I learnt a new concept – inner work life. 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. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer (read an interview with authors) did research on 238 employees in 7 companies and studied nearly 12 000 diary entries to find out how a mix of daily mood, emotions, self-perception, and interactions with other people in an organization can influence progress at work. The results of research and strategies for managers are described in the authors’ book “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work”.
Many managers try to solve the puzzle of how to boost the motivation of their subordinates. Many employees struggle with their own demotivation and lack of engagement which ruins their sense of purpose. Research shows that there are two main triggers that influence positive inner work life – progress and setbacks. Even small daily progress at work has a tremendous positive impact on our mood and motivation at work that can last for a few days, however, it is a double-edged sword. Small losses or setbacks can have negative effects. Nevertheless, except for those triggers to maintain positive inner work life, people need additional stimulants called by the authors: catalysts and nourishers. Catalysts are actions that directly support work like proper tools, help from colleagues or well-designed processes. Nourishes relate to interpersonal interactions like getting respect and recognition and being encouraged by managers or colleagues. But those stimulants don’t have a such critical influence on bad vs good mood day as an experience of progress or setbacks (more to read about research result).
Now we know the concept of inner work life in a nutshell. This concept is much more important for jobs where people have to deal with complex tasks and need to leverage their problem-solving skills or rely on their creativity. Of course, there are jobs where this idea can be hard to implement for instance in easy repeatable work, but I believe that in such cases introducing some elements of concepts can significantly impact the quality of the work and people’s well-being. However, before we can benefit from positive inner work life as an organization and individuals, we must rethink how do we understand progress and which tools we would like to use to track it.
How the power of progress can be leveraged in organizations
Establish what progress means for you and your team
Many of us see progress as something like a milestone, a tremendous change from one state to another underestimating small changes which in fact summarize into those larger ones. But exactly those small daily steps bring us closer to achieving the most ambitious goals. To run a marathon, first of all, you must put your shoes on and step out of your house. Many organizations are too focused on their goals, and they are forgetting about the road that leads to goals. But in fact, that road enables those organizations to learn and grow.
Chunk long-term KPIs into manageable pieces
Another thing to be concerned about is how goals are defined in the organization. Of course, there are annual goals, which from the bottom of the organization can be seemed as abstract and hard to achieve. To make them more tangible for employees, they should be chunked into small, manageable pieces. For instant. It’s great to have an annual sales goal of $2mln but to hit this target each employee must at least calls 10 clients per day. Those daily calls can be treated as progress.
Plan work in daily iterations
If your organization works in weekly cycles, shifting toward finishing daily tasks will be a challenge. Especially when you must change the behaviour of planning. Planning daily tasks is more demanding because you must think deeply about what you can do and when, what should be done first, and which tasks are critical or can occur as bottlenecks. It is much easier to set weekly or monthly goals and then pray to accomplish them. Someone would say that such granularity is micromanagement. But the devil is in the details. Those tasks should be prepared by the team, not by the manager. People should have the autonomy to plan their own work and feel responsible for the plan execution. Otherwise, the power of progress won’t work.
Use the Kanban board to track and visualize progress daily
One of the great tools that show how teams and individuals are moving forward is Kanban Board. Kanban board is widely used in any type of industry, where some products are produced like in manufacturing or IT. But there is nothing against leveraging it for other fields like HR or even accounting. This board is designed to visualise workflow to identify and limit work in progress. The secret of this tool is its simplicity. The board consists of a minimum of three columns: to-do, doing, and done, where tasks are moved from left to right to show progress and help perform a work (more on Kanban Board). The huge power of this board is to give team members the physical ability to move their own tasks forward from to-do to doing, from doing to done. It creates in people a true sense of accomplishment when they can see in front of their eyes how tasks are getting status done.
Remove obstacles and toxins
Ok, we can see with our eyes of imagination how we are moving tasks on board without any interference, but it is not a reality. Most of the time during the day we must struggle with many obstacles like not responsive people, irrational procedures or not working processes and tools. It is even worse when the success of our tasks depends on others’ work, and whether we want it or not, we need to wait for their availability. All of those can in a magician’s way turn progress into setbacks. Setbacks can be more powerful than progress because of their dark nature of experience. Managers should be aware of that force and support their subordinates to solve those issues to reduce as much as possible any frustration. Longer setbacks weaker people’s motivation and lead to a negative inner work life that destroys someone’s efficiency.
Celebrate daily progress
How about starting a new brand day with recognition for yesterday? If you made yesterday’s progress, why not celebrate it? For that, you can introduce a daily stand-up meeting, when you share with a team yesterday’s achievements, ideally in some visualized form. Present such metrics as won deals, new prospects, number of processed documents or produced products, created new ideas for marketing campaigns or resolved incidents. Anything that is meaningful for your team and can represent their engagement in work.
Most of the data which can serve you for this purpose are already available. Currently, most organizations don’t have issues with obtaining data but with making sense of them. You just need to ask yourself and your team, what should be displayed on the daily dashboard? What are the main factors or triggers that give them sense of purpose, generate progress, and bring them closer to achieving committed goals? What data they would like to see because they can alert them that things are getting out of track?
Principles of the daily dashboard for progress tracking
Focus on daily tasks
If your team supports customers’ incidents maybe, they are not interested in the first place what is a customer satisfaction rate but for sure they are interested in how many incidents were resolved and in which handle time. Customer satisfaction rate can be displayed as beside metric, which gives them sense of purpose and shows the direct impact of their work. But, essential for them are their own tasks, that are mentioned in the job description, because at the end of the day they will be accounted for them.
Design dynamic KPIs and goals
I’m static poses lover as practising yoga is one of the key elements of my lifestyle. However, many do not share my passion. If you want to use KPIs (key performance indicators) as a tool that helps you monitor daily work and makes better decisions, those metrics should be designed to reflect changes on a daily basis if possible. We must keep common sense in here, of course. If work is in weekly cycles, we won’t be able to present any accomplishments during the week, but it doesn’t mean that we can not display progress. Maybe we can present how many issues were open during the day? Or maybe we can present how many of them moved into another status? With that approach, we can track how our work is moving from one point to another and have a chance to notice any blocks or unwanted behaviours.
Design daily benchmarks
Where possible, I encourage creating and using benchmarks. This reference point can act as an alert or goal and its evaluation provides meaningful information about the quality and performance of your work. This benchmark can be designed based on the average performance of previous days or weeks or established as the desired goal.
Show critical alerts
What should be included on a daily dashboard, in addition to progress, are metrics monitoring critical processes. Many companies have commitments that translate into specific actions. One such is, for example, the SLA (service level agreement). Most of us have experienced those SLAs when complaining or returning a product to an online shop. In both cases, the deadline for consideration of the complaint and the return of funds is agreed upon. Look for those critical KPIs and don’t miss them from your radar.
Create positive narration
Last but not least, remember to design a daily dashboard in a manner to boost people’s motivation not the opposite. Focus more on team effort than individual performance (see my post about the cooperative vs. competitive approach). Try not to overwhelm them with details. They should see a clear path to their success. Give them actionable metrics which can be managed and improved by the team. Most people like to feel that they are sitting behind the driving wheel.