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ATD Blog

Want to Fire Up Your Team?

Monday, November 5, 2018

It’s not just the big victories that are meaningful for people. It’s the little ones, too. And remembering that important fact is crucial to maximizing each person’s potential.

A growing body of research suggests that the concept of “small wins” in the workplace is a key element of successful employee motivation and one of the most effective ways to start the process of changing your culture. Indeed, small wins can have a disproportionate amount of power and influence beyond the achievement they represent.

Want proof?

Psychologists Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer interviewed more than 600 managers and found a shocking result: 95 percent of managers misunderstood what motivates employees. Managers believed “making money” via raises and bonuses was the most important motivator at work, and they listed “supporting progress” as the least important. However, after analyzing over 12,000 employee diary entries, the research revealed that the number 1 work motivator was emotion, not financial incentive. In other words, employees seek a feeling of making progress every day toward a meaningful goal.


As Amabile and Kramer further explain, making progress toward meaningful goals creates better performance. Subsequently, better performance depends on consistent progress, which enhances the importance of what you do. They call this the “progress loop,” and, when used correctly, it reveals how important self-reinforcing habits can be.

“By supporting progress in meaningful work, managers improve employees’ inner work lives and the organization’s performance,” they write in their Harvard Business Review article. “To become an effective manager, you must learn to set this positive feedback loop in motion.”

About the Author

Devin C. Hughes is an author, speaker, consultant, executive coach, and an internationally recognized expert in the science of happiness, organizational/culture change and leadership development. He has lectured and worked with a variety of Fortune 100 companies, as well as the Secret Service, the IRS, and an assortment of profit and nonprofit organizations. Devin is the author of 20 books and has lectured in more than 15 countries. He lives in San Diego, California, with his wife, four daughters, and two rescue dogs.

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