Mark Craemer 1 Comment

Actively engaged workers dramatically improve productivity and, according to a new book on the subject, the most effective way to engage employees is to help them make steady progress toward their goals.

As I wrote in a previous post, employee engagement should not be merely an HR initiative to use when morale is down. It also should not be a one-off intervention after other extrinsic incentives have been offered up.

Instead, employee engagement should be a strategic approach for driving improvement that is directly linked to achieving corporate goals and organizational change. It should lead to workers who are more emotionally attached, involved and fully committed to their organizations. This can profoundly increase productivity.

In The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, the authors determined that steady, continual progress is far and away the most effective way to motivate employees.

Their research included nearly 12,000 daily reports from 236 knowledge workers from 26 project teams in seven different companies. Each employee was asked to respond every day to the following: Briefly describe one event from today that stands out in your mind.

What the authors found from this was that the best leaders help employees lead satisfying inner work lives, which include consistently positive emotions, strong motivation, and favorable perceptions of the organization, the work and their colleagues.

“Inner work life,” write Amabile and Kramer, “is the confluence of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday. Inner work life is about emotions—positive or negative—triggered by any event at work.”

A positive inner work life can be influenced by three elements: progress in meaningful work, catalysts or events that directly help project work, and nourishers or the interpersonal events that uplift people doing the work.

Progress events include:

  • Small wins
  • Breakthroughs
  • Forward movement
  • Goal completion

Catalyst events support the work through:

  • Setting clear goals
  • Allowing autonomy
  • Providing resources
  • Providing sufficient time
  • Helping with work
  • Learning from problems and successes
  • Allowing ideas to flow

Nourishing events support the individual and include:

  • Respect
  • Encouragement
  • Emotional support
  • Affiliation

Turns out how we feel greatly determines how well we perform. And that feeling is most heavily influenced by whether or not we are making progress toward our goals.

On the flipside are events that directly lead to a negative inner work life, which stymies engagement and productivity. Negative events include setbacks in the work, inhibitors or events that directly hinder project work, and toxins or interpersonal events that undermine the people doing the work.

And these negative events can be much more powerful than positive events, all other things being equal. They can also contribute to an increase in actively disengaged workers, who can then undermine everything we are trying to accomplish.

Today’s business environment requires a greater reliance on groups of people working collaboratively to solve increasingly more challenging problems. If the feelings we have can so dramatically impact our motivation to work effectively together and find creative solutions, then heeding this advice to engage employees is paramount to our success.

What about you? Are you actively engaged at work? Is it due to the fact that you are continually making progress as well as finding catalysts and nourishers along the way?

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