Good managers "remove obstacles, provide help and acknowledge effort"

From the obvious-but-seldom-applied management advice category comes more evidence on the central importance of worker engagement:

In a 2010 study, James K. Harter and colleagues found that lower job satisfaction foreshadowed poorer bottom-line performance. Gallup estimates the cost of America’s disengagement crisis at a staggering $300 billion in lost productivity annually….

In one-third of the 12,000 diary entries [we collected], the diarist was unhappy, unmotivated or both. In fact, workers often expressed frustration, disdain or disgust. Our research shows that inner work life has a profound impact on workers’ creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality. Employees are far more likely to have new ideas on days when they feel happier. Conventional wisdom suggests that pressure enhances performance; our real-time data, however, shows that workers perform better when they are happily engaged in what they do….

Workers’ well-being depends, in large part, on managers’ ability and willingness to facilitate workers’ accomplishments — by removing obstacles, providing help and acknowledging strong effort. A clear pattern emerged when we analyzed the 64,000 specific workday events reported in the diaries: of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important — by far — is simply making progress in meaningful work.

As long as workers experience their labor as meaningful, progress is often followed by joy and excitement about the work. “This time it looks good! I feel more positive about this project and my work than I’ve felt in a long time,” one programmer wrote after she’d completed a small but difficult task. This kind of rich inner work life improves performance, which further supports inner work life — a positive spiral.

…Of the seven companies we studied, just one had managers who consistently supplied the catalysts — worker autonomy, sufficient resources and learning from problems — that enabled progress. Not coincidentally, that company was the only one to achieve a technological breakthrough in the months we studied it.

Posted by James on Thursday, September 08, 2011