When it comes to inspiring IT professionals, attempting to motivate them Tony Robbins-style by saying things like “The future is a blank check — your maximum point of potential is now” probably is not going to cut it.
Particularly when a team of IT pros on a project is feeling a deadline crunch and is pulling an all-nighter, pep talks are likely to feel a bit hollow. Something more tangible is probably needed.
Dan Norris is practice manager for IT Convergence, a private firm primarily focused on Oracle consulting. He manages a group of infrastructure consultants who perform database, system, application and server administration.
The projects the team tackles usually revolve around installation, configuration and implementation activities.
The first thing Norris pointed to as a tool for inspiring team members was fairly simple: Given that the individuals involved are tech people by nature, allowing them to work on projects that involve the latest, most advanced technology tends to be a great motivator.
“We’re at somewhat of an advantage in that, typically, what we’re doing is new implementation and configuration-type of projects and, obviously, when you’re doing your implementation, you’ll stick with the most recent convergence you can get to avoid having to upgrade later,” Norris said. “The advantage that gives us is that we’re always dealing with the coolest and latest whiz-bang stuff, so my consultants are typically excited about that. Dealing with the newest and latest thing and getting to play with the cool toys is something that most of the technologists that I work with are looking forward to all the time.”
Of course, not every IT project is going to resemble Christmas morning in how much new technology it involves. But Norris said, in projects that don’t implement new technologies, the project can be designed in a way that at least uses new methodologies.
“A good way to motivate the group is, if possible, use some of the latest developments in terms of tool sets and steps that you follow to make people more interested.”
Another easy way to motivate team members on a project crunch is to encourage a more relaxed atmosphere than normal.
“A lot of the projects we work on have very tight timelines, and there’s a lot of pressure, and if there’s any kind of a hiccup or an issue to resolve, that can be fairly disastrous to our overall plan,” Norris said. “When those things happen, the timeline is king, and we need to stay on time, so the result is a lot of after-hours and crazy nights of trying to figure things out without a lot of sleep. In terms of a motivator, what we’ve learned is that people work best when they’re most comfortable, and so, especially when there’s pressure as part of the particular deliverables, or you’re getting close to your immediate deadline, it’s been advantageous to relax some of the things that are more common in terms of policy.”
The first thing to go when pressure mounts is usually the dress code.
“If people want to wear a funny hat and shorts to work, I don’t particularly care,” Norris said. “The work getting done is really what the project is about, and if they work more effectively that way, great.”
He also pointed to the presence of seemingly trivial items such as Nerf toys and candy as potential stress relievers.
“It’s not necessarily a motivator, but it certainly makes it a lot more fun to go and do your work when your work might not be the fun part of your job in that particular day or project,” Norris said.
One additional way to maintain morale is to be flexible in terms of scheduling and make sure there’s food on hand.
“If they work better by sticking around for 14 hours today and coming in at noon tomorrow for half a day, that’s fine,” Norris said. “Not on a regular basis, but on a project basis, where this is really important to the project to get it done, and this is the best way to get it done, then sure, and we’ll pitch in for pizzas or whatever.”