I recently participated in an American Management Association webinar entitled The Progress Principle: Sparking Employee Engagement and Performance. The presenters were Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, co-authors of a book entitled The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work.
1. Inner Work Life Drives Performance
Amabile and Kramer conducted a “diary study” of employees in seven different industries, asking them to describe daily their activities and feelings of engagement. They coupled this diary information with numerical performance data.
This study found that employees’ inner work life drives performance. Inner work life consists of employees’ perceptions, emotions and motivations.
Employees’ inner work life determines whether they are engaged and productive in the workplace. More specifically, positive perceptions, pleasant emotions and intrinsic motivation increases creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality.
2. The Progress Principle: Progress on Meaningful Work
Amabile and Kramer found that the most important determinant of whether employees have positive feelings about their work is whether they made progress that day on meaningful work – what Amabile and Kramer call “The Progress Principle.”
In the diary study, 76% of employees described making progress on their projects on their best days, when they felt most engaged. By contrast, over 70% of employees described work-related setbacks on their worst days at work.
3. The Power of Small Wins
A further finding of the study was that small daily wins in the workplace translate into a big positive impact on people’s inner work life. Similarly, setbacks on projects in the workplace translate into negative impacts.
Therefore, it is important for managers to help employees achieve regular forward progress on their work. Managers should break big projects up into smaller segments with regular milestones, so that employees can feel forward momentum frequently.
4. What Managers Can Do
Amabile and Kramer found that managers need to provide two types of support to employees to increase the chances of them feeling that they were making progress on meaningful work – project support and people support.
a. Project Support (Catalysts)
According to Amabile and Kramer, the catalysts that managers can use to support employees’ progress include:
- Clear meaningful goals
- Sufficient information and resources
- Help with their work
- Learning from problems and successes
- Open flow of ideas
- Sufficient time for the work (but not so much as to remove all time pressure)
b. People Support (Nourishment)
In addition, managers can support their employees through
- Respect and recognition
- Emotional support
- Affiliation and camaraderie
Co-workers are important elements in the workplace, but managers are the most critical link.
5. Daily Journaling
As a writer and journal-keeper myself, it intrigued me that Amabile and Kramer recommended that managers keep a daily progress review detailing what happened in the workplace that day to support and detract from progress. They suggest that managers ask themselves each day “What one thing can I do tomorrow to foster progress in my employees?”
Employees own their own inner work life, but managers can and must support them. Direct supervisors are the most important link between an employee and their engagement and productivity at work.
What can you do tomorrow to foster engagement among your employees?