Motivating people for project managers

Diagram of a :en:matrix organisation

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Outside of the area of direct sales and many would argue to include that too, there has been a momentous movement away from good old fashioned man management techniques. (please read Man to mean both genders, this is an old term well worth revisiting).

Some blame Matrix management, others blame the growing influence of HR for disenfranchising managers, I blame managers for simply being lazy and blind to the blatantly obvious. I also blame the prevalence of methodology and process as a substitute for management skills rather than a supporting platform. Managers who used to read “the one minute manager” on the train are now reading “Idiot’s guide to the latest Microsoft gadget”

As we moved from a blue collar workforce to a white collar one, the importance of personal motivation as a factor in performance has become more and more important.

As project managers, we take responsibility for a very important part of the organisation’s future and in doing so we become the spearhead and leader of a select group of people deemed sufficiently knowledgeable and capable to help us make it happen. More often than not, these are the future stars of the organisation. Our job as project managers is to lead them. To do this, we will need to demonstrate integrity, ability, skills and personal motivation and we will need to respect and understand the factors that motivate the people we are tasked with leading.

Since this is a blog rather than a book, a detailed discussion is outside of it’s scope, so I will leave you with one big idea to begin with.
“With the possible exception of your mother, nobody will ever do anything for you, they will do it for themselves. The key therefore to getting others to do what you want done is to understand what would make them want to do it.”

If you really believe that you can substitute the fear card for motivation you are simply delusional, even basic humping and carrying can’t be managed this way alone for any length of time and that output is clearly and easily measurable, unlike intellectual products.

Abraham Maslow introduced his theory of human motivation in 1943


In this simple, but profoundly valuable theory, he explained how human motivations are built on each other and how each individual is striving for the level directly above the one they are at. It’s a simple concept and sufficient to understand the basics and begin to probe and understand the motivational needs of your people.

If John has no home he is very unhappy, but as soon as he gets one, he starts to be motivated by making it secure for next year and thereafter. When John has no friends he is concerned about making some, but no sooner has he done that than he wants to be friends with people that will make him look better.

Getting to know people in informal ways reveals things about them and this informal knowledge builds up an instinctive feel for what will motivate them.

The first time I used Maslow to advantage, I was in charge of a sales-force with shrinking sales in the face of a gripping recession. It was a vicious circle, they were de-motivated by recession and hence their performance fell just when it needed to rise. I was told to make cuts and not given much time to do it in. I responded by increasing their salary and removing their bonuses for all but the highest performances.
That may sound contra to every instinct, but it worked incredibly well. When I took away the fear about meeting the spiralling mortgage, they were motivated again.  Just as Maslov had told me, they were not really that motivated by the size of the pay cheque, but I got more mileage out of a few certificates and trinkets and exclusive clubs for high performers.  It worked and it did me no harm either.

Project management is not just about fiddling with Gantts and looking for inspiration, it is about getting off your seat, getting to know people and helping them to help you through helping themselves.

Further reading

If you found Maslow useful, you may want to do some searches on Hetzberg Motivation-Hygiene theory

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