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Verifying Motivators

Demotivated_2Yesterday I attended a great presentation on Team Leadership given by Robin Robertson of RCR Consulting. The presentation covered the topics of self-knowledge and emotional intelligence but then moved onto leadership techniques for different age demographics.

Robin outlined 5 commonly referenced groups:

Traditionalists – who lived during war times and experienced scarcity and loss
Baby Boomers – who grew up after the war and lived to work
Generation X – who saw their parents live to work and decided they would work just to live
Generation Y – the new workers, expecting benefits and have not experienced adversity
Millennium Kids – yet to enter the work place

Obviously classifying people based on just when they were born is a flawed model. (I know some young immigrants to Canada who have experienced great loss and adversity in their lives already.) However, where Robin took these generalizations was interesting and valuable.

She spoke about a study by Glenn Tobe into expectations and motivations between managers and team members from different generations. A manager from the baby boomer generation was asked to rank what they believed the Top 10 motivators they had at their disposal to encourage their team.

Manager (Boomer) Expectations / Motivators

  1. Good Wages
  2. Job security   
  3. Promotion opportunities
  4. Good working conditions
  5. Interesting work 
  6. Loyalty from management
  7. Tactful discipline 
  8. Appreciation   
  9. Understanding attitude
  10. Feeling in on things

Then the team members who comprised mainly Generation X workers were asked to rank the same items.

Employee (Generation X) Expectations / Motivators

  1. Appreciation
  2. Feeling in on things
  3. Understanding attitude
  4. Job security
  5. Good wages
  6. Interesting work
  7. Promotion opportunities
  8. Loyalty from mgt.
  9. Good working conditions
  10. Tactful discipline

Not surprisingly what the older managers thought were important did not turn out to be very important to the employees at all. The managers top three motivators were placed “middle of the pack” in the employee priorities.


More revealing was that the employees top three expectations / motivators were listed by the manager as the bottom three items, yikes!


Attempting to motivate a group when you value their highest priority expectations so lowly is not going to be effective, or pretty. We need to match behaviour and rewards to what people are really looking for.

For agile projects it is interesting that the idea of empowered teams developing high business value features with servant leadership maps well to the top three motivators of “Appreciation”, “Feeling in on things”, and an “Understanding Attitude”, valued by Gen. X workers.

So what can we take from this. Can we create optimal motivational strategies for each age group? Some kind of demographic expectations matrix? Well, No, and No. People are not that consistent or simple, but we can do something far more powerful.

We can ask people to prioritize these factors themselves. By engaging team members in the conversation around expectations and motivational factors we can learn far more than referencing a chart. We first demonstrate that we value their input on what motivates them and we make it obvious that we are listening to their contributions. What is more, we then learn what factors are most important to that person and can then use this information to steer our behaviour.

Of course after listening it is then critically important to follow through with the DWYSYWD (Do What You Said You Would Do) step. One of my first managers had some great pet phrases: “You were given two ears and just one mouth: use them in those proportions!” (listen more than you speak, while your mouth is flapping you are not learning anything new) and “You have one tongue in your head and two in your shoes: use them in those proportions!”. (actions are more important than promises; either that or he wanted me to take a hike :).

When leading teams we need to know what makes them tick. Just as it is now normal practice to prioritize business features and work on the highest priority items first, we should learn our team members motivational feature list and act accordingly. This is not manipulation it is being respectful and engaged further with team.

As luck would have it, Dr. Mimi Hurt, author of “The Leadership Traits of Geeks and Geezers: How Era, Values and Defining Moments Shape Leaders” is coming to my home town of Calgary on January 9th to talk about a similar topic. Here is the blurb “The impatience is palpable for this new generation who measures success in terms of challenge, responsibility, and the opportunity to make history. Issues such as loyalty, learning, productivity, security, incentives, and work-life balance have vastly different meanings for this emerging generation of workers who will not only demand more from their employers, but also will require organizations to adopt new strategies to attract, motivate and retain talented employees. Dr. Hurt’s presentation will examine the differences among the generations of IT professionals, explore the challenges these differences pose, and provide suggestions for how to address them.”

I will attend and report back any confirming/disproving/additional insights.


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