Motivate without cracking the whip

Have you ever listened to a speaker at a conference who really motivates you? Some are so inspiring you want to leave as soon they're finished and run back to work to implement all their great ideas.

Have you ever listened to a speaker at a conference who really motivates you? Some are so inspiring you want to leave as soon they’re finished and run back to work to implement all their great ideas.

Other times you’re forced to light a match under your chin every few minutes to stay awake.

It’s the same with IT managers and CIOs. Some of you are good at motivating your staff but some actually demotivate.

In fact before we look at motivation perhaps we should look at demotivation. What is it, other than the name of a bad 1970s Jamaican disco band?



Some managers use this tactic to get results but executive manager of information support for AMI Richard Hutton says it doesn’t work.

“Some people might call it being hands-on but I think people feel threatened and they don’t necessarily perform to their best when make decisions because they’re worried about the consequences.”

Criticising staff without providing alternative solutions

Colenso IT manager Jeremy Strachan says a lack of encouragement and support will demoralise staff.

“Ultimately that causes dissatisfaction in the work environment and people will go somewhere else.”

Usually managers don’t even realise they’re not listening and Hutton says it’s very demotivating. If something goes wrong people become frustrated if they’re not given the opportunity to discuss what happened and how to avoid it next time.



Try to provide an environment where staff feel theycan learn and be challenged.

HSBC Bank IT manager Peter Dalziel says: “If you’re in a stable environment where the challenges are not there as far as development, new technology and new systems go, that is a demotivator.”

Hutton says he spends a lot of time with individual staff members discussing what they want to do.

“While we can’t always do all the fun stuff all the time, it’s important that they have an opportunity to do things that they like doing as well.”


This may sound obvious but it’s vital and often overlooked — particularly in a busy environment.

Dalziel says it’s tricky for managers -to decide how much to tell their staff without swamping them with irrelevant facts or omitting information that staff might feel is important.

“Communication needs to be targeted and timely.”


People usually feel good about having some accountability.

Hutton agrees: “I think people like to take charge given the opportunity. If you have a team that’s prepared to do that, it’s a good position to be in.”


If staff feel their skills are up to date, they are more likely to stay motivated. Dalziel says it can be difficult if staff want training on a technology not used by their company, like Java or Linux, but hopefully what you can offer will match their needs.

Hutton likes to focus on persona development training as well as tehnical training such as time mangement, project management and working with people.

“Those sorts of things are also imortant in career development.”


The ability to find out what is needed and being about to provide it is important.

Dalziel says it can be something as simple as leading by example.

Strachan isn’t so keen on manager coaching.

“Good IT staff are self-starters who learn quickly. Growing their skills is important but coaching tends to be a peer thing rather than a management thing — there’s a subtle distinction.


Everyone I spoke to agreed that while money is important, it’s not everything.

“People work for less money if they see that some of their other needs are being met in the way of challenges, the learning environment, the team environment, how they develop, responsibility and accountability and issues like that,” says Dalziel.


Final words from everyone on this one:

Dalziel: “People have got to have a bit of time out and the ability to have fun is critical … They don’t have to transform themselves into some robot for eight hours a day.”

Strachan: “Everyone’s got to enjoy their work — otherwise, why come?”

Kirstin Mills is Computerworld’s careers editor. Phone her at: 0-3-467 2869; fax: 3-3-467 2875.

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