How do you motivate people who work in a cost center?

Most of the people participating in this part of the Intel Community are IT folks. We all share some common skills and backgrounds, and likely degrees in similar things like Information Systems.

We also share a commonality in the workplace - we work in a cost center. IT, in most cases, is not a money-maker for a company. Product divisions create things, sales and marketing divisions sell things, but IT just keeps it all up and running. Money doesn't flow through IT, it flows TO IT to pay for the networks, phones, servers, clients, software, websites, etc.

So when it comes time for cost-cutting, the cost centers are the first on the chopping block. So how do you keep your employees going when all around them budgets are being cut, headcount actions remain a possibility, and the economy around them pours through instability?

Now keep in mind we're not perfect - we don't always do things as consistently as we should, but we try.

Here are Heath's Five Suggestions for IT in 2009.

1. More consistent communications - get the CIO and the senior IT leaders in front of people talking about what's going on within the IT. Be open to listening to your internal blogs and forums environments where people tend to be more vocal, and actively participate in these "new" communication styles. Communication shifts, and we have to shift with it.

2. Regularly scheduled on-site social events. We've had a catered breakfast and two lunches this year for all of IT on site. We also did an "Amazing Race" competition that brought teams together from all parts of IT, complete with catered BBQ lunch, some exciting video game playing, and wacky relay races. Get people away from their desks and provide opportunities to socialize with their peers. I know people who work in a 3 aisle radius, but there are a ton of other people in IT that are just as cool and just as interesting - give me an opportunity to meet them.

3. Embed the fun at a department level. A number of departments have purchased video game systems and are setting up game time over the lunch hour for their teams. Right now I'm participating in one with my entire program team, and I got feedback from one of my employees that this has gone a long way in bringing fun into the workplace. You don't have to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on a gaming system, so bring in a board game to your staff meeting, and instead of spending an hour on passdowns, spend an hour flying around Park Place* and Boardwalk* with your team.

4. Reset your expectations if necessary. The world is not the same as it was in the dot com boom. Companies are shifting their spending to research and innovation, and growth is slowing. You can't expect that people will maintain the same level of passion they had before if you aren't actively encouraging it and promoting it. If you're a manager, you can't keep raising the bar if people feel like they are beaten down by outside influences. Be realistic about what your team can achieve and set REAL stretch goals.

5. Focus on strengths, NOT areas of development. People in IT will always have something new to learn, but let them do that when they are ready for it. Focus on what they are good at and talk about those things. Get them into jobs that accentuate the positive and not punishment for the improvement areas. Yes - make sure people have the basic skills for the job and interact positively in the workplace, but if you've got someone who is superior at programming and not at public speaking - stop trying to put them in front of the customer and let them code to their heart's content!

Give it a shot and see what happens in your team! IT has a strategic place in the growth and development of any company - but you have to make it happen.

I welcome all feedback and comments about what your organizations are doing to keep the motivation and the passion in IT.