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    How to improve employee engagement

    The Problem

    Ask managers what they think are key factors to employee engagement, and they’ll tell you in the following order of priority: recognition, incentives, interpersonal support, support for making progress, and clear goals.

    Unfortunately, those managers are wrong in terms of priority.

    The latest research from top consulting firms concludes that the top motivator of performance is PROGRESS. On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak. On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.

    The Breakthrough Idea

    As a manager of people, you should regard this as excellent news: The key to motivation turns out to be largely within your control. What’s more, it doesn’t depend on elaborate incentive systems. Managers have a powerful influence over events that facilitate or undermine progress. They can provide meaningful goals, resources, and encouragement, and they can protect their people from irrelevant demands. Or they can fail to do so.

    So this is my advice to you: Scrupulously avoid impeding progress by changing goals autocratically, being indecisive, or holding up resources. Adverse events generally have a more significant effect on people’s emotions, perceptions, and motivation than positive ones, and nothing is more demotivating than a setback – the most prominent type of event on knowledge workers worst days.

    The Promise

    You can pro-actively create both the perception and the reality of progress. If you are a high-ranking manager, take great care to clarify overall goals, ensure that people’s efforts are adequately supported, and refrain from exerting time pressure so intense that minor glitches are perceived as crises rather than learning opportunities. Cultivate a culture of helpfulness. While you’re at it, you can facilitate progress more directly: Roll up your sleeves and pitch in. Of course, all these efforts will not only keep people working with gusto but also get the job done faster. As for recognition, it does indeed motivate workers and lift their moods. So managers should celebrate progress, even the incremental sort. However, there will be nothing to recognise if people aren’t genuinely moving forward and as a practical matter, recognition can’t happen every day. You can, however, see that progress happens every day.

    When workers sense they’re making headway, their drive to succeed is at its peak.

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