What motivates IT people? To answer this question, Forrester identified 12 core factors that influence motivation, and then surveyed close to 130 IT leaders globally to determine the impact of each factor. The survey results reveal that all ages are highly motivated by interesting work and, to a lesser extent autonomy. Those younger than 45 years old added career development and work/life balance to the two factors above, while those over 45 added job security and base compensation.

Keeping these results in mind, CIOs should aim to motivate their employees by balancing the flexibility of motivators (i.e. autonomy, work/life balance, etc.) with the ability to deliver on promises. To successfully motivate their staff, Forrester recommends that CIOs:  

Increase motivation through creative role design

All employees are motivated by increasing autonomy and interesting work. CIOs should increase motivation of their teams by designing roles that allow greater autonomy. Furthermore, they should encourage employees to take responsibility for making their roles more interesting.

Review employees' performance more than yearly

Yearly reviews allow too much time to pass between actions performed and consequences felt. Furthermore, conditions in IT change frequently and reviews that include changing goals and measurements can reinforce required behaviors. The number of reviews per year and what occurs during these reviews depend on the amount of organisational change, the efficiency of the process, and other factors. However, given the pace of IT change, in most cases, once per year is too infrequent.

Raise the motivation of broad groups gradually with base compensation

Base compensation is the least flexible of the motivators with approvals required for increases outside of a range, and decreases requiring extensive paper trails. In many organisations, changes in base comp are largely tied to years of experience and mechanically increased. Finally, changes in base comp to an individual can affect other employees as comparisons are easy. Base comp should be used primarily to raise the overall motivation of groups of employees or to incent individuals over a long term. When using this, CIOs should keep in mind that base comp sets a precedent for employees outside the targeted ones and with misuse can change an incentive for one group to a disincentive for others.

Use intangible motivators for added flexibility

In contrast to compensation, interesting work, autonomy, and work/life balance provide both powerful motivators and flexibility for managers. Managers can quickly and with few approvals change the mix of someone's work, allow them flexible work hours, or support telecommuting. However, this flexibility comes at a price. Measuring the costs and benefits of these intangible motivators is difficult. Furthermore, before granting these privileges, management must determine a baseline of performance and measure changes as well as develop criteria for who should receive privileges and when.

Don't promise what you can't deliver

Motivators become demotivators when management breaks perceived agreements to deliver on benefits for improved performance. CIOs need to be realistic in what they can measure and reward. Setting up job descriptions, goals, and measurements for more than a handful of motivators across everyone in the organisation is impossible and increases the potential for accusations of inconsistent treatment of people.

Build supporting structures for the motivators

Where greater autonomy is used as a motivator, include the following underpinnings: outcome-based goal measurement (measuring results and not hours), HR support, oversight (to ensure autonomy is being used appropriately), and an evaluation process to help train employees and improve productivity if they struggle to work autonomously.

Marc Cecere is Principal Analyst at Forrester Research where he serves CIOs. Marc is going to deliver a presentation on the topic of this column, “Motivating Your IT Employees,” at Forrester’s IT Forum EMEA 2011 in Barcelona (June 8 – 10, 2011).