Once again, it behoves CIOs to reward their star performers. But how will they do it? Cutting bonus cheques would be the wrong answer.
The past couple of years have been tough on the morale of IT workers. For those few companies that haven't carried out retrenchments, enforced early retirements or engaged in any other type of downsizing the salaries, promotions and perks they offer today are mere shadows of their former selves. And the outsourcing of work to the Third World is yet another fardel for IT employees to bear.
Six months ago there finally seemed to be a dim light glowing at the end of the recessionary tunnel. If it's not an illusion (or the headlamp of an economic train bringing bad news), the task now for CIOs will be how to recapture the hearts and minds of their employees, who may view an economic revival as a good time to dust off their resumes. First and foremost, getting employees recommitted to working for your company (and working for you) is a matter of motivation. Is it possible that as times get better, purse strings will loosen, and CIOs will once again be able to dip into corporate coffers to distribute bonuses to star performers? After all, isn't money - cold, hard cash - the best motivator for stressed out, disengaged employees?
Why Money Can't Buy You Love
It turns out that money in and of itself may be an inferior motivational tool. That won't surprise anyone familiar with Abraham Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs - which posits that once people possess the basics (food, shelter and safety), what they look for is self-esteem. Maslow defines two kinds of self-esteem. One results from competence in a skill or task; the other comes from the recognition such competence engenders.
Maslow's theory permeates an article by Anna Fels in the April 2004 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Personal ambition, writes Fels, is directly correlated to the recognition people receive for their accomplishments. While Fels's piece specifically addresses reasons why women seem to abandon their workplace ambitions, her underlying message - that people are motivated to succeed and push themselves because of the recognition they receive from their organizations - is applicable for employees of both genders.
While money certainly conveys recognition for a job well done, it's the kind of carrot that may not have legs. "Bonuses will motivate for about eight hours," says Curt Coffman, global practice leader at The Gallup Organization. For one thing, in an economy such as the US's, bonuses can't be counted on, dependent as they are on cash flow. When tough times dictate a suspension of bonuses, employees who work as hard as ever (perhaps even harder) may no longer feel recognized if that recognition comes solely in the form of an extra paycheque. Take away that cheque and what have you got? An office lousy with cynicism. In that sort of environment, it's little wonder that thoughts of greener pastures become top of mind.