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An IT organization's success is predicated on being able to attract and motivate the brightest minds. Unfortunately, in most organizations, policies and practices to attract and motivate the workforce were established with older generations, the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers, in mind. The mind-sets of the younger generations, Generation Xers and Millennials, are markedly different. The problem is exacerbated for IT organizations because projections are that there will continue to be a dearth of technically competent employees.
One evolving organizational attribute that's being used to motivate employees is a company's dedication to providing a valuable service for society in a socially responsible manner. Millennials are far more socially minded than any previous generation because they've been the most exposed to social issues. They understand global issues because they've witnessed terrorist attacks on American soil, and they understand environmental issues because they see the impact of global warming. Because they're socially minded, they want to work for companies that are socially responsible.
At the same time, older generations are becoming financially secure and have begun to search for deeper meaning in their work. Studies show that employees increasingly want to fulfill a personal need for meaning and they will work more passionately when they know their energies are making positive contributions to society.
Employees have the highest intrinsic motivation for their jobs when their company's purpose and practices reflect their own values and desires. Extrinsic motivators, such as money, can satisfy employees' external needs but don't make them passionate about their jobs and can never generate as much motivation. Intrinsic enthusiasm results in employees willingly devoting time and energy beyond what they're being paid for.
Like most companies, we at Con-way provide a valuable service for society. For Con-way, it's transporting heavy freight around the world, and this is motivating to employees when they see it from the perspective of benefiting society. In addition, we're actively pursuing many socially responsible initiatives, including helping a local community center pay off its mortgage, making our data center more green, and finding ways to decrease our utilization of materials such as fuel.
We aren't pursuing these initiatives for the purpose of motivating employees, but that has certainly been one of the most significant impacts. The majority of candidates I've interviewed recently have asked what Con-way's doing to benefit society, and I can see these people light up when I describe these initiatives. I've had numerous employees tell me that they feel more connected because of these initiatives, and I know that translates into higher intrinsic motivation.
Most companies provide a valuable service to society; leaders should emphasize this and explore other methods to strengthen the value they provide to society. It will pay off in many ways, including a higher-performing workforce.
Jacquelyn Barretta is the CIO of Con-way, the No. 1 company on the 2007 InformationWeek 500 list of technology innovators. Share your thoughts at our blog, CIOs Uncensored.