Gartner: How CIOs can motivate the unmotivated

Motivation has been knocked and it’s been a struggle for CIOs and IT leaders to keep employees engaged in this changing environment.

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This is a contributed article by Lily Mok, VP Research Analyst at Gartner.

Not only did the pandemic cause widespread disruption to our daily routines, but the subsequent return to work has often been challenging on both a personal and a professional level. This is especially true for the IT organisations that have had to combine a hurried shift to hybrid working with changes in workforce demographics and a rapid need for reskilling.  Motivation has been knocked and it’s been a struggle for CIOs and IT leaders to keep employees engaged in this changing environment.

A lack of motivation isn’t limited to long-tenured employees stuck in monotonous jobs. It impacts any IT organisation, regardless of employee tenure, organisational maturity, digital business strategy, size, and a myriad of other factors. The ‘2021 Gallup State of the Global Workplace’ report shows that a highly committed workforce is five times more likely to have high performance when compared with poorly engaged teams. Unfortunately, the survey also reports that employee engagement remains dismally low at just 20% globally.

Creating engagement

It’s essential to identify what makes employees apathetic, especially in the current hybrid mode of working where self-motivation can be crucial. CIOs obviously need a fully engaged and enthused workforce that is ready to adapt to the future of work, and willing and committed to the business.

There are fundamentally two types of motivation: extrinsic, which usually comes in the form of a “carrot or stick” approach to try to enhance motivation and productivity of employees, such as pay raises, promotion, bonuses, the threat of demotion or even termination. Intrinsic, which is an individuals’ internal enthusiasm, ambition and interest in the work itself.

Raised by the power of three

But motivation is a very personal issue. It addresses what matters to an individual employee and what they value, so rewards – such as compensation, benefits, work-life balance and career management – must align with both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. It takes more time to address the former, but it is this type of motivation that best serves the workforce. However, both types are needed to get the most out of employees, so they can contribute to business success.

For intrinsic factors, CIOs and IT leaders should focus on three factors. The first factor is autonomy. Staff perform best when they have a degree of autonomy over what they are doing, when they are doing it, how they are delivering and with whom they are working. Focus on creating greater autonomy for team organisation by using self-organising teams (e.g., team constitutions, work roles, governance, and tactical meetings).

The second factor is mastery. The abilities of your staff should be matched to the challenges they face. Incentivise the mastery of new skills and competencies by using more intrinsic recognition and rewards. By leveraging on unique skills – and specialisation – CIOs will show they care and value the unique talent of each of their employees.

Finally, there’s purpose. Individuals need to find their own contribution to the organisation's vision. CIOs and companies will need to align personal, team, department and enterprise purposes by focusing on drive, strive, thrive and goals. For example, define the team’s purpose, action plans and individual roles and provide feedback and collaboration.

Adding dimensions to the work experience

Once organisations understand the intrinsic factors that drive personal motivation, CIOs and IT leaders can then redesign jobs to boost productivity and purpose amongst employees regardless of the task or situation. To achieve this, focus should be on core aspects of the job to motivate its staff.

For example, by focusing on skill variety - this refers to the range of abilities needed to perform a job - employee motivation will inevitably increase. If team members are using diverse skills in their positions, rather than one set skill, repeatedly, individuals will feel challenged and more engaged as they’ll feel like they’ve contributed something special to the task.

Identifying tasks will also be pertinent to increasing motivation. This means the extent to which a job involves completing an identifiable piece of work with a visible outcome. Motivated employees will be more likely to complete tasks if they identify with them and have seen them through from start to finish.

Alternatively, IT leaders should assess how significant is the task. When employees feel that their work is significant to their organisation, they are motivated to do well, which will lead to increased employee productivity.

Coaching managers to lead with empathy

CIOs must also understand that building an overall motivation strategy is incomplete without including the organisation’s managers and people leaders. They are a major factor in how employees experience their workplace, so focusing on their development is equally important. The right manager behaviours, such as focusing on coaching and development of their teams and building an empathy-based environment, can lead to a workforce that is continuously learning and that feels valued.

Above all, CIOs must develop a healthy, connected environment in which individuals can develop and grow. Every workplace has a combination of characters and what works to motivate a particular employee may not necessarily help others.