March 7, 2011

Evidence of the motivational impact of progress

On this blog, I have often written about the importance of progress. The solution-focused approach, in my view, is essentially about progress (I have defined solution-focused helping as approach to help clients to make progress in the direction of their own choice - see this video). I even view progress as crucial for finding meaning and gratification in life although I admit there may be some less attractive sides to progress). Also, I have written about the motivational impact of progress (see for instance this post and this post). Is there evidence of the motivational impact of progress? Now, there is.

Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer have done a study about what motivates workers. One thing they did is to survey more than 600 managers from dozens of companies, asking them to rank the impact on employee motivation and emotions of five workplace factors: recognition for good work, incentives, interpersonal support, making progress and clear goals. The majority of these managers, have chosen “recognition for good work”. However, a multiyear study tracking day-to-day activities of knowledge workers in a wide variety of settings, who sent in daily e-mail diaries showed, after analyzing nearly 12,000 diary entries, that the top motivator for performance was the one these survey participants actually ranked last — progress. The researchers said: "Even incremental progress in one’s work “is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event.” By the way, second on the list was rocognition for good work. The researchers: “The diaries revealed that it does indeed motivate workers and lift their moods, so managers should celebrate progress, even the incremental sort.”


  1. This makes sense. I think it's why many programs for self-motivation include keeping a record of progress. These authors also wrote about this in their book "Intrinsic Motivation At Work" and they give 4 principles of intrinsic motivation of which progress is just one.

  2. I agree. Things like 'what has worked' and progress tend to become kind of invisible to us unless we pay explicit attention to them. If we don't our attention will be more occupied by things gone wrong or thing not yet accomplished.


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