Motivating Workers

“The key to motivation turns out to be largely within your control,” write Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in the January 2010 issue of Harvard Business Review.  How? “. . . scrupulously avoid impeding progress.”

Amabile and Kramer surveyed more than 600 managers, and then asked hundreds of knowledge workers to keep daily diaries to find out what was the top motivator of performance.

They asked managers to rank the impact of five workplace factors commonly considered significant motivators:  recognition, incentives, interpersonal support, support for making progress, and clear goals.  “Recognition for good work” topped their list.

However, this factor was dead last, according to workers.  Amabile and Kramer found that workers ranked “progress” as their number one factor.  “On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs. . . their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak.” And, “On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.”

What are the implications of this finding?  First, that managers have a lot more control over motivating employees than they may have thought:  “Create a culture of helpfulness. . . Roll up your sleeves and pitch in,” say the authors.  They conclude:  “. . .recognition can’t happen every day. You can, however, see that progress happens every day.”

Does this really work?  In my government career, my best bosses were those who made it their goal to deal with the bureaucracy so I could deal with the work.  I felt productive, even if they didn’t!  But they always told me that that was their job, to make it easier for me to do mine.  Has that been your experience?

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