Posted by on July 24, 2014

LinkedIn pushed a blog post: 95% of Managers Follow an Outdated Theory of Motivation – See:

It started a few personal reflections.

The most interesting about the blog is it’s reference to what drives motivation as well as the debate following the actual blog post.

Traditionally motivation has been connected to

  • Maslows social needs – or the fear of not having them met
  • The idea that you can’t manage what you can’t measure – align personal bonuses with organizational KPIs
  • Setting ambitious stretch goals – turning Parkinson’s law to your advantage aka ‘pressure makes diamonds’

While this remains valid, to some extend, more and more the understanding of what really drives motivation is changing.

Daniel Pink introduced the idea that what drives us are purpose, mastery and autonomy.

Part of this is ‘the power of small wins’. Your feel highly motivated and driven to do your best, when you every day are making visible progress towards a meaningful goal.

In the book The Progress Principle (*), professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer find that the number one driver of a positive inner work life, the key to motivated, engaged, and productive employees, is making progress on meaningful work, even if that progress is a small win. In a video (**), Professor Amabile shared the best way to achieve those small wins and leverage the progress principle in our daily lives – by keeping a work diary:

  1. Capture progress that may have been lost in a busy workday and celebrate the small wins
  2. Plan next steps, think things through, and overcome setbacks
  3. Nurture your own personal growth and work through difficult events
  4. Spot patterns in your reactions and behaviors. Identify your greatest strengths and weaknesses
  5. Find patience

Note: The last point reflects the principle ‘to speed up, you need slow down’ – pinpointing the difference between maximizing short term utilization of capacity vs long term productivity.

While keeping a personal diary is one plausible approach, another would be to do this collectively at the team level – encouraging team contributions rather that individual. This has proven to yield the highest level of productivity for most complex intellectual work.

Visually tracking daily progress towards a meaningful goal, planning immediate next steps, overcoming impediments and reflecting on what can be improved are all part of the agile agenda. Finding patience corresponds to the limitation of work in progress to ensure the most predictable lead times.

One thing that could be added to the list above would be to explore options and actively drive continuous improvements – even if this can be argued to be implicit from bullets 2-4. This is in line with the lean agenda in knowledge work.

The wins you celebrate must be real wins, so that you avoid relying on vanity metrics or in any other shape or form build a success theater for your self and your team. Winning must be more than a feeling of winning.

My reflections:

Motivation is the basis for unlocking personal potential and productivity

Driving motivation must be a collective effort – not something that is down to the individual

Driving agile and lean agendas means driving conditions that enable people to find motivation

Specifically gains in productivity comes from the collective ambition of continuous improvements. It’s the collective willingness to learn and improve that sustains motivation in the long term

This is overall a complex topic …


(*) The summary of the book and video was found here:

(**) You can find the video here: “Teresa Amabile: Track Your Small Wins to Motivate Big Accomplishments” – see



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