Applying the Progress Principle

Progress Principle

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Sometime ago, organizations all over wanted to be like Google. The gourmet food selection,  awesome workplace, and all the works!

What we saw were all very attractive but there’s more to what our eyes can see. Company culture, what we don’t see but as important.

And that’s what we will delve in deeper today, the Progress Principle. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer tells us in the book what it takes to have a culture that works and the matching performance.

They say it’s all about having an awesome work life where it cultivates an environment full of positivity, motivation, and good communication. They have found out that you must empower the team members to make the organization a success.

To get the maximum performance of the members, they have suggested events that must take place:

  • Progress – Events that signify success.
  • Catalysts – Events that brings in change.
  • Nourishers – Events that support the team members.

We will discuss them in more detail but first  let’s talk about inner work life.

The Inner Work Life

According to research, these aspects affect performance:


Emotions can range widely from anger to happiness, from bad to good. One of the buzzwords from the recent years, is EQ or emotional quotient. In the work place, it’s a good idea to use EQ to an advantage.

However, a word of caution – you may feel the battle is over when you have identified and addressed the members of the organization’s emotions. Emotion is just part of the big picture. You still have to consider the next two aspects below.


Aside from emotion, let’s talk about perception. It’s but human nature to search for life’s meaning.  We live for meanings so we create it. And in the context of work, the perceptions we have on the organization affects how we deal with things everyday.

This happens subconsciously, we react to events because of  the perceptions that we have within. Which often leads us to conclusions, our perceptions bring us to summarize what has happened.

Let’s cite an example of this situation. Given you were about to go on a meeting with your boss in the organization but last minute, you were notified that it’s cancelled.

There’s no attached reason why it’s a no go or it’s being rescheduled. Immediately, you would think – is there something wrong?

Coincidently, there is a reorganization happening which may lead you to think that you are going to lose your job in the process. Are you being replaced already that’s why the meeting was cancelled?

Contrary to this, an employee who has faced this similar action (cancelled meeting) will think about the situation differently.

An employee who has a good working relationship with the manager might not think of these questions and feel rather secured in keeping their job.

What we can learn from here, people may encounter the same events but would have different interpretations – depending on their current situation in the organization.


And last of the aspects that affect performance is motivation. When we do things, it’s a choice. We do things because we have decided to do it whatever the reasons are. There are several types of motivations in the work place:

  • Extrinsic Motivation – This is the type of motivation where we do things because of what we will have in exchange for it. At work this could be your salary, bonuses, benefits, and other stuff that you get when you do your work.
  • Intrinsic Motivation – This is about passion, do you love your job? You do the job because it makes you feel fulfilled. You do it because you are passionate about it. Even without the rewards you would do it. Doing the job is rewarding itself.
  • Relational Motivation –  This is about humans’ need to connect with others. This when we recognize our contributions at work and we can achieve results alongside other people we like to work with, we are more motivated in achieving goals.

The question is, can we experience all of these motivations in our job? Yes, we can. When you love what you do and get paid for it and you understand that it affects others positively – you have the motivations all going on for you.

Inner Work Life and Performance

In “Progress Principle”, they say that people work better if they are positive and motivated in the long run. In the book, it also tackles the dimensions of high performance. These are:

  • Creativity
  • Productivity
  • Commitment
  • Collegiality

In “Progress Principle”, the authors also said that the intensity of these dimensions increases/decreases with what happens to your inner work life (emotions, perceptions and motivation).

When the inner work life is going well, the people are better at work. They really perform well and they get more involved – thus, the organization gets better results.

Opposite to that, when the employee is not doing well with their inner work life – they are more likely to be uninvolved and not interested on the projects.

Progress – Meaningful Accomplishment

We have established that an awesome inner work life results to better performance. The next question then now is, what makes an inner work life great?

What makes it happen? We have discussed them earlier – progress, catalysts and nourishers. Among the three, progress is the most essential.

We all yearn to be able to produce something successfully. We want to be efficient and capable. We see difficult situations as challenges and a chance to grow.

The authors of the book says that progress is important to a person when they work toward their goal. Big or little progress, it doesn’t matter  – progress is still progress.

Work being meaningful is not limited to being able to make a social impact. When you do your work and what you do is important to others – it is meaningful.

It could be helping your team mates or even producing a product that is very useful to the market.

If you see progress in what you do, you feel you are nearer in reaching your objectives. It makes you more positive and inspired to do your work. However, progress may not go on smoothly. Why? Here are the scenarios:

  • Not entirely sure if what they worked hard for will materialize
  • Lack of ownership
  • The work they come up with are shut down by the people in the organization
  • The feeling of being overqualified

Encourage the employees to have a positive progress, the one with meaning. However, watch out for the four scenarios above and do try to avoid it.

Catalyst – Project Support

We now understand how progress affects our outlook in work, how do we then bring it in? Let’s look at the following catalysts that affect inner work life:

  1. Set clear goals. The thing is, it is important to show the people the direction which you are heading. They have to know to goals to understand what they’re working for.
  2. Allow autonomy. If you are tempted to watch so closely on how they do it – don’t. Don’t be a micromanager. Allow them breathing space and autonomy.
  3. Provide resources. You can’t do your job without resources so provide the employees what they need to achieve it.
  4. Setting the deadline. When you put out timelines, set it realistically. Not too short so the people in the project won’t be too stressed and not too long either that people do not prioritize it anymore.
  5. Help each other out. Together, we do more.
  6. Success and failures are both opportunities to learn.
  7. Create an environment where ideas can be exchanged freely and safely. People are more confident to share their ideas if it’s encouraged to do so.

If you have these catalysts, it’s easier to bring in meaningful progress.

Nourishment – Interpersonal Support

We have mentioned earlier that it’s part of human nature to connect with others, workwise not exempted.  If the people that surrounds us at work is great, we work better. However, you do need to build this. The following must be present:

  1. Respect – This is basic but important and always relevant. We all need to respect and be respected. In the context of work, give recognition where it is due. And when you communicate, treat everyone with a respectful manner. People are more committed when they respected for who they are and what they do.
  2. Encouragement – Value the team members’ contribution and appreciate what they have done. Be encouraged in your work and people will follow suit. Encourage them also in what they do so they are motivated to strive better.
  3. Emotional Support – Recognize what people feel, show empathy. When the employees’ feelings are validated, they feel more understood. They will feel more open and trusting.
  4. Affiliation – Who says you can’t have fun with the people you’re working with? Just because you’re in a project together does not mean you can’t connect outside work. Actually this is good to enhance relationships that can transcend to work as well. Affiliation encourages better working relationships.

So that’s an introduction to the Progress Principle. A lot of concepts is surely involved but we say all is worth knowing. So what have we learned today?

What it means to have a great inner work life and how to make it work. Are you ready to incorporate this in your daily work life?




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