The Interesting Research
What makes a great day at work? In a day and age when retention is at the forefront of many leaders’ minds, answers to that question are important. How would you feel about discovering that you can create a small, yet significant experience that will positively impact retention of your team members? According to a Harvard professor, you can!
Teresa Amabile conducted a study with people from several different organizations in which individuals were asked to complete an end-of-day survey about their attitude, motivation levels, and emotions regarding work. The experiment resulted in more than 12,000 diary entries, and while every individual in the study experienced ups and downs, Teresa and her team found an interesting trend.
The most common event that tipped the scales for a good day at work was the thought that progress was made by the individual or the team. In fact, taking steps forward appeared on the daily survey on over 75% of people’s “best days” as measured by their mood. The researchers also found that the feeling of progress positively impacted people’s motivation, drive, and perception of their team and company.
Progress, What Progress?
Here’s where the research and our world collide. In our experience, there are a lot of people who just don’t feel like they are making progress (“feel” being the keyword). Take this testimony from a mid-level manager who we spoke with recently, “At the end of the day, I just don’t feel like I made any progress. I feel like I’m always behind. I do work, but it doesn’t feel like we get anywhere. I feel overwhelmed by it all.”
Progress is hard to recognize when we’re feeling overworked. Swamped by a never-ending list of things to get done, we don’t celebrate progress because our brain doesn’t seem to register progress. It’s like we’re on a hamster wheel. We expend a lot of energy, but it doesn’t seem like we’re truly getting anywhere. What a deflating and demoralizing feeling!
As leaders, we can short-circuit this experience by intentionally highlighting that progress is being made. Taking just a few moments to highlight minor milestones can give you and your team a boost of dopamine and, subsequently, improve the likelihood that your brain will describe that day as a good day of work.
How Are You Celebrating the Small Wins?
In sports, celebrating small wins is built into the experience. Fans and teammates cheer when first downs are made, runners advance, or baskets are scored. But what about in your world? What are you doing to keep the progress your team is making from getting lost in the busyness of work? It could be as simple as making a private call to a teammate after a successful meeting or taking a few minutes to leave a handwritten note on someone’s desk to congratulate them on a safe work week. If you are copied on a coworker’s measured response to an inciting email, acknowledge it. If you feel proud of how a direct report handled a tricky agenda item during a meeting, give them a pat on the back, or better yet, treat them to a meal or a coffee on you. The key is recognizing progress and making it memorable because progress quickly becomes forgettable in busy seasons.
Key Questions: What progress is your team making that is in danger of being overlooked right now? How will you help your team celebrate progress? How can you systematize celebrating progress within your team or organization?