February 17, 2010 | | Comments 7
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New findings say progress means more than recognition

A new report in the Harvard Business Review contradicts the idea that employees value recognition of their efforts higher than anything else. Amabile and Kramer write that the top motivator of performance is progress.

The study involved gathering more than 12,000 e-mail diary entries from the participants, which revealed that making progress in one’s work, no matter how little or big, is associated with positive emotions and high motivation. The survey notes when participants experienced progress in their jobs, 76% of people reported it as their best day.

The article says this is good news for managers, as they can help staff members in their journey to excel and progress within their position. Amabile and Kramer suggest managers clarify overall goals, ensure staff members receive the right support for their efforts, and work to ensure minor glitches are perceived as learning opportunities.

But the article cautions managers not to abandon recognition. Even though progress may be the leading motivator of performance, managers should not shy away from recognizing staff for a job well done. If staff members meet or exceed their goals, managers should praise them, as this gesture will continue to motivate workers.


Do you agree with Amabile and Kramer’s finding? Do you think progress is the primary motivator of performance? How do you help staff members meet their goals and progress in their profession?


Source: Harvard Business Review


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Filed Under: Career developmentHot topicsImage of nursingRetentionStaff motivation

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Sarah Kearns About the Author: Sarah is an Editorial Assistant in the patient safety group at HCPro, Inc. She contributes to two monthly newsletters; Briefings on the Joint Commission and Briefings on Patient Safety, and manages four e-zines; Accreditation Connection, AHAP Staff Challenge, Nurse Manager Weekly, and Healthcare Training Weekly. She also helps research new products for the patient safety and nursing market. She graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2008 where she earned her bachelor's degree in English.

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  1. Being blessed with enough staff so that we can all do our jobs with the highest standards of quality motivates me……….not the managerial obligatorial gifts, att-a-boy’s, or new titles/raises that bring even more responsibility.

  2. Acknowledging individuals at a staff meeting or with a personal handwritten card motivates progress and provides a sense of value for employees.

  3. I definitely agree with the article and am happy that you have brought this research to our attention. (I’ll be getting a copy of the original article.) Too many managers believe that superficial “recongnition” gestures compensate for a lack of substantive employee support and advocasy.

    Administration too often take the easy way out and give “pats on the back” and a smile — rather than do the harder work of actually providing the resources needed by the staff to do a good job — and reap the intrinsic rewards of true achievement.

  4. Oops! Please forgive the spelling and grammar erros in my previous post. I was in a hurry.

  5. I am curious to know how “progress” is defined as it is being used in this article.
    Is progress toward a goal meaningful if it is not the goal of the individual, merely an assignment?
    Is progress the completion of a project, or reaching a milestone in work of some sort?
    Is progress toward professional development a promotion, or attainment of a certification? What else is meant by “progress”?

  6. The message here, in my opinion, is how out of touch management is with the staff’s priorities. Management answered with completely opposite positions regarding what they thought the staff felt was important. It shouldn’t take a survey to discover what the worker’s hold in esteem.

  7. Progress when you are building a house is measureable each day. When you are working in a busy emergency room with no more rooms and more people registering and there is no time for a lunch break, how is it measured? On the other hand, the manager who reports there was a client complaint about wait times, and was told that staff must have been overwhelmed in volume or acuity, brings affirmation of the value of staff. I dont think i want to look up this article to read any more.

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