Making Headway - The Key to Employee Engagement

We’re making good progress! This declaration suggests motivation, optimism, dedication, and commitment. When employees sense that they’re making headway toward a clearly defined goal, their drive to excel is at its peak.

Understanding the power of the perception of progress is one of the ten breakthrough ideas for 2010 compiled by Harvard Business Review in cooperation with the World Economic Forum. “Ask leaders and managers what they think makes employees enthusiastic about work, and they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms …[r]ecognition for good work,” write Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer in the January – February 2010 issue of HBR.

Trouble is that they’re wrong. Amabile and Kramer surveyed more than 600 managers in dozens of companies about five factors commonly considered to be instrumental in motivation and positive feeling about work: recognition for good work, incentives, interpersonal support, support for making progress, and clear goals. Recognition for good work came out number one.

But when Amabile and Kramer looked at the results of their multi-year study in which they tracked the day-to-day activities, emotions and motivation levels of hundreds of knowledge workers in a wide variety of settings, they found that the factor that the leaders and managers responding to the survey ranked dead last – the perception of progress – was the top motivator of knowledge workers.

“On the 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,” write Amabile and Kramer. “On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishments, their moods and motivation are lowest.” This result showing the importance of progress associated with positive emotion and high motivation was apparent in the 12,000 detailed diary entries that the knowledge workers completed as part of the research.

Court managers should regard this finding as very good news. First of all, it should be comforting to know that employees can be engaged with a court’s mission and goals when they feel they are making strides toward achieving them – something that probably is equally true of the court’s leaders and managers. Second – and this is I assume why understanding the power of progress is among HBR’s breakthrough ideas for 2010 – the key to employee engagement and motivation turns out to be in court managers’ control. They can establish clear goals, identify unambiguous measures of success, provide support and resources, and “proactively create both the perception and reality of progress.”

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