Perceived Progress is the Best Employee Motivator

Fired up employees

To keep employees fired up and highly motivated, support them in their progress toward company goals.

I recently read an article published in the Harvard Business Review which dealt with employee motivation. The article pointed out some interesting observations garnered from a research  study done on motivation in the workplace. The authors asked employers and business owners to identify the five key factors that contribute to employee motivation. The authors then completed a multi-year study that tracked the “day-to-day activities, emotions, and motivation levels of hundreds of knowledge workers in a wide variety of settings” (see “Breakthrough” article link below). What employers thought worked best often did not match up with what actually worked best.

Interesting, eh? Such is the value of testing our assumptions. Sometimes what we think is correct is not. Problems arise when we take a long-held assumption as fact and never put it to the test. Testing assumptions is especially important in running and growing a successful enterprise. That which we assume is true could be the factor(s) that hold our companies back.

According to the article, the five factors that most employers deemed the most significant in terms of their contribution to employee motivation were as follows:   “recognition, incentives, interpersonal support, support for making progress, and clear goals.” In addition, “Recognition for good work (either public or private)” came out number one.” (Refer to “Breakthrough” article link below.)

What the study proved was that what employers ranked last on the list — support for making progress was actually the highest performance motivator. According to the article, “On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak. On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.” (refer to the “Breakthrough” article, link provided below)

The result of this study speaks volumes to how you can best motivate your employees. Provide them with clear goals. To do this you must determine your company’s goals, then break those goals into functional or departmental goals, then into personal goals for each team member. Employees can’t possibly feel like they’re making progress toward their goals unless they know what those goals are!

Next you must support the achievement of those goals. Identify milestones, provide training, encourage personal development, connect people in different functions working on the same goal,… All of these provide support to the person in achieving their goals.

Think about it from your perspective. The joy that comes from actually achieving a goal is often fleeting. You hit $1 million per month in revenue. You celebrate, you rejoice, then you move on. Getting to that goal is a process which takes days, weeks, or months. Therefore, you must enjoy the process or you’ll never be happy for very long. When you identify and hit milestones along the way, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Frustration disappears and you may even feel exhilarated. This is what your employees experience too.

To read the “Breakthrough” article in its entirety, go to