How Small Wins Improve Employee Motivation

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Often teams focus solely on the end result, or task they are to achieve. Why? Because senior-management generally focuses on long-term strategy, scaling and budgeting, so they delegate these type of tasks to their teams.

But what about the actual teams who are executing, and finding the process to achieve the task? They are the creators, the innovators, the brains making it go.  An article featured in Harvard Business Review, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, analyzed over 12,000 employee diary entries to understand employee engagement and how it affects innovation and success within organizations.

They found that supporting progress in meaningful work was perhaps the most important aspect in influencing what they termed the “inner work life.” In other words, helping employees see small wins as milestones in work they deem meaningful, not busy work. The idea of supporting progress is more important than establishing clear goals, providing tangible incentives, or providing positive recognition.  The study found that the idea of progress can most visibly affect the emotions and moods an employee may feel throughout the work day or throughout a project.

Kramer and Amabile call this the Progress Principle. “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.”

There are two important things to consider in these findings: Meaningful work and Milestones. Many employees can be busy all day long, yet not achieve meaningful work that aligns to the organizational values and goals. So help your team focus on the meaningful, not the busy, work.

In addition, most leaders focus on the long-term solutions and often forget to keep track of the milestones. In fact, most leaders keep moving the goalposts so that employees don’t even recognize the milestones anymore. Yet, based on these findings, progress spurs employees to continue onward, so moving goalposts or not recognizing small achievements actually hinders workplace motivation.  Although keeping your eye on the ultimate goal is necessary, the process of how to achieve it changes daily. As a manager, your job is to provide ways for them to see the milestone progress and small wins they are making.

How do you do that? I’ll tackle that in next week’s blog.

Have you experienced a small win today? What was it? Send me a tweet @anneloehr or leave a comment.

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