Discover Your Inner Work Life

Have you ever examined your own inner work life? In the work I do corporate coaching, some have good self-awareness of their perceptions, emotions and motivations. Some don’t. Emotional intelligence is something that is developed in coaching relationships and through leadership coaching.
Management responsibilities can take a toll on day-by-day perceptions, emotions and motivations. Most managers are both superiors and subordinates, sandwiched in between different personalities, often with limited power.
Recognizing small wins is the best way to motivate your team – the key principle revealed through rigorous analysis of daily journal entries by Amabile and Kramer in The Progress Principle.
Every day events affect our inner work lives, and managers are certainly not exempt. As a leader, you must tend to your staff’s inner work lives by providing support each day. You, too, will perform best when your inner work life is positive and strong.
You can do what the team members did for The Progress Principle research study to improve your ability to recognize and harness your perceptions, motivations, and emotions to your advantage. You can keep a daily journal.
As used for the study, it only takes five to ten minutes at the end of each day to review significant events. In my previous post A Progress Checklist, I shared questions you can ask to review your day.
A regular review of your day’s events can help you sustain good inner work life or improve bad inner work life for yourself. James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, is a pioneer in research on the benefits of writing in a journal.
Be sure to use the Daily Progress Checklist to review the day’s events and how much you’ve accomplished – no matter how difficult or disappointing. Even if gains seem relatively miniscule, you’ll benefit from an honest assessment. Remember: Setbacks are inevitable, but they serve as learning opportunities.
Progress triggers a positive inner work life. To boost yours, focus on providing your people with catalysts and nourishers. Buffer them, as much as possible, from inhibitors and toxins. This sets the stage for progress in your managerial work, as well as a positive progress loop.

Inner Work Life
Did I see any indications of the quality of my subordinates’ inner work lives today?
Perceptions of the work, team, management, firm?
What specific events might have affected inner work life today?

Action Plan
What can I do tomorrow to strengthen the catalysts and nourishers identified and provide ones that are lacking? What can I do tomorrow to start eliminating the inhibitors and toxins identified?

Source: T. Amabile & S. Kramer, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (Harvard Business Press, 2011)

A Progress Checklist

I’m amazed by the research done for the book The Progress Principle. The authors, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, used daily diaries to collect the thoughts about work from teams of knowledge workers in seven diverse companies.
What they found makes so much sense, yet it’s not being applied by most managers. They showed that above all else, people were motivated when they got support for progress. That’s not the same as recognition for good work. People want to accomplish meaningful work, and even small wins, for themselves or their team mates, boosts their energy and motivation.
Here are some questions that can walk you through using small wins and progress to motivate your team or work group.


Which 1 or 2 events today indicated either a small win or a possible breakthrough? (Describe briefly.) Which 1 or 2 events today indicated either a small setback or a possible crisis? (Describe briefly.)


Did the team have clear short- and long-term goals for meaningful work? Was there any confusion regarding long- or short-term goals for meaningful work?
Did team members have sufficient autonomy to solve problems and take ownership of the project? Were team members overly constrained in their ability to solve problems and feel ownership of the project?
Did they have all the resources they needed to move forward efficiently? Did they lack any of the resources they needed to move forward effectively?
Did they have sufficient time to focus on meaningful work? Did they lack sufficient time to focus on meaningful work?
Did I give or get them help when they needed or requested it? Did I encourage team members to help one another? Did I or others fail to provide needed or requested help?
Did I discuss lessons from today’s successes and problems with my team? Did I “punish” failure, or neglect to find lessons and/or opportunities in problems and successes?
Did I help ideas flow freely within the group? Did I or others cut off the presentation or debate of ideas prematurely?
Nourishers Toxins
Did I show respect to team members by recognizing their contributions to progress, attending to their ideas and treating them as trusted professionals? Did I disrespect any team members by failing to recognize their contributions to progress, not attending to their ideas or not treating them as trusted professionals?
Did I encourage team members who faced difficult challenges? Did I discourage a member of the team in any way?
Did I support team members who had a personal or professional problem? Did I neglect a team member who had a personal or professional problem?
Is there a sense of personal and professional affiliation and camaraderie within the team? Is there tension or antagonism among members of the team or between team members and me?

Source: T. Amabile & S. Kramer, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (Harvard Business Press, 2011)
Learn more about management tactics like this through our work in healthcare coaching.

Facilitating Progress

When you focus on small wins and facilitate progress, your employees will find the energy and drive required to perform optimally. Teams will be more cohesive and collaborative. You’ll get high performing teams.
In the work I do in leadership coaching and team responsibility, I find that some naturally know how to spark best performance, some don’t.
According to the latest research done by Amabile and Kramer for the book The Progress Principle, two key forces enable progress:

  1. Catalysts Events that directly advance project work, such as:
    1. Clear goals
    2. Autonomy
    3. Resources, including time
    4. Reviewing lessons from errors and success
    5. Free flow of ideas
  2. Nourishers Interpersonal events that uplift workers, including:
    1. Encouragement and support
    2. Demonstrations of respect
    3. Collegiality

Dealing with Setbacks
Three events undermine people’s inner work lives:

  1. Setbacks The biggest downer, yet inevitable in any sort of meaningful work
  2. Inhibitors Events that directly hinder project work
  3. Toxins Interpersonal events that undermine the people doing the work

Negative events carry a greater impact than positive ones. We pay more attention to them, remember them, and spend more time thinking and talking about them.
That’s why it’s so important for managers and team leaders to counteract negative events with positive perceptions and comments. Research shows it takes three positive messages to balance a negative one.
The Daily Progress Checklist
To better manage your people, use the Daily Progress Checklist (below) to review today’s and plan tomorrow’s managerial actions. After a few days of checklist use, you’ll be able to save time by scanning for the italicized words:

  1. Focus first on the day’s progress and setbacks.
  2. Next, think about specific events: the catalysts and nourishers that affected progress.
  3. Finally, prepare for action: What’s the one step you can take to best facilitate progress?

Is Your Place of Work “The Office?”

So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to do work.” ~ Peter Drucker
As any fan of The Office or Dilbert can attest, negative managerial behavior severely affects employees? work lives. Managers’ day-to-day and moment-to-moment actions also create a ripple effect, directly facilitating or impeding the organization’s ability to function.
In the work I do in corporate coaching, I find the best managers are very aware of their power to influence. They know how much even small wins can boost the performance of their people. They strive to build teams with great inner work lives.
In ‘The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work‘ (Harvard Business Press, 2011), Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer describe how people with great inner work lives have:

  • Consistently positive emotions
  • Strong motivation
  • Favorable perceptions of the organization, their work and their colleagues

Unfortunately, the worst managers do the opposite: they undermine others’ inner work lives, often unwittingly. Through rigorous analysis of nearly 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees at seven companies, Amabile and Kramer found surprising results on the factors that affect performance.
What matters most is forward momentum in meaningful work – in a word, progress. Managers who recognize the need for even small wins set the stage for high performance.
But surveys of CEOs and project leaders reveal that 95 percent fundamentally misunderstand the need for this critical motivator.
What Really Motivates Us?
If you lead knowledge workers, you likely employ these conventional management practices:

  • Recruit the best talent.
  • Provide appropriate incentives.
  • Give stretch assignments to develop talent.
  • Use emotional intelligence to connect with each individual.
  • Review performance carefully.

Unfortunately, you may miss the most fundamental source of leverage: managing for progress. Recognizing even the smallest win has a more powerful impact than virtually anything else.
In a survey by Amabile and Kramer, 669 managers ranked five factors that could influence motivation and emotions at work:

  1. Recognition
  2. Incentives
  3. Interpersonal support
  4. Clear goals
  5. Support for making progress in the work

Managers incorrectly ranked “support for making progress” dead last, with most citing “recognition for good work” as the most important motivator.
Your ability to focus on progress is paramount. Video-game designers excel at this mission, hooking players on the steady pace of progress bars.
What have you noticed in your own work place? Do managers facilitate or impede work progress? I’d love to hear from you.

More Generational Clash Points: Meetings

Older workers expect a phone call or a visit on important issues and will immediately schedule and plan a meeting to involve significant stakeholders. This frustrates younger workers, who want to meet on the spur of the moment, as soon as possible.
Through corporate coaching, I listen to their complaints and they have a point. But so do younger workers.
For example, they see nothing wrong with texting superiors and peers instead of scheduling face-to-face meetings, and they like to communicate and solve problems virtually. When faced with a need to meet, they try to contact everyone immediately and begin videoconferencing, chatting, texting, talking and tweeting – often all at the same time.
Older colleagues prefer to find a time and day that fits everyone’s schedule – which can delay meeting for days or weeks. They fit things into their routines and calendars. To Gen Y, the ritual of workplace scheduling is stifling, unproductive and a waste of time.
The younger people may have a point. But to older colleagues, a seat-of-the-pants approach is irritating. They also have a point: It doesn’t give them enough time to think things through, nor to adequately prepare for a politically influential outcome.
Clash Point #4: Learning
Older generations are linear learners, comfortable sitting in classes, reading manuals and pondering materials before beginning to implement new programs.
Newer workers learn “on demand”, which to Boomers means they just want to “wing it”, figuring things out as they go. Gen-Y learning is interactive, using the Internet, Wikipedia and blogs. They rely on Google and web searches to find answers.
Gen Y doesn’t hesitate to call a friend or send an email directly to the CEO. They ask questions and get their information instantaneously. They are easily bored by training sessions, manuals and programs that spoon-feed information over time.
Issues You Can’t Ignore
Here’s why your company can’t afford to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done, hoping people will work out the details among themselves:
Gen X is a smaller generation, almost half the size of the Boomer generation. Gen Y is large – very large. This newer generation is much larger than the 77 million Boomers. Combined, Gen X and Gen Y already outnumber the Boomers and Seniors, making the 40 and younger crowd the largest segment of the workplace. Boomers no longer hold the majority vote, although most hold positions of power and responsibility.
This transition in power and influence is not something organizations can avoid or ignore. Managers must learn to leverage each generation’s strengths for the benefit of all, or risk becoming less efficient and productive because of the inherent conflicts.
There is no room to allow tradition and convenience to hinder changes that boost performance and productivity. There’s also not much room for generational judging or complaining.
Managers must create opportunities for a multigenerational work force to share its differences. To hire and retain high performers, leaders must also provide flexible options. Look for ways to benefit from each generation’s assets to inspire understanding, collaboration and creativity.
Learn more about leadership coaching.