The link between motivation and progress

In 2011 The Harvard Business Review published an article on the 'progress principle' which highlighted the powerful link between progress and motivation. 

In fact, having a strong sense of progress is a requirement to keep motivation high. It is the moments when we realise that we're no longer making progress that morale and motivation drop. 

It's so important that it's worth repeating: having a strong sense of progress is a requirement to keep motivation high. 

After a tough conversation it can feel like that sense of progress has halted. Imagine that you are working on a project and your boss calls you in and says that the way you're tackling the process is not working - progress dissolves quickly and morale drops just as quickly with it. 


The way to counteract this response is to create a strong sense of progress following the conversation. Individuals need to see and feel that the efforts they are putting in are driving towards an end-goal. It's when you have the conversation and don't guide progress that motivation can leave the building - sometimes for good. 

Sounds great, but how do you do it? 

Glad you asked. Here are a few guiding principles to keep 'em motivated after the conversation (oh and to keep you motivated too). 


1. Clarify the action that gets the traction: 

Given you've mapped out the specific behaviours that you are seeking during the conversation (if you haven't then slide back to the METHOD modules and map these out), then you'll both have a roadmap to move forward with. 

Answering the following questions will help you get clear on what's next: 

  • What behaviours do you both want to see more of? 
  • By when? 
  • How often? 
  • In what context/setting?
  • When will we reconnect? 

2. Make progress visible

Nothing is more motivating than seeing real progress. Map it out and get it visual. 

It can be anything from a to-do list, post-it notes, a calendar tracking actions/dates, to a full-in-depth GANNT chart.

The simpler the better but find a way to get it visible so that both parties can see it. 


3. Adapt as you need 

If it's not moving in the direction that are looking for, or if progress gets stagnated for whatever reason (e.g meetings getting pushed back, holiday time, others being the bottle-neck), then adapt around these hurdles. 


Just start putting something on paper. Create the pathway. It won't always be a smooth ride.

Adapt to the changes that this pathway brings.

What's next?

Too often we get tunnel vision on the end result that we forget to see and celebrate the successes, however small they may be, along the way. Individuals need to be seeing progress in their efforts. As a manager you need to get clear on what progress is, and make sure you make it visible in order to keep motivation high. 

As you head into this pathway it's really key to celebrate the hero's journey. Which we'll explore in the next module. 


Extra Goodies:

Dr Jason Fox is an expert on motivation-design; working with some of the biggest brands and organisations across the world looking at how they can rid the world of boring work. This 5 minute video gives some insights into how we can focus on progress, not goals.