Motivating and demotivating technical visionaries in large corporations: a comparison of perspectives



A substantial body of literature addresses the motivation of technical professionals in large corporations. Included are considerations of the motivation of subgroups, such as contrasting the motivation of scientists and engineers. Notably absent, however, is an in-depth, multiple-perspective consideration of both the motivation and demotivation of the small number of individuals in nearly every corporation who contribute significantly and disproportionately to the growth and profitability of the corporation. These exceptional, high-performing technologists, whom we refer to as technical visionaries (TVs), are the drivers of breakthrough, radical innovation. Through 64 in-depth interviews with TVs, their direct technical managers (TMs) and their human resource managers (HRMs), this research explores the similarities and differences in perception between these three groups concerning TV motivation and demotivation. TMs predominantly apply informal, personalized, and relational management motivating techniques. HRMs predominantly perceive value in the formalized, standard corporate structures and reward systems that serve the ‘typical employee’ for motivating TVs. By comparing the perspectives of TVs, TMs, and HRMs, we observe that the TMs are in strong alignment with TV perspectives on motivation and demotivation, while the HRMs are not in alignment with TV perspectives. Interestingly, both TMs and HRMs emphasize techniques most readily available to them. Most notable relative to demotivating TVs, the HRMs are least able to articulate an understanding consistent with that of the TVs. Based on these and other observations, we offer recommendations for those who manage these critical and unique technical visionaries.