Over the years, I’ve read a number of text books, magazine articles, and leadership newsletters about motivating employees. From what I remember, they tended to be rather “one-dimensional.” At least I’m remembering it that way based on an article I read in July-August’s Harvard Business Review. Now, I could be all wrong on this, but from what I remember, most of what I’ve read was about finding out what motivated am employee, and focusing your efforts on that. I suppose it could have meant multidimensional, but I tended to take it as finding out if people wanted more money, position, importance, recognition, etc. But this article by Nitin Nohria, Boris Groysberg, and Linda-Eling Lee made me think.

The part that really hit me at first was the authors claim to have identified drives that could explain almost 60% of the variance in whether an employee was motivated or not. Hmm, that’s a pretty good percentage when you think about it. If you know your employees well, and you can hit at least 60% of those areas that motivate an employee, and possibly more as you get to know the employee, you would have one extremely motivated workforce. And what company wouldn’t love to have employees that were that motivated.

The drivers that they identified in the article are:

  • The drive to acquire – we all want to earn money in order to buy what we need to survive, but by structuring rewards such that poor performance gets the same as excellent performance, motivation is destroyed.
  • The drive to bond – “… the drive to bond accounts for an enormous boost in motivation when employees feel proud of belonging to the organization” (pp. 80-81). This is where leadership can really shine. If we can create a culture of caring and trust within companies, employees will bond easily and also defend (#4) against competition much more aggressively.
  • The drive to comprehend – “We are frustrated when things seem senseless, and we are invigorated, typically, by the challenge of working out answers” (p. 81). I really appreciate this concept, because I have been in situations where decisions were made that had I known the reasoning behind the decisions, I know I would have fought harder to accomplish the end result.
  • The drive to defend -“Fulfilling the drive to defend leads to feelings of security and confidence; not fulfilling it produces strong negative emotions like fear and resentment” (p. 81). I know I would rather defend against competition in the world than be insulated from it and not know why things aren’t doing as well.

The article presents an interesting statistic: if you take a company in the 50th percentile in its industry, and are able to improve on one of these drives, the company would only increase to the 56th percentile. But if you engage the employees on all four drives, it rises to the 88th percentile. That’s a significant gain!

What’s the leader’s drive in this knowledge? I can give you a quick, non-altruistic one; imagine your bonus if you are able to increase productivity to drive the company’s profits up that much in just a few years?

— Nohria, N., Groysberg, B. & Lee, L. (2008, July-August). Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model. Harvard Business Review, 86-7/8, 79-84.

Ever done something like this?

You’re navigating through an airport or in the middle of a meeting, and you get an e-mail asking for advice on what should be done in relation to a problem in IT. You fire off a quick reply before the flight attendant or leader in the meeting gives you that dirty look, and you find out later it was the wrong solution to the real problem.

I know I have. We get so pressed for time in IT, dealing with the demands of the business, vendors, and partners, that we end up trying to do too much. In the world of IT risk, we become a contributor to the risk our companies face rather than someone that is supposed to mitigate risk.

We live and work in what Shrader calls the “Liquid World” – “fluid, continually changing form and adapting to shifting parameters” (p. 96). But this is precisely when we should resist that quick answer and postpone it until we can gather the right people to make the decision. We as IT managers don’t necessarily have all the answers, but we sometimes like to act like we do, or some of us like to act that way. I learned two jobs ago that I don’t always have the answer, but I can get the answer the business needs. It’s actually a liberating experience to be able to admit I don’t know everything, can’t know everything, and shouldn’t (from a knowledge management perspective) know everything. But we are pressed constantly to make quick decisions…

“In the swirling vortex of e-mailing and text messaging, the leader’s strong inclination is to try to arrive at fast paced, almost immediate decisions. But the fundamentals of solid leadership – clear vision, consistent measures of success, and informed yet timely and unambiguous decision making – haven’t changed. Now more than ever before, thoughtfulness and clarity cannot be compromised” (p. 96).

If we as leaders don’t set the standard by which decisions should be made, are we really justified in complaining that our people are not making thoughtful, clear, and considered decisions? As Sharader puts it, “Today’s leaders must recognize that ‘less instant’ is often ‘more thoughtful’ and ‘more solid,’ especially in a liquid world where every decision has the potential for a far greater radius of impact” (p. 96).

— Shrader, R. W. (2007, Fall). Leadership in a Liquid World. MIT Sloan Management Review.

Is IT living up to its potential at your company? Why not? Is it your fault? I know at times it has been mine. Luckily, in my latest job, that wasn’t the case. According to Basu & Jarnigan, the reason is the proverbial glass ceiling or wall. IT is shut out of the decision-making circle. I’ve seen this from both sides of the situation, and I wholeheartedly agree. Many times I’ve seen businesses make decisions assuming it’s just a “quick fix” to change this piece of code so it will do this now instead of that. But most of us in IT know that it’s usually a lot more than just a few lines of code and voila!

The reason for the glass ceiling? Basu & Jarnigan point to these five causes:

  1. “Mind-set differences between management staff and IT,
  2. Language differences,
  3. Social influences,
  4. Flaws in IT governance,
  5. Difficulty managing rapidly changing technology” (¶ 7).

Comparing this article to the book IT Risk, I can see how IT governance is a critical mistake businesses make. “IT decisions are often made by the wrong people with insufficient input, and the resulting failures drive a wedge between senior managers and their IT colleagues” (Basu & Jarnigan, 2008, ¶ 12). “The risk governance process is the force that pulls otherwise fragmented, localized views of IT risk together into a comprehensive whole, allowing the enterprise to effectively set priorities and act. No centralized person or group has a wide enough perspective to fully understand and control all risks in even a moderate-sized organization” (Westerman & Hunter, 2007, p. 44).

Or, to put it in my words, in order for business managers to make informed decisions related to IT, we in IT have to translate the risks, and rewards, into dollars for the business side to understand and decide upon. And the only way to do that is to have a seat at the table when the decision is made.

But how do we get that seat? If you don’t have a seat there now, start working from behind the scenes. When management makes a decision, translate that decision into dollars and cents for their approach and other potential options. The more they see that you understand the business side of things as well as the technology side of things, the more they will listen, and the more they will come to you. Notice the emphasis in that sentence, YOU. It’s not up to them to come find out what you think is best, it’s up to you to show them that you have valid and worthy opinions that should be considered when making important decisions that affect IT.

That’s how I won my seat at the table, and that’s how you can too.

— Basu, A. & Jarnagin, C. (2008, March 10). How to Tap IT’s Hidden Potential. MIT Sloan Management Review.

Westerman, G. & Hunter, R. (2007). IT Risk. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

I was reading an interesting article on productivity among information workers. Although the studies only dealt with one company in one industry, their findings were,

… information technology use correlated with improved productivity (as measured by revenue generation, in this case) – but it also correlated with employees working on more projects at once. In other words, workers who were heavier users of information technology tools like e-mail tended to generate more revenue – but were not quicker at completing any given project (p. 17).

Sort of an obvious finding if one thinks of multitasking and how productivity declines the more you try to do. But a question that I came away with is this – is it better to restrict the amount of technology available to those employees that don’t need it, and in so doing, keep them focused more on the work? Or will that just spur them to find ways around the blocks and get to the technology they want to use anyway?

The actual studies this article is based on are available from here and here.

— Mangelsdorf, M. E. (2008, Winter). What Makes Information Workers Productive. MIT Sloan Management Review, Vol. 49, Issue 2.