What if leaders focused on progress?

What is the impact on our performance of day to day, small and seemingly inconsequential interactions?
Teresa Amabile is the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration and a Director of Research at Harvard Business School. Originally educated as a chemist, Teresa received her doctorate in psychology from Stanford University. She studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance.
What is the single important motivator for employees?
Her latest research asked 669 managers what they thought was most important to the motivation of employees. They were provided with a list of possible alternatives. Of these alternatives, well understood management practices such as recognition, incentives and agreed goals rated very highly by managers. Least important of all the alternatives was progress monitoring.
Yet when she monitored dozens of diaries of workers, daily events had a huge impact on the way individuals felt about their work, themselves, and the organisation. Daily monitoring of progress was the single most important factor in how individuals performed and felt about their performance and yet was considered important in only 5% of managers surveyed.
Daily monitoring critical
Daily diary studies have shown the amount of total variance in work engagement that can be explained through within-person fluctuations range from 28% to 72% (Xanthopoulou & Bakker, 2013). This research demonstrates that individuals are susceptible to huge variations in how they feel from one day or moment to the next. Companies who place alot of faith in the results of annual engagement surveys need note that much of the variation from one year to the next could be attributed to a small, momentary interaction at the coffee machine or in an inconsequential meeting and not to that large, expensive change programme you have put in place.
What can managers do?
As a manager what can we do to start recognising the importance of these daily interactions:
  1. For a start, at the end of each day we can ask each of our team “What stood out for you?”. Even better, we can get team members to ask each other.
  2. When there is a set back, what was the learning from that setback?
  3. Finally, taking a strengths based approach, ask how could they apply their strengths differently, to get over this setback?