The Progress Principle

Here are articles discussing Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer's study on motivation at work, The Progress Principle.

It turns out that 95% of managers are wrong about what motivates people at work. It's not financial incentive or stress--rather, the most powerful motivator at work is the sense that you're making progress towards a meaningful goal.

Don’t Let Your Huge Goal Distract You from Small Wins

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Go big or go home. Shoot for the stars. Aim high. These types of platitudes could be holding you back, because they’re distracting you from all the small things.

A kind word or a moment of honest listening can be enough fuel to keep you going. Doing one push-up a day, writing one line a day seems laughably easy and ridiculously unambitious — but that’s how you build a practice.

We think small actions leads to small consequences, and grand motions have the most impact. But that’s just not true. We presume this “consequence-cause matching,” because it helps the world seem more predictable and manageable — but in return for believing this myth, we’re less happy and successful.

Small things might seem silly, but they can have exactly some of the outsize impact we need to reach our big dreams.

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How to Trick Yourself into Making Real Progress

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Progress motivates like no other method.

Thanks to rigorous research by Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer, authors of the aptly titled The Progress Principle, we know that it’s not money, fame, or fear that drives us to do our best work. Instead, it’s making progress on meaningful work that’s key for staying motivated, productive, and creative.

Even small steps count. Events and experiences that seem trivial or take mere minutes help to build that sense of progress, whether it’s having a constructive chat with a coworker about how your project’s going, a particularly positive customer interaction, or fixing a paragraph in your report.

Progress is so alluring that even the illusion of forward steps increases your drive — which means you might not be taking full advantage of how progress motivates to kick-start your productivity.

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95% of Managers Follow an Outdated Theory of Motivation

Ford assembly line in the 1940s

What, by a long shot, is the most important motivator for employees at work? Is it money, pressure, or praise?

Typically managers believe the idea that pressure makes diamonds. The thinking is that if you want exceptional performance, you align employee objectives with end-of-year bonuses for hitting certain milestones and then employees will turn up their work ethic to reach them.

Long-held conventional wisdom on management dies hard. That’s because it’s based on gut instinct and superstition — and managerial understanding of motivation is no different. A massive 95% of managers are wrong about what the most powerful motivator for employees at work.

Not only that, they’re thinking about employee motivation fundamentally wrong.

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How to Get Your Team to Deliver

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Team aimlessness is a tricky foe. It creeps in even when we have the best intentions, corroding motivation and meaningful progress, rearing its ugly head in stalled projects, avoided emails, the checked-out employee.

In the world of software development, team aimlessness is public enemy number one. When it may take up to six months to a year to develop an idea into a usable application, it’s easy to lose sight of goals and your team loses steam.

If you have 83,000 lines of code, what does that mean? Where are you going? When coming into work starts to feel like Groundhog’s day, and focus dwindles, progress isn’t how many lines of code you’re writing.

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Build Brick by Brick

John Heywood was an English playwright who lived hundreds of years ago.

Today, Heywood is known for his poems, proverbs, and plays. But more than any one work, it’s his phrases that have made him famous. For example, here are some popular sayings that have been attributed to Heywood:

“Out of sight out of mind.”
“Better late than never.”
“The more the merrier.”
“Many hands make light work.”

There is one phrase from Heywood that is particularly interesting when it comes to building better habits:

“Rome was not built in one day.”

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How ShopLocket Maximizes its Progress By Celebrating Wins

When ShopLocket cofounder and CEO Katherine Hague once wanted to sell some ninja T-shirts, she found herself stuck, feeling that the cost and process of building a whole storefront to do so didn’t make any sense. Seeing a gap in e-commerce options between all the bells and whistles of building a virtual store and throwing a posting up on Craigslist, Katherine and cofounder Andrew Louis started ShopLocket to provide a microshop tool to embed products into whatever platform you’re already using, from Facebook pages, blogging sites, and beyond.

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Creating A Happy Workplace at ShopLocket

Having gone through a Toronto accelerator, raised a seed round of $1 million in funding, and expanded to a team of seven since 2011, ShopLocket is now focused on understanding their sales funnel and growing their product team. Throughout this progression, Katherine’s been careful to ensure that ShopLocket’s culture remains strong and employees happy by cultivating a workplace where people actually like to be.

In starting ShopLocket, Katherine explains, “We wanted to create a place where we wanted to work. A lot of that creating a happy place comes from the Zappos mentality but we’d heard a lot of stories of people who woke up one day to realize that they’ve created a company where they don’t even want to go.”

ping pong at shoplocket

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LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner’s Unconventional Meeting Technique

Silicon Valley is all about metrics, metrics, metrics. The numbers tell us what’s wrong, and then we fix them. That’s why I was surprised to learn that the CEO of one of the Valley’s flagship companies has a different perspective on what’s important to discuss at weekly staff meetings.

Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn CEO on sharing small wins to start meetings

While Valley dogma says that meetings must be kept as short as possible and that discussions must focus on hard numbers and data, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner avoids talking about metrics at all when starting off meetings. Before getting down to focused business talk, Weiner actually requires every person in the room to share something that’s soft and mushy, not rigorous and quantifiable. He asks each of his direct reports to share their “wins” — “one personal victory and one professional achievement” — from the past week.

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Why Does Your Work Matter?

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What’s the point of work? Why does your work matter? What are you working towards? Some people would say towards a paycheck, others might even say towards glory if they were being honest, but there are not so many who would say towards value and meaning.

In an illuminating TED talk about motivation at work, behavioral economist Dan Ariely says that people know that meaning is important but don’t grasp just how important it is. And for some reason that makes me think about how one of the most common deathbed regrets is wishing that you’d worked less, because at that stage, I’m guessing, what’s on your mind, what you’re reaching back for is the stuff that mattered.

Meaning, that connection to something larger than ourselves, is essential. But it is pushed aside in the often superficial yet tempting notions of self-improvement, that you’ll be better and happier, you’ll be a winner, when you’re fitter, faster, richer, thinner. And it slips away like a breeze from the principles of efficiency and productivity that continue to dominate the modern workplace despite persistent, crushing degrees of disengagement.

Getting motivation at work right seems like it will unlock success, but we pay a heavy price in not understanding that meaning is the master key.

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Why Work Loneliness Isn’t Just a Personal Problem, and What to Do About It

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Work is a social thing. It’s done with people, and at the very least, for people. At the same time, you are one person with a job to do. When those personal and social gears are out of alignment, when you’re not connecting with the people you spend so many hours a day with, you get lonely.

Loneliness seems like such an intensely personal, private problem, but it’s much more than that. Loneliness and isolation is a collective issue. And at work, loneliness is yet another effect of the inadequate attention paid to the human side of getting stuff done together.

Whether it’s the inertia of interacting with the same people every day in a way that’s unique from all your other relationships, there’s a prevailing sense that work is this realm where you just deal, that it’s not something that you can improve. While we understand the prioritization of personal friends and loved ones, we often miss out on meaningful interaction with the person down the hall, focus on growing our supposed professional network more than we look next to us to grow higher quality connections.

That kind of thinking is unhealthy, unhelpful, and unproductive.

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