Monday, May 9, 2016

Creating a Sense of Progress

Perhaps one of the biggest and most consistent leadership challenges that my clients face is the
puzzle of motivation.  They all struggle with how to motivate their people in an effort to keep them focused and producing.  They play with recognition and reward systems in an effort to keep productivity levels up.  Despite their inventiveness and creativity in whatever reward systems they create though, they continue to face challenges in motivation.

Taken down to the personal level though, individual clients also complain of a lack of motivation, often putting it down to the need to get too much done in too little time that they feel burnt out.  It is hard to get motivated to keep slogging when there is just so much more left to do and the end is not in sight.

As it turns out, this last statement is the key.  We are so caught up in being busy that we have lost sight of the 'end', of what it is that we are trying to achieve. We therefore are left at the end of the day having invested 8 hours (or more) of our lives, without any sense that we have made a difference, that we have completed anything of value. Researchers have found that giving people a clear Sense of Progress is more effective at getting people enthusiastic about what they are doing than giving them goals, incentives, recognition or any other kind of reward.  

In fact, this finding was so important that it was recognized as Harvard Business Review's number one breakthrough idea of 2010.  However, it seems that most of us didn't get the memo.  Perhaps because the Progress Principle really isn't all that sexy sounding even though it is effective.  
Progress Principle:  The more that people experience a sense of progress, the more motivated they will be to accomplish more. 
Marketers have long embraced this concept, using it to influence our buying patterns.  A Columbia University study determined that the closer we are to 'earning' a free coffee, the more frequently we start buying coffee. It seems simple enough, but upon closer examination, this is the Progress Principle at work.  Loyalty cards track our purchases, providing us with a method for tracking our progress toward the achievement of a goal, typically a 'freebie' of some kind. 

What's also important to consider is that our goal progress can even be 'illusory' and it will up our motivation.  Consider the impact of two different loyalty cards...
  1. A 10 stamp card - in order to get a free coffee
  2. A 12 stamp card, with the first 2 stamps 'given' to you as a bonus - in order to get a free coffee
In essence the two cards are identical, buy 10 coffees, get the next free. However, in studies, the owners of the second card purchased their 10 coffees faster than the members of the first loyalty card. Those two bonus stamps made people feel that they had already achieved some progress toward the goal, which left them feeling more motivated to take further action to complete the task.  The Sense of Progress is so powerful that even of Illusory Goal Progress motivates us forward.  

This is an important point to consider, especially after the completion of a goal.  In the first example above, when you redeem your card you are given a fresh, blank card to begin again.  However, research shows us that motivation and performance slow down appreciably right after a goal is achieved.  That blank card is a 'start again' moment that is disheartening, not motivating.  The 'Bonus Stamp' card though has already got a start made.  It already has a couple of small achievements noted that prove motivating toward taking the next steps. It helps get over the motivation drop following goal completion.

Interesting... but how can we use this and apply it to our own goals and challenges in order to up our productivity?
  1. Chunk a large project down into smaller goals.  It is far easier to monitor your progress using those smaller steps, which helps keep your motivation up.
  2. Each of your chunked project steps, when completed, become 'Bonus Stamps' for the next project chunk.  Your first couple of steps for a goal will always have some early components to it that are already done,  Typically we leave these off of the plan, because they have already been handled.  Instead, include them in your plan, giving yourself recognition for them and some 'Bonus Stamps' for the next phase. If they were steps someone else took before handing the rest over to you, include them anyway.  We know that Illusory Goal Progress works, get it working for you.
Loyalty cards are simply progress tracking systems. Ensure that you have systems in place that help you to track your progress.  Build your own personal system to help you track and reward your progress. We already know that we can be influenced by such systems to help others achieve their goals, why not put the same principle to work to help us stay on track and meeting our goals? 

Creating a Sense of Progress is far more effective at getting us enthusiastic about what we're doing. It serves to catalyze and nourish our motivation and spurs greater progress. We can easily see where our work has made a difference, helping us to feel more purposeful and valuable. If you feel that your motivation seems to have taken a vacation (if not relocated permanently to another city), build your own Big Project Loyalty Card system and see what tracking your progress more actively does to help bring your motivation back online.  

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