Is Your Place of Work “The Office?”

  • 2 mins read

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.

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