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Progress Drives Engagement: How Do You Focus on Progress?

Focus on Progress

How to Structure an Engaging Conversation


Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress, even a small win, can make all difference in how they feel and perform. — The Progress Principle

This quote, which makes so much sense to me, brings one to another aspect of not just why there is a need to focus on developing the people around, but also how it can be done.

Focus on Progress

To progress, you need a baseline to advance from. Once you have a baseline, you can start thinking about what you need to learn or practice to get better.

For learning to happen, there must be a gap between your current capability and the results that you desire.

For your people to learn, they need to:

  • Have an awareness of the gap;
  • Be willing to declare their incompetence—what they can't do; and
  • Commit to learning.

If I sneak into your business, tap any one of your team members on the shoulder, and ask them, “What are you working on at the moment in order to get better," or "In what ways does your boss feel you have made progress last month," will they know how to answer?

Or, is progress something that is randomly observed and then celebrated: Oh, isn’t this nice?

Focusing on progress is an important part of your leadership role. Your most important tool for this is not a dashboard in a spreadsheet but conversations—one-on-one conversations. According to Gallup, team members who have no or few one-to-one sessions with their direct supervisors are 67% more likely to be disengaged at work. I mention this just in case you have the notion that one-on-one talks are a waste of time and that it is easier to tell them everything all at once.

If you happen to be a manager of managers, this even more important. You are the role model. If you're not having one-to-one conversations about progress with your direct reports, there is little chance that they are having them with their team members. If you're not talking to them about how they are progressing with their approach to manage progress with their respective teams, I'm pretty sure it's not happening at all.

How to Structure an Engaging Conversation

What would be a good way to structure these conversations? Establish the gap.

Once you have a gap, you can establish a goal. Moving toward your goal is what progress would look like. Then, you can have a chat with your team about what is going on now compared to that goal. Once you have all agreed on how your current state is different from the goal, then you can talk about what options there could be to make progress towards the goal. Finally, pick an action and commit to doing that.

The conversations to follow will be the feedback on how the gap is being lessened and the goal is being reached. If you are familiar with coaching, you will have recognized that what is described here as a framework is, in fact, the GROW Coaching model. Check out more of its details.


Further Reading: Leadership: What, Why and How

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Mike Hohnen, MBA is a coach, trainer, author and public speaker who supports leaders, managers and their teams in implementing the principles of the Service Profit Chain.

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