Why you should manage progress rather than people

Telling your employees to become more engaged and productive won’t work. But putting mechanisms in place that encourages their progress will. SPONSORED CONTENT

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October 29, 2014 |
Steven Burns

Photo: Kromkrathog via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Telling your employees to become more engaged and productive won’t work. But putting mechanisms in place that encourages their progress will.  

To illustrate the point, Entrepreneur and Author Faisal Hoque points to the professions of farming, healthcare and education in a Fast Company post.

“You cannot tell a flower to grow, but you can help it to do so,” he writes. “The farmer is mindful of the seasons and plants seeds when most suited.”

Similarly, the physician studies a patient’s case history and integrates an effective treatment, but it’s the patient who ultimately gets better. And the teacher tailors her lessons to the lives of her students so the material is as relatable as possible.

“What these noble professions do is arrange the circumstances for the beings they are taking care of so that they may flourish,” Hoque says. “The people we work with are not so unlike the plants the farmer grows – we can’t simply tell them to grow.”

Creating an environment in which people want to work rather than have to work is a matter of managing progress, not people. Hogue cites the research of Teresa Amabile, a director of research at Harvard Business School, who studies how individuals relate to their achievements. 

Amabile’s research has revealed that people are more creative when they have a positive experience of work, when they think well of their organization and colleagues, and when they find their work meaningful and intrinsically motivating. 

People see themselves as making progress when they are achieving. But that progress doesn’t need to be monumental. 

“When people have these slow, steady daily markers of progress, they feel fulfilled and end the day looking forward to the next one rather than walking out the office door like a zombie,” Hoque continues. “Workaholics aren’t addicted to work; they crave the validation that comes with success.”

That’s why it’s important for leaders to arrange for such moments of progress. 

“In the same way that a farmer tills the soil to help seeds germinate, a leader may till the workflow to allow meaningful progress and the engagement that follows to take root,” he writes.

Read more from Fast Company.

Steven Burns | The Business Behind Design

Steven Burns, FAIA spent 14 years managing the firm Burns + Beyerl Architects, and during that time the firm’s earnings grew at an average rate of 24% per year. After founding his own software company, Steve took his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is refining their business strategy and product development for the company’s groundbreaking project accounting solution, BQE Core.

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