In their book The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer report on their multiyear studies into the relationships between workday evens, inner work life (the perceptions, emotions and motivation of the individual) and individual performance (creativity, productivity, work commitment, and collegiality). Briefly their main conclusion is that making progress in meaningful work is the most powerful motivator people may experience in work. Also, their research shows that setbacks in meaning work have a strong demotivating effect – this effect being even stronger than the experience of progress. A perhaps surprising finding was that even many small, seemingly insignificant, events had a strong impact on employees’ motivations (also read Amabile & Kramer, 2011).


This knowledge can be translated into action quite simply. Here are five practical suggestions:

  1. Begin small: When confronted with big goals or problems, focus on making a small beginning. Starting small will be much easier and will increase your change of experiencing some small progress which may be very motivating. Here is an example of such an approach: Taming the beast.
  2. Slice it up: Slice big problems into small slices. For instance when you have a big problem or a big goal, start to solve that problem on a small scale first and, if it works, expand the scale gradually.
  3. Celebrate: Identify, celebrate and analyze small progress. Amabile and Kramer found that the inner work life of their participants was more positive when small progress was acknowledged and celebrated than when it was ignored or questioned.
  4. Facilitate progress: as a manager focus on facilitating forward movement by helping employees find meaning in work and find ways to make progress (for instance by asking them solution-focused questions).
  5. Remove obstacles: as a manager remove obstacles which stand in the way of employees’ progress or which might cause setbacks (which can be highly demotivating).
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