During a period of widespread salary freezes, lean teams, and the decline of employee perks, one might assume that engendering greater productivity out of employees is a near-impossible feat. But according to a study published in this month's Harvard Business Review, the best way to keep staffers enthused is to get out of their way. Success, or more specifically “progress,” is the best incentive of all.
The study asked workers in a range of different work environments to e-mail work diaries every day, detailing emotions and reactions to issues in their working days. Through analysis of these diary entries, the study found that “making progress in one's work – even incremental progress – is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event.”
HBR says managers should be encouraged by these results, as “the key to motivation turns out to be largely within your control.” “If only,” I can hear many of our readers saying. For an industry dependent on the vagaries of senior leadership outside of its function, the media, and clients, “control” might be seen as a pipe dream. To say nothing of the lack of control imposed on the PR universe by the social media revolution.
All of which makes HBR's advice to “scrupulously avoid impeding progress by changing goals autocratically, being indecisive, or holding up resources” seem almost laughably impossible to achieve.
Nevertheless, the key learning of this study is so absolutely right, so essential, and so attainable, that we must find ways to convert this insight into action. Taking action within one's own team is the first step, through eradicating, or minimizing, roadblocks to day-to-day progress. The impediments to this are not only the tyrants, but also the worriers, the over-analyzers, the procrastinators, and the guys who just won't make a decision.
The good news is that the PR industry, agency and in-house, is full of individuals who perfectly capable of applying the skills of persuasion and subtle negotiation internally as they are externally. Eradicating barriers, particularly those in human form of client or manager, is an area the profession should excel at above all others.