I was talking to one of my colleagues this week, about my daughter’s transition from Reception to Year One at school and how learning through play had been superseded by learning through doing and her level of consciousness with regard to learning. This has been borne out through the language she has been using since the start of term during our evening conversations about what she has done at school each day: statements like we played in the sandpit and we made our own Olympic medals have been replaced by I’ve learnt to spell the months of the year and I found out about all the different animals that live underwater.
What has become more challenging are her questions back to me about my day, particularly when her questions are focused on what I’ve learnt each day and what I’ve discovered. Responding with the stock answer of I’ve had lots of meetings or even being more explicit by sharing with her my role in delivering a transformational HR programme for my client don’t seem to resonate. Which got me thinking about what I’m really learning, discovering and achieving on a day to day basis.
Within the work context, we are constantly challenged to create bold, stretching and at times audacious goals, with a focus on achievement realised through delivery of these. When was the last time you thought smaller though? What about those small wins like engaging a difficult stakeholder, enhancing a business process or holding a productive meeting with clear outcomes and actions? We regularly take these small wins for granted. They have become ingrained in our daily work lives, even though they are a critical part in achieving that stretching, bold and audacious goal.
When talking to my colleague about my nightly conversations with my six year old, she suggested I read The Progress Principle, written by Teresa Amabile, a Director of Research at Harvard Business School and her husband, Steven Kramer a Developmental Psychologist. If we try to remember the last time we, or anyone we know, had a truly enormous breakthrough in solving a problem or achieving one of those audacious goals, it can be pretty hard, because breakthroughs are very rare events. On the other hand, small wins happen all the time. These are the incremental steps toward meaningful (even big) goals. The research conducted by Amabile and Kramer showed that of all the events that have the power to excite people and engage them in their work, the single most important is making progress – even if that progress is a small win. That’s the progress principle. And, because people are more creatively productive when they are excited and engaged, small wins are a very big deal for organisations.
So how can we apply the progress principle to our daily lives? Find five minutes each day, perhaps when queuing for lunch, waiting for a conference call to start or whilst travelling home, to reflect on the progress we have made at work. Then note the progress down, even if it was a small win and celebrate it. It’s these small incremental wins that collectively enable us to deliver the big goal… and defines why progress matters.
At the very least, like me, you’ll have something meaningful to share with your children or partner each evening about your day beyond the stock answer of “oh you know the usual stuff” and by Christmas could have at least twenty daily progress notes written down. Now that would be progress really worth celebrating.