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Teresa Amabile: Progress Principle

The history of academic study of workplace motivation is full of simple accounts of what motivates us, from the ‘Hawthorne Effect‘ through the ‘Hierarchy of Needs‘ and McClelland’sthree needs‘ to ‘Self Determination Theory‘. Teresa Amabile has added a new, starkly simple account of what managers can do to motivate your people. And it is supported by a huge research base.

Teresa Amabile
Teresa Amabile

 Short Biography

Teresa Amabile was born in 1950 and went Canisius College in western New York State, to study Chemistry. After graduating in 1972, she shifted direction and enrolled at Stanford University to take an MA in psychology, and stayed on to defend her PhD thesis in 1977.

She returned to the East coast to take up an academic post as Assistant Professor of Psychology at Brandeis, where she stayed until 1994, having become a full professor in 1990. There, she became an authority on creativity.

Her 1983 book, The Social Psychology of Creativity, republished in 1996 as Creativity in Context, is considered a classic research text for serious students. It reviews a wide and complex topic. Some of her own findings are most easily accessible in a 1998 Harvard Business Review article, called How to Kill Creativity, which is well-worth reading.

In 1995, she moved to Harvard to become the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration, a chair she continues to hold emerita.  There, Amabile opened up a second, related front in her research, looking at motivation, mood, and our inner life, at work.

This led her to the research which gave her the prominence she enjoys today, and is fully covered in her 2011 book, ‘The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work‘, which she co-wrote with her husband, the psychologist Steven Kramer.

Creativity

Teresa Amabile sees creativity arising out of three components:

  1. Expertise, or knowledge in all its forms
  2. Motivation to solve a problem. Self-motivation (or ‘intrinsic‘ motivation) is far more important than external (‘extrinsic‘) motivation, which can even stifle creativity.
  3. Creative-thinking skills. Amabile asserts there is a capability here and she describes it in terms of flexibility, imagination and perseverance.
Teresa Amabile - Three Components of Creativity
Teresa Amabile – Three Components of Creativity

Managers can influence the development and deployment of these three components, and in her HBR article, Amabile lists six ways.

  1. Challenge
    Managers need to provide tasks that challenge and stretch their employees, rather than allowing them to remain in their comfort zone. Notice how this relates to Csikszentmihalyi’s conditions for Flow.
  2. Freedom
    People thrive best when they are able to work independently on their assignments. This reflects one of the three components of Self Determination Theory: Autonomy.
  3. Resources
    We know constraints help creativity and time pressure boosts it too. But these are likely to do so by also increasing intrinsic motivation. Amabile finds that, without sufficient time and material resources, creativity is held back.
  4. Work-group Features
    Managers can create the local conditions for creativity by encouraging enthusiasm, mutual support and, vitally, a respect among team members for each others’ diverse abilities and contributions.
  5. Supervisory Encouragement
    In a finding that is mirrored by Amabile’s more recent work on inner work-life and motivation, she concludes that managers who encourage and praise team members get more creativity out of them. (Shock horror!)
  6. Organisational Support
    She argues that this goes further. A culture of creativity needs full-on organisational support behind that of the team’s immediate managers. People need to feel their creativity is valued and will open up opportunities.

The Progress Principle

Amabile’s most recent work into our ‘inner worklife‘ has caught the attention of the business press. Her findings show a complete conflict between what people think motivates them at work, and what actually leaves them feeling satisfied at the end of the day.

In questionnaires, Amabile found a very low self-assessment of the importance of making progress in overall mood and job satisfaction. But when she carefully analysed thousands of personal journal entries, she discovered that a sense of having made progress during the day offered the single greatest positive correlation to feeling good at the end of the day. And setbacks in work likewise had an adverse effect on end-of-the-day mood.

I can’t help thinking that David McClelland would hardly have been surprised that this is true of the people he described as having a high ‘Need for Achievement’. But Amabile showed that this applies to almost everyone. And this makes progress a very powerful and equally simple lever of motivation.

And… it is one that managers can easily manipulate. As a project manager, I have always advocated the use of more, rather than fewer, milestones on my projects. Each milestone is a point of recognition of progress. As a manager, you can set more progress indicators for your teams, and expect them to feel better about their work than if they had long periods between conspicuous successes.

There is far more to Amabile’s research than this. But she is an eloquent and clear speaker, so take a look at her describing the Progress Principle, in a 2011 TEDx talk, in Atlanta…

Teresa Amabile at TEDx

Here is Amabile speaking about the progress principle at TEDx, in 2011.

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Joseph Juran: Quality Management

Joseph Juran is one of the leading thinkers on the route establishing a culture of quality throughout much of Japanese and then western business. He asserted that quality was nothing new or clever. Rather, it is elemental and elementary. That said, he watched as, for 25 years, his adopted homeland of the United States ignored the quality imperative. Then, in his late seventies, he lived to see American businesses wake up to quality. In his eighties and nineties, he was active and, indeed, energetic in consulting and advocating for quality.

Joseph Juran

Brief Biography

Joseph Juran began his long life in 1904, in Romania. His family emigrated to the United States, and from 1912, he grew up in Minnesota.  He gained his first degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Minnesota (he later gained a Doctorate in Law at Loyola University) and went straight to working for Western Electric at its Chicago Hawthorn Plant (where Elton Mayo later conducted his famous studies).

In 1928, he wrote his first pamphlet on statistical approaches to manufacturing quality and rose up through the business. Along the way, he ‘invented’ the Pareto Principle (of which more later), but by 1945, he was ready for something else.

In 1945, he joined the faculty of New York University, to allow him time for lecturing, consulting and writing. In 1951, he published his first substantial book, the Quality Control Handbook. This is still in print, much updated, enlarged and revised, in its sixth edition, under the title Juran’s Quality Handbook: The Complete Guide to Performance Excellence. He was becoming well known, although initially, not so much in the US as in Japan. In 1954, he was invited to Japan for a series of lectures, and Japanese companies eagerly took up his ideas on how to increase their manufacturing quality.

In the US, the concept of quality was largely ignored. But in 1979, he founded the Juran Institute in the hope of increasing awareness of and engagement with his ideas. It was in the 1980s that quality started to rise up the agenda of US companies, and he became, in his 80s, a much in demand speaker and consultant. In 1988, he wrote the book that most marks his contribution, Planning for Quality – now out of print. The ideas, however, are all incorporated into later editions of other books.

Juran remained active, undertaking consultancy until the final years of his life. He died in 2008, survived, until the end of the year, by his wife of 81 years, Sadie, who was also born in 1904.

Juran and the Pareto Principle

Juran noticed early on that not all defects were equal. He found that some causes resulted in many defects and others in a few. A small number of causes accounted for a vast number of the defects. This, he recognised, was the same pattern as that which Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto found when looking at the distribution of wealth among Italian citizens. Juran recognised this as a general principle in the way some effects were distributed, and named it the Pareto Principle. It also became known as the 80/20 rule, because Juran found that around 80 per cent of defects were cause by 20 per cent of the underlying problems.

Juran and Deming

The other huge name in quality management was a contemporary of Juran’s, W Edwards Deming. However, where Deming put huge faith in the value of statistics, Juran saw another equally important effect, which his writings are at pains to stress. Possibly influenced by the work of Elton May at the Hawthorn plant, Juran placed huge emphasis on the human aspects of quality management. In so doing, he was an early exponent of employee empowerment.

Juran identified what has become known as his Quality Trilogy:

  1. Quality Planning
  2. Quality Management (or Control)
  3. Quality Implementation (or Improvement)

From these, he identified a nine-step roadmap to achieve the ideal of quality.

Quality Planning

1 Identify your customers
2 Determine their needs
3 Translate their needs into your own language

Quality Management

4 Develop a product that meets their needs
5 Optimise the product to your own needs too
6 Develop a process that can create the product

Quality Implementation

7 Optimise the process
8  Prove the process works under operational conditions
9 Operationalise the process

Company-Wide Quality Management

Perhaps Juran’s biggest contribution was to see quality as a cultural, rather than operational imperative. He argued that senior managers must not just be involved in, but must actively lead the quality processes. They must not delegate them: the impetus must come from the top and accountability and responsibility must remain there. However, he also saw empowerment of workers at all levels as a key to making quality work successfully.

You Might Also Like…

our articles on the leading modern quality methodology, Six Sigma:

  1. Belt up and Reduce Errors
  2. The DMAIC Solution Process
  3. Six Tools from Six Sigma

and also The Efficiency of Order: The 5S Methodology.

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