Making Progress: The Missing Link Between Management and Employees


I'm always looking for what motivates people to do good work, because I think that it can make us all happier in the workplace. A recent Harvard Business Review worker-motivation survey came up with some great insights.

The study asked 600 managers from varying industries what they thought motivated their workers the most. They were given five options:

  1. recognition
  2. incentives
  3. interpersonal support
  4. support for making progress
  5. clear goals

Their #1 answer was "recognition." Before I tell you the results on the worker side, take your pick on what makes "a great workday" for you.

Researches analyzed more than 12,000 worker diary entries and there was a clear winner: making progress. On over 76% of "great work days," employees made a reference to making progress — far more than any other factor. Does the answer surprise you a bit?

The Lazy Worker Stereotype

The "progress" finding might prove a bit surprising because a perception exists that many workers, given the opportunity to slack off, will do so. This common misconception often lead to misguided incentive plans.

Americans aren't lazy. We want to earn our keep. And management wants us to earn our keep as well (so they can earn theirs). It's the common ground — the missing link, if you will — to a super productive workplace.

If an organization can work with its employees to remove roadblocks instead of creating new ones and help employees outline and achieve clear objectives, then they are likely to have a very inspired work environment.

The Business Review rated the "progress" finding as a "Breakthrough Idea of 2010." All managers and non-managers should take note. It might result in a happier workplace for everyone.

What's Next?

If you're not in management and you're not happy about your current work situation, does "making progress" resonate with you?

If it does, what's next isn't exactly easy. First, you'll have to figure out what roadblocks keep you from more progress in the workplace. Is it something internal that you need to address? Or are there other roadblocks that you need to address with management?

If these roadblocks are factors that are out of your hand, make a list and discuss constructive solutions with key decision-makers. If they are good managers, they should be open to ideas.

If you're the key decision-maker, what can you do to make your employees' jobs easier? Make a list, discuss it with other managers and your employees, and then take the steps necessary to help people get things done.

It may not solve all problems overnight, but it'll put things in motion. And that's what I call "progress."

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Guest's picture

Autonomy is the best, and really only thing I care about at work, as long as I'm making enough money to pay my bills.

Guest's picture

Yeah, Kevin has a point. I mean, issues have been brought up to management in my company for years, but nothing has been done. I have given up on trying to receive recognition whether verbally or in compensation, and I've lost all motivation to further myself here since all I got was more work with less pay. I'm getting a check to pay for my bills, and that's that. I am trading hours for dollars.

Andrea Karim's picture

I'm sort of surprised that "money" wasn't on that list at all.