Turns Out That Employee Motivation IS Like Brain Surgery

by drjim on September 7, 2008

IT Staff Are Motivated By 4 Basic Human Drives

IT Staff Are Motivated By 4 Basic Human Drives

Well, sorta. How about if it turns out that the really smart folks who do brain surgery have found out a great deal about how the human brain works and we can use this knowledge to come up with new ways to motivate our IT staff? It turns out that everyone (that includes both you and I) are motivated by four very basic emotional needs that are a direct result of how our great-great-great-great (you get it) grandfathers decided to evolve.

Dr. Paul Lawrence and Dr. Nitin Nohria up at the Harvard Business School have spent some time studying how human nature shapes our choices and what they’ve found out is quite interesting. Our four basic drives are drives to:

  • Acquire – to obtain limited things including positions such as social status.
  • Bond – reach out and create links to both individuals and groups
  • Comprehend – better understand and be in charge of the world around us
  • Defend – protect ourselves and others from external threats and promote justice

An IT manager needs to realize that these four drives underlie everything that his/her staff does. The key question that a manger needs to find answers to is how to satisfy the four drives in his/her IT staff in order to increase the entire department’s overall motivation? The studies that have been done in an attempt to answer this question have focused on four workplace metrics that were designed to try to capture a feel for how motivated employees were:

  1. Engagement – what level of energy does the employee bring to the job?
  2. Satisfaction – to what level does the company meet their expectations?
  3. Commitment – do they engage in corporate citizenship?
  4. Intention to quit – will they be part of the firms turnover?

Not to give away how this story turns out, but one conclusion that the studies have reached is that how well a company meets its IT worker’s four fundamental drives explains a whopping 60% of the variance on the employee’s motivational indicators.

The trick here is that all four drives must be met SIMULTANEOUSLY – skipping even just one substantially drives employee motivation down. Although a company must be responsible for addressing all four divers, it also falls on the IT leader’s shoulders to make sure that they are being met. The studies show that managers have control over at least 50% of an employee’s motivation – the company controls the other 50%.

Next time we’ll dive into each of the four drives and see if we can figure out what an IT manager is to do…

Do you agree with my list of four basic human drivers? Do you think that I left any off of my list? Which one do you think is dominate – why? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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