It seems now that everyone is a Geek. I read the other day about Concrete Geeks. Of course, you have Student Geeks and Sports Geeks and Cookie Geeks and Politics Geeks and Fitness Geeks. In other words, you have people claiming to be Geeks even if what they geek out over is pretty much the opposite of what original Geeks were known for.
So let’s apply the brakes a bit. Yes, Geeks are known as someone with an intense interest and curiosity in a particular subject. But as Wil Wheaton says, “it’s not what you love but how you love it.” And that is the key understanding for C-Suite Executives, because even if you are an Executive Geek, it is highly likely you are motivated differently than a true Geek, and by true Geek, I mean us high-tech gurus who defined Geek in the first place, and name claim to the highest definition of Geek because we were the ones who spilled blood, and who were diving into computer programming while others were beating us over the head with automatic typewriters.
So you want to keep your Geeks and not lose them to the competition…
It’s not what you love (modern definition of Geek) but how you love it (true Geek). If you want to keep Geeks in your company, the IT wizards who are at the heart of everything you do, then you must be intentional in differentiating extrinsic motivation (which works for most of your employees) and the intrinsic motivations that drive your Geeks. Yes, Geeks love money and time-off and other physical perks, but that is not what drives them and keeps them. Instead, most Geek-work is driven by creative problem solving. The C-Suite Executive who keeps their Geeks geeking out are the ones who offer multiple motivations built around this single core.
Geeks want challenging projects, on purpose, with the right people, the right tools and the right reward.
- Challenging Project
There are two sides to challenging projects: There is the Geek and there is the work. The Geek is an artist; (s)he wants to be able to look at a problem and consider the number of options available by which it may be solved. “And this is how we want you to do it” is a literal death sentence to a Geek.
The project needs to be well-defined. Specifically, a challenging project needs a problem statement, a clear idea of what the Geeks are trying to solve. It’s even better if there are clearly articulated goals at the outset. Part of a challenging project is that it is accompanied by realistic deadlines and humane hours. The challenge of a project is not in the impossibilities (“have this done yesterday”), it’s in the possibilities of solving a problem the best way possible, and perhaps, in ways not envisioned before.
If you want to keep Geeks in your company, the IT wizards who are at the heart of everything you do, then you must be intentional in differentiating extrinsic motivation (which works for most of your employees) and the intrinsic motivations that drive your Geeks.
Geeks want to know that their work provides measurable value. Geeks are learners; what they learn, and how they apply it to a problem, is inherent in demonstrating their value. The last thing they want to do, for most of their time at least, is to do what “anyone else can do.” Geeks pride themselves on what they alone can bring to the table. This is also why a good C-Suite Executive will build competition into a project. Geeks love competition, not necessarily against something but within something: For example, “Produce a system more efficient than this company has ever seen before.”
- On Purpose
Geeks will leave if they aren’t accomplishing anything. If projects are always delayed or courses are being changed, Geeks will look for the company that actually need their expertise to get something done.
That is why the best C-Suite executive or IT Manager knows to protect their Geeks from any customer interface or meeting prematurity where a desire has yet to be translated to an objective. Objectives can be turned into code. Ambiguous wishes are merely vapors that vanish into the air.
That a Geek needs to provide value, and that a Geek needs to solve a problem, and that a Geek needs to see their contribution against a bigger corporate objective is exactly why Geeks thrive on communication. Leaders must constantly keep in front of Geeks what the company is trying to accomplish and how the projects advance the greater mission. Geeks are info junkies – they want to know. But they don’t want too much information. Geeks live enough in a silo to not want to be distracted by information that is not relevant. It’s not that information is power; it’s the right information is power.
- With the Right People
For Geeks, the right people are team members who know their stuff, and who are not prone to make mistakes that will cost the rest of the team innumerable hours on unnecessary repair and rework.
For Geeks, the right people are teachers and mentors. Geeks will leave if they do not have people expanding a Geek’s capacity. This is a critical question for the C-Suite Executive: “Do I have masters in place who answer the intrinsic need of Geeks to inquire, to know and to grow in their fields?”
For Geeks, the right people are those who highlight a Geek’s intelligence and give proper credit. It is those who take them seriously, and what drives them seriously. Geeks want to contribute; they genuinely want to help. They also really don’t want to be asked to do anything that calls their credibility into question. Geeks are ruthlessly honest because their work requires honesty; they know if there is a problem in the system, and they know that misrepresenting the problem creates bigger problems. Never ask a Geek to misrepresent your product. They will flee.
For Geeks, the right people give them free food. Seriously. Not all the time, but regularly. It inspires them. It’s a low end investment for the company that gains a high yield of creativity.
- With the Right Tools
Stagnant technology will drive away your Geeks faster than the Flash can circle the earth (which is about a work day at Mach 6 speed).
It’s not that Geeks just want the latest and greatest gadgets. A Geek is genuinely driven to succeed at a problem you have given them, believing that the company legitimately wants to solve a customer need, and to do so in a way that is profitable in the long run to the company. To be given such a challenge, and to then have the right technology withheld, is to betray the honesty of the project, and certainly, to cast a shadow on the true motivation of the company.
Geeks either want to learn the technology that can solve their problem (and once a project is entrusted to them, it personally becomes their problem), or they want the ability to develop the technology that is needed.
- The Right Reward
Have you established for your Geeks a clear path toward career development? Remember, Geeks want to expand themselves. Career development can mean promotion, but it definitely means the ability to become their best creative self, making the most valuable contributions possible.
Geeks will stay with a company for a long time if their ability to grow is not short-term within the system. C-Suite Executives that want to keep their Geeks geeking-out will live by one rule: Geeks Are Always Learning. Reward them with educational opportunities, mentoring relationships, peer growth circles and other capacity-building avenues.
After reading this, you are probably geeking-out yourself over your Geeks. Who doesn’t want employees who are driven by problem solving, focused on the most profitable means, simply seeking to be their best for the best of the customer?