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What is the most powerful management technique for motivating employees?

 

Emphasize forward progress — not for the sake of the project, but for your team members.

Harvard’s Teresa Amabile‘s research found that nothing is more motivating than progress in meaningful work and nothing more taxing than setbacks.

Via The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work:

This pattern is what we call the progress principle: of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most powerful is the opposite of progress—setbacks in the work. We consider this to be a fundamental management principle: facilitating progress is the most effective way for managers to influence inner work life. Even when progress happens in small steps, a person’s sense of steady forward movement toward an important goal can make all the difference between a great day and a terrible one. This pattern became increasingly obvious as the diaries came in from all the teams in our study. People’s inner work lives seemed to lift or drag depending on whether or not their projects moved forward, even by small increments. Small wins often had a surprisingly strong positive effect, and small losses a surprisingly strong negative one. We tested our impressions more rigorously in two ways. Each confirmed the power of progress to dominate inner work life.

And this can spur innovation:

On days when people have made real progress in work that matters to them, they end the day feeling more intrinsically motivated—turned by their interest in and enjoyment of the work. There’s plenty of research showing that, when people are more intrinsically motivated, they are more likely to be creative. This means that when your subordinates have pulled off a real accomplishment, they may be more open to new, challenging work that calls for creativity. In other words, they should be particularly eager to take on vexing problems and find creative solutions following days of notable progress.

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About Eric Barker