to that. It helps to know what a team actually is, of course, and simply assuming a workgroup to be a ‘team’ is asinine and wrong.

10. Vision

Motivation is not about Ra, Ra, Ra, or being the servicedesk’s Captain Kirk. You don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not, and neither do your staff. It is possible to be both motivated and introvert. Have a clear, consistent vision of how you want this department to work, and communicate that regularly and in a variety of ways. Show your people what success means and let them be themselves.

These are ten key points as a starter. There’s more to it than this of course. That’s why it’s only taken you a few minutes to read this, and why I do a whole day on it in my workshop ‘Getting the Best from Your IT Technicians‘.

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