Do you have days when you feel like you’re getting nowhere or sense a project will never end? Worked on initiatives where you were only part of the solution and would never see the finished product? Wonder what happened to that suggestion that received such a positive reception and now seems to have disappeared? Join the crowd. So many of us are not privy to or given access to much of the work and decisions that are made in our workplace. What we also lack is any kind of regular feedback that would motivate, inform, and engage us to carry on.

In the May 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, authors Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer talk about what they call the “progress principle.” It is based on research they performed with knowledge workers, not people who see a car come off the assembly line or a movie wrap, but those workers (there are millions of them in the United States alone) whose end product is an idea, solution, or intangible product. They, like most of you, are people who sit all day, almost every day, in front of a monitor, maybe isolated from others, solving problems for the company and their customers. The question is, “If I were the manager or coach, how could I motivate top performers when they are in the midst of a long-term, complex project?” The data suggests if I wanted to get you moving faster, increase your creative output, and enhance your work satisfaction, I should support your progress at every opportunity.

That’s right, just like we do with young children when we celebrate their first step or their first word. We don’t wait to celebrate until they have walked from point A to point Z, or until they have spoken in a full sentence—we celebrate the first word, the first step.

In the workplace, individuals need to see and feel they are moving ahead with their work. How can setbacks (the authors found that even small losses can really derail morale) be framed as merely corrections and not doom, and assure ourselves, and our people, we are on the right track?

If progress is what leads to the best quality and better timing, how do leaders behave to get the most from others and themselves? As is often the case, obstacles, hurdles, negative influencers, are huge factors. Rid a project of many of these and people can fly. As a manager, I always saw guarding the door from the naysayers as a major part of my role. There are toxic people and poisonous rules that do nothing but hold up progress. I always felt it was my obligation to use my power and influence to quiet, ideally rid, my staff of these impediments. It was all the better if they never knew of the potential intrusions.

Of course few things impede progress more than a lack of resources, the wrong resources (including human power), or too little time. Not having the right tools makes the job ten times more difficult and lacking either another hand or someone with a needed expertise can bring work to a halt. As important as support is, the manager must have a willingness to provide some form of autonomy, so each person can see his or her unique contribution and take ownership. With that in place, they will want to continue.

Clear goals are essential for attainment. Short-term goals are as important as long, in fact, when it comes to influencing progress, the daily, weekly, and monthly targets appear to be more important than the end. That’s why I encourage all of my executive coaching clients to complete a “Weekly Progress Report.” They get a sense of satisfaction in tasks well done, they realize they’re that much closer to the big goals. It gives me the opportunity to congratulate and stretch them.

So how can you get more out of, or progress further in your own work, and with those you lead and manage?

  1. Set short-term goals and monitor and recognize attainment.
  2. Allow yourself and your people the freedom to work on projects in their unique style. Focus on the results, not how they got there.
  3. Encourage and motivate often and regularly in a way staff members can take in. Give feedback that is positive as well as constructive.
  4. Facilitate resources and time. Don’t agree to things you know can’t happen.
  5. Avoid or rid the negative influences. As a manager, don’t always share less than flattering comments from others.
  6. Celebrate progress.
  7. Catch them doing something right.
  8. Formally measure progress.
  9. Share the accolades.
  10. Be a resource for progress.

Everyone likes to feel they are getting further along in the work they do. We all enjoy a sense of accomplishment and that attainment need not wait for the end of a project but can be recognized and encouraged repeatedly through the steps. Doing this will result in a better quality of work that is more creative and completed by a person who will report greater personal and professional satisfaction than someone merely waiting for an end.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.