7 Significant Steps to Employee Engagement Progress

3. Path Progress: Navigate through setbacks, path progress, enable work and achieve small wins. 

(Part 3 of a 10 part series on how managers can improve employee engagement)

Fully engaged. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer published The Progress Principle this year demonstrating the primary role progress and avoidance of setbacks plays in motivation and engagement.  Their research was based on 12,000 daily diaries. Their conclusion:

of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most powerful is the opposite of progress – setbacks in the work.  We consider this to be a fundamental management principle: facilitating progress is the most effective way for managers to influence inner work life. Even when progress happens in small steps, a person’s sense of steady forward movement toward an important goal can make all the difference betweeen a great day and a terrible one. (p.76&77)

Snakes and ladders. If progress is the ladder on the classic board game of snakes and ladders than setbacks are the snakes. It is very important to realize that the effect of setbaks on emotions is stronger than the effect of progress. Small loses can eliminate small wins and negative managerial behavior trumps positive management. As we climb up the pyramid of engagement we must guard against setbacks perhaps even more than working towards making progress.

The 3-block pyramid of engagement. In my pyramid of engagement Path Progress  is in the second row to indicate how important this building block is for managers to increase employee engagement. It is naturally paired with maximize performance as these concepts are paired together to achieve results.

7 Significant Steps on the Path of Progress. Here are 7 steps to help you fully path progress for robust employee engagement:

Accentuate the positive. Continually work towards small wins and breakthroughs. Ensure employees are working towards meaningful goals paired with sufficient autonomy to achieve success. Managers can ensure resources, time and help are available on the path of progress. Managers can catalyze progress by ensuring proper resources and tools as they also nourish progress by fostering strong interpersonal connections focused on progress.

Eliminate the negative. Negative events have a disproportionate impact on engagement. Because negative events have a stronger impact than positive events it is important to prevent setbacks before they occur or minimize the damage setbacks can cause. As a manager, ask yourself these two questions then construct solid responses to squash setbacks:

What can I do to prevent setbacks before they occur with my work group?

 What can I do to overcome setbacks once they have occurred?

Hack your work and work around. Hacking work and workarounds are two powerful twins to achieve progress and minimize nasty setbacks. Bill Jensen and Josh Klein wrote Hacking Work to outline how we can hack our work to achieve progress.  Hacking work is getting what you need to do your best job by exploiting loopholes and using workarounds to make it easier to do great work. I encourage you to read a previous post I wrote as a review on  hacking work.  Another book that just came out based on the same idea is Russell Bishop’s Workaround that Work. It is not always up to the manager to ensure progress, employees can seize control of how they do work and create powerful benevolent hacks or workarounds to get the job done and heighten their own engagement.

Ready, willing and able. We must ensure that not only are employees ready and willing to be engaged they must also be able. Engagement without enabling is a fast track to frustration. Up to 20% of your engaged workforce  may be frustrated because they are unable to fully act on their engagement. Mark Royal and Tom Agnew wrote The Enemy of Engagement offering a framework to end workplace frustration. They found that about 30% of employees don’t get clear goals and feel they lack authority to do their jobs. About half of all employees are concerned with adequate staffing, don’t feel they have time  for training, that other teams in the company do not offer high-quality support, and that their organization is not effectively structured. They offer numerous suggestion to lessen frustration by enabling employees with such methods as: making training a priority, share people as well as resources, and beware of the “trap” of routines.

Be game. Study the principles and practices of games to transfer gaming principles to work. One of the reasons games are so engaging is that they are often designed so that we both achieve and see our  progress.Virtual games are programmed to ensure new player begin to experience progress almost immediately. How long does it take to have your newly hired employees experience progress? Are employees getting lots of feedback on their progress? Are setbacks framed as challenges that compel your employee to try again? If you want to instill significant progress at work you must “get into the game.”

Little feats. Many of us are overwhelmed by the copious volume of work and shy away from new tasks because we have little or no capacity or we fear falling further behind on the tasks already on our plate. In today’s workplace, small is the new significant. As one manager said to me in Tucson last month, “we have gone from doing more with less to doing everything with nothing.”  Determine small and significant actions that move towards achieving results. Ensure those small actions are significant tasks…they should be important not just urgent. If you doubt the power of the small think about this statement from Betty Reese, an American pilot, “if you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.”

Celebrate progress. Don’t forget to celebrate progress. You should have celebration markers along the way. The celebration can be a quiet yet mindful internal sense of satisfaction to a high five or more formal recognition. My model for this is Usain Bolt who slowed down in the last 20% of his 100 meter race at the Beijing Olymicps and still achieved an Olympic record time of 9.69. Physicists calculated that Bolt could have finished in 9.55±0.04 seconds had he not slowed to celebrate before crossing  the finishing line. Progress is not always about ultimate record breaking achievement — we have much to gain by celebrating achievement even if it costs us a tenth of a second!

Read these  5 books to build your awareness, knowledge, and skills on the path of  progress:

    • Bill Jensen and Josh Klein, Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results
    • Russell Bishop, Workarounds that Work: How to conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work
    • Peter Sims, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries
    • Mark Royal and Tom Agnew, The Enemy of Engagement: Put an End to Workplace Frustration and Get the Most from Your Employees.
    • Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignie Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work

Building the pyramid of employee engagement. Review these 3 previous posts as we build the 10 block pyramid of employee engagement actions for managers:

Next post in this series: Build Relationships: We get our work done with others not through others.

David Zinger built the 10 block pyramid of employee engagement to help managers bring the full power of employee engagement to their workplaces. If you would like to arrange to have this course or workshop for your organization or conference contact David today at 204 254 2130 or [email protected]

Bonus: I encourage you to view the slides and listen to this informative 40 minute interview/webinar with Teresa Amabile on The Progress Principle.

The Progress Principle and Employee Engagement from David Zinger on Vimeo.

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