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The Progress Principle – Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

The  Progress Principle bookWhat makes teams good? What makes companies out-perform the competition? Teresa Amabile, a business professor and Director of Research at Harvard Business School, teamed up with developmental psychologist to share this story of “inner work life”.

Manage progress, not people

The conclusion presented by the book – manage progress, not people – comes from detailed research across 238 employees from seven companies, who all kept a diary of their daily work lives.

Analysis of those daily diaries allowed the researchers to identify three common elements that play a pivotal role in how we perform.

Bonuses, free lunches, a games room and chill-out zones can all create an enjoyable work atmosphere, but it is our interactions with managers and colleagues that play a pivotal role with how we feel about work.

Inner work life

The inner work life is our inner selves at work. Regardless of your position, your salary, or your perks, the three core elements that affect how you commit yourself to work are perception, emotion and motivation.

We hear about the story of an employee at one company who felt highly motivated to support a manager who praised their work. We also hear about a team that became demotivated instantly when a new management crew swept aside all their work to impose new ideas that did not inspire the team.

The opening chapter tells how a massively successful corporation went from hero to zero in four years as the staff’s inner work lives were severely damaged by a series of seemingly inconsequential and simple events.

Reading this book, you will see how a simple conversation between a manager and employee can hamper happiness at work. This, in turn, hampers creativity and productivity and, eventually, damages the whole company.

Here’s one diary entry cited in the book, written by an employee at one of the companies in the study:

Today, our whole team met to discuss cost reductions for our product line. There has been lots of pressure from upper management to take cost out of the business. [ … ] Christopher’s relaxational style dictated the mode the entire time. (Tense!!) He seemed more concerned with cheating the system just to make our team’s numbers look good. (Make him look good!) He was pushing his title around and telling us all what to do. I wasn’t motivated to follow his leadership at all. Instead, I wanted to do just the opposite. I want to follow someone with courage, but today Christopher didn’t have any.

Here’s a diary entry at the opposite end of the scale:

Paul, ‘the boss’, gave me my performance appraisal today. He was encouraging and highly complimentary. Paul is a breath of fresh air when it comes to management. I feel truly motivated by him and I am even more willing to help him and our team succeed.

The authors say that inner work life is not a fixed state. “It is the dynamic interplay between a person’s perceptions, emotions and motivation at any point during the workday. Because the three elements influence each other to create an overall subjective experience, this means that inner work life is a system, a set of interdependent components that interact over time.”

Buy the book on Amazon.

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