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The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work Hardcover – Jul 19 2011
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In The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer have provided an inspiring combination of solid scientific research and management insight. They have succeeded in bringing to life a new paradigm in management, fully supported and elegantly presented.” Research-Technology Management
This practical orientation for managers makes the book an important resource for organizations experiencing a decline in productivity and employee engagement.” CHOICE Magazine
Filled with honest, real-life examples, compelling insights, and practical advice, The Progress Principle equips aspiring and seasoned leaders alike with the guidance they need to maximize people’s performance.” - Innovation Watch
"The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer is a masterpiece of evidence-based managementthe strongest argument I know that "the big things are the little things." A masterpiece every manager should have...I believe it is one of the most important business books ever written." Bob Sutton
The book...is one of the best business books I’ve read in many years.” Daniel Pink
But in singling out one book that offers the most important message for managers this year, I recommend The Progress Principle. The breakthrough in knowledge it provides makes it my choice as best business book of the year. This a pioneering work on employee engagement, with lots of memorable examples culled from those in-the-trenches diary entries.” The Globe and Mail
You will never return to the older and outmoded theories of employee motivation again.” Blog Business World
When Bob Sutton, a leading management professor at Stanford University, says a new book just might be the most important business book I’ve ever read,” the rest of us should take notice. Sutton is right. The Progress Principle is...fantastic. I am a big fan of this book, and I have decided to make it one of the alternate end-of-semester book assignments for the master’s students in my introductory public management course this fall.” Steve Kelman, Federal Computer Week
This is the roadmap to how to create progress, even baby steps through small wins, and therefore create a culture that supports a meaningful and joyful inner work life”, which is the secret to great leadership and harnessing the best of employee psychology.” Innovative Influence (Suzi Pomerantz's Blog)
Those who appreciate the work of people like Dan Pink (Drive), Chip Conley (Peak) should seriously consider adding The Progress Principle as the third member of a very compelling trio of books offering just about everything you need to know about tapping the deepest wells of human creative performance.” Matthew E. May, Guru Forum (American Express)
the authors have done a good job in reminding us all that "it’s people, stupid" who lie at the heart of successful organisations.” Nita Clarke, People Management Magazine (UK)
This book is a must read for those wants to be good leaders (or those wishing they worked for one).” - LeaderLab
It’s a clear guide that can help managers with a potentially challenging and frustrating task.”- 800CEOREAD
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First, what Amabile and Kramer characterize as "Inner Work Life" is the confluence of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday. "Inner work life is inner because it goes on inside each person...It is work because that is both where it arises - at the office - and what it is about - what people do...[and it is life] because it is an ongoing, inevitable part of the human experience at work every day." The challenge for leaders is to determine how to create and then sustain workplace conditions -- at all levels and in all areas -- that will foster positive emotions, strong internal motivation, and favorable perceptions of colleagues and the work itself. "Great inner work life is about the work, not the accoutrements...As inner work life goes, so goes the company...Work-related psychological benefits for employees translate into performance benefits for the company...and the best way to motivate people, day in and day out, is by facilitating progress - even small wins.Read more ›
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1. While most management books are based on anecdotes, the biased recollections of some famous executives, or on research that is presented as rigorous (but are not... Good to Great is a perfect example), the Progress Principle is based on the most rigorous field study ever done of creative work. And it draws on other rigorous work as well. As a result, the overall advice about the importance of small wins may be known to many people, but once you start digging into the smaller bits of advice about how to keep work moving along, the evidence behind those is very strong. In my view, the Progress Principle is the best example of an evidence-based management book I have ever seen.
2. The authors didn't drown in their rigor and the details of their work. They worked absurdly hard to write a book that is quite engaging to read and chock full with one implication after another about what you can do right now to do more effective work and to motivate it in the people around you.
3. Finally, the main point of this book may seem obvious to some readers, but if you listen to most management gurus and fancy consulting firms, the approach that the authors suggest is actually radically different. The broad sweep of strategy and radical change and big hairy goals is where much of modern management advice focuses, yet the finding from this book that it is relentless attention to the little things and the seemingly trivial moments in organizational life that real makes for greatness is not something that most leaders and their advisers get, yet it is the hallmark of our most creative companies like Pixar, Apple, Google, IDEO and the like. The implication of The Progress Principle, for example, that management training should focus on how to deal with the little interactions and smallest decisions -- and that is what makes for great leaders and organizations -- would, if taken seriously, mean completely revamping the way that management is taught throughout the world.
This book isn't a bag of breathless hype, it doesn't make grand and shocking claims, and it doesn't promise instant results. But it is fun and easy to read, it is as strongly grounded in evidence as any business book ever written, and it is relentlessly useful because it points to little things that managers, team members, and everyone else can do day after day to spark creativity and well-being. And it shows how those little things add-up to big victories in the end. I believe it is one of the most important business books ever written.
In the name of full disclosure, I am friends with the authors and did endorse the book. But I am friends with a lot of authors, but when they write bad books, I decline endorsement requests, and as I did very recently, let them know that I think their books aren't very good. Yes, I am biased, but I believe that this book deserves to be a #1 bestseller.
If you are a manager or team leader seeking optimum performance from the people you oversee then listen up. Conventional wisdom would have you believe that it is primarily things like salaries and benefits, bonuses and recognition programs that motivate individuals. While these are certainly important the authors unearthed the fact that what matters most to employees is what they dub the "inner work life". Amabile and Kramer define inner work life as "the confluence of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday". In the 12,000 diary reports submitted for this study the authors discovered that they possessed a veritable goldmine of information. They had real-time access to the workday experiences of lots of people in a variety of different departments and organizations over an extended period of time. In "The Progress Principle" you will be able to experience the ruminations of these workers first-hand and in the process you will discover the secrets that motivate people to be the best that they can be. Furthermore, you will be able to compare and contrast the experiences of those who were employed by truly great organizations and managers who encouraged autonomy, set clear goals and furnished the resources necessary to succeed with companies whose managers and team leaders stifled creativity, constantly put obstacles in the way and were generally apathetic towards members of their team. As the title of the book suggests what truly motivates today's sophisticated and highly trained workers are those "small wins" that indicate that progress is actually being made on a problem or project being worked on. Managers and team leaders need to adjust to this new reality if they expect to achieve the kinds of positive results they are looking for.
One of the major reasons that I found "The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work" to be so darn compelling is that along the way I have worked for both types of organizations. Chances are that you have too. The clues are unmistakable and once you have the basic precepts of the book down the reactions of these employees become highly predictable. It is precisely why certain organizations thrive even in difficult economic times while others wither away on the vine. "The Progress Principle" is chock full of useful tips and strategies that managers and team leaders can implement right away. Furthermore the authors include a simple daily diary that managers and leaders can employ to assess how they are doing. Utilizing this tool just might turn out to be the most important five or ten minutes a leader can spend each day. "The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work" just might be the best business book that I have ever read. This book will challenge much of what you think you know about managing people while offering interesting alternatives to the way you have been doing things. A totally engaging read from cover to cover. Very highly recommended!
The book shows the author and her team conducted impeccable research. They found that people who were fortunate to engage in work they found meaningful, and who were appreciated and valued for their work, also were productive and creative. They noted the importance of emotions during the day. They emphasized that organizations will, often unintentionally, kill creativity and create a workplace where people flee.
My biggest question about the book was, "Who should read it?" The authors observe that an organizational environment is created by a confluence of forces coming together. It's rarely the case that one person can change the culture, although the CEO can make a huge difference, as shown by the story of Xerox's Anne Mulcahy. Yet will company CEOs and divisional VPs actually read the book and, if they do, will they have the skills and resources to make changes? Does the book provide enough direction to make change?
In any company there are so many ways a company can create negativity; if nothing else, success can make a workplace stressful. I've met people who say the culture of Microsoft has become more like established business than a start-up. I once worked for a company where a new CEO wanted to create more employee involvement, yet many employees saw the new activities as intrusive; they wanted to do their work and go home and "bonding" was not important. The lesson is that desiring to create a culture of positivity isn't enough; there are many places to slip in the design of change as well as the implementation of any program.
It seems that employees have to figure out how to survive and thrive in a variety of cultures and/or become more skilled at assessing a culture before joining an organization. The authors say they tested personality traits of the subjects they studied, but I kept wondering whether some people were just naturally positive and happy and therefore more creative. I know a few people who never met a job or a boss they didn't like. They didn't let things get to them. I always envied those people and wondered how the rest of us can learn their adaptation styles. I'd also wonder whether there's a way to balance a stressful job situation with positive activities off the job, or whether those outside activities just made the job seem worse in contrast.
Finally, while I think the book makes a contribution due to the extensiveness and quality of the research, I am not sure what's new here. As the authors say themselves, Alice Isen and others have studied the impact of mood extensively. We know that happy people perform better in a number of ways. Arlie Hochschild's studies of emotional labor have also contributed to our understanding of workplace emotion.
The book jacket refers to the importance of small events, and indeed subjects in the study were asked to describe events in their day that were mostly small. But some examples were huge, such as Mulcahy's turn-around at Xerox. The authors give examples of companies known as great places to work; it's unclear how the overall culture is based on small things. Meaningful work doesn't seem small. I'd have liked to see more discussion of incremental effects and how employees as well as front-line managers can influence them.
The authors conducted a rigorous analysis of nearly 12,000 daily diary entries provided by 200+ employees in 7 companies. They found that the best managers create a high quality of "inner work life" for their employees. Inner work life is about favorable and unfavorable perceptions employees have about their managers, the organization, the team, the work and even oneself. A positive inner work life determines whether the employee has the motivation to their best work - it determines their attention to tasks, the level of their engagement and their intention to deliver their best work.
The authors found that there are 3 types of events that are particularly important in creating a positive inner work life:
1) Progress in meaningful work (e.g. small wins, breakthroughs, forward movement, goal completion),
2) Catalysts that directly help work (setting clear goals, allowing autonomy, providing resources, providing sufficient time, helping with the work, learning from problems and successes, allows ideas to flow),
3) Nourishers/interpersonal events (e.g. respect, encouragement, emotional support, affiliation/bonds of mutual trust & appreciation) that uplift people doing the work.
Research found that #1, progress in meaningful work, was the most important event in creating a positive inner work life.
People's inner work lives seemed to lift or drag depending on whether or not their projects moved forward, even by small increments. Small wins often had a surprisingly strong positive effect, and small losses a surprisingly negative one. So, small actions to try to reduce daily hassles can make a big difference for inner work life and for overall performance.
It's also important to note that small losses or setbacks were found to overwhelm small wins. Small everyday hassles hold more sway than small everyday supporting activities.
Be sure that you are not the source of the obstacles. Negative team leader behaviors affect inner work life more broadly than positive team leader behaviors. And employees recall more negative team leader actions than positive events and do so more intensely and in more detail.
Chapter 8 includes a Daily Progress Checklist which is worth the price of the book. A self assessment asking questions on Catalysts/Inhibitors, Nourishers/Toxins, the state of the Inner Work lives of your team and Action steps. e.g., Did the team have clear short term and long term goals for meaningful work or was there confusion? Did I give help when they needed it or did I fail to provide help? Did I show respect to team recognizing their contributions to progress or did I disrespect any team members? Did I encourage team members who have difficult challenges or discourage a member of the team in any way?)
Bottom line, to harness the powerful force of the quality of your employees' inner work lives, you must ensure that consistent forward movement in meaningful work is a regular occurrence in your employees ` work lives, despite the inevitable setbacks.
The book was laborious to wade through but it has important findings, conclusions and recommendations which merit it being required reading for managers at all levels.
Meaningful work is important to people
Making progress is good. Setbacks are bad
Progress elicit positive emotions and accelerates progress
Setbacks elicit negative emotions and hinders progress
Perception of their work environment matters to people.
People don't like completing a project and the company changing direction and making their work meaningless
Arbitrary work is bad
Humans are emotional. They want their work to matter and feel important
People like having clear direction and support from fellow employees
Humans like encouragement
And then there's 150 pages of studies to support common sense.
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