Natural Progression

Last year a study by Harvard University’s professor of business administration Teresa Amabile and researcher Steven J. Kramer, delivered such surprising news it was touted as one of the Harvard Business Review’s “breakthrough ideas for 2010.”

More than 600 managers from many different companies were asked to rank the impact on employee motivation and emotions of five workplace factors:

  • recognition for good work
  • incentives
  • interpersonal support
  • support for making progress
  • clear goals

Which would you have chosen?  The survey participants chose recognition (which came second and is clearly very important), but the top motivator for performance was the one the survey participants actually ranked last — progress. Even incremental progress “is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event.”

They researchers reported “On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak,” “On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.”

So, this is great news for managers as a key driver for motivation is within their control, and, should be something they can all influence without the need for financial incentives…  “They can provide meaningful goals, resources, and encouragement, and they can protect their people from irrelevant demands.”

The counter  side to this of course is that if they fail to rise to this challenge it can be very damaging.  The researchers caution managers to  “Avoid changing goals autocratically, being indecisive, or holding up resources,”  because “Negative events generally have a greater effect on people’s emotions, perceptions, and motivation than positive ones, and nothing is more de-motivating than a setback — the most prominent type of event on knowledge workers’ worst days.”

How can you make more space for your people to make progress?

“The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organisation and keep it at bay.” – Steve Jobs

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