Saturday, 4 May 2013

Are you 'good at what you do'..?

We all intuitively know and appreciate the value of feeling good about our work and our own performance at work - self-confidence in performing a particular task generally contributes to the successful performance of that task, or, as a related saying expresses - 'success breeds success'...
In 'The Progress Principle', Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer delve into why it is so important for people to feel as though they are making progress in their work, as well as detailing the other contributing factors that are significant in determining the quality of people's Inner Work Life.

Amabile and Kramer argue that people's Inner Work Life - their sense of happiness and enjoyment with their work - can be measured through observation of three traits: their perceptions (thoughts) about their work environment, their emotions (feelings) about their work environment and their motivation (drive) to perform their work.
Whilst these elements enable us to gauge the relative happiness and enjoyment people are experiencing from their work, the interesting part is how we can contribute (or otherwise... ) to how positively people feel about their work.

The influences on Inner Work Life

'Nourishments' are triggers / actions that are related to the person (interpersonal). The four major nourishments identified are: respectencouragement, emotional support and affiliation.
The opposite of Nourishments are 'Toxins', examples of which could include not being treated respectfully by a colleague / leader, not having one's emotional needs acknowledged, or antagonistic behaviour from colleagues.

'Catalysts' are triggers / actions related to the work itself. The seven major catalysts identified are: the setting of clear goals, autonomy, provision of resources, giving adequate time, providing support with the work, focusing upon learning (from problems and successes) and facilitating a flow of ideas.
The opposite of Catalysts are 'Inhibitors', examples of which could include a lack of clarity about the purpose / direction of one's role, micromanagement, or not being given adequate resources to do the job.

'Progress' refers to the improvements and gains people are making in their work and leads into the sense of self-efficacy that is very closely related to a key plank of intrinsic motivation - one's sense of competence or mastery. ie. If we feel as though we are making progress towards mastery or improved competence in our work, then we will have a greater intrinsic sense of happiness and joy when doing this work.
A stand-out point about this Progress Principle is that people need to know (as it occurs, or as close as possible to it... ) when they are making progress in their work - the resultant positive effects on perceptions, emotions and motivation can build momentum to the point where they become self-perpetuating.
The opposite of Progress are 'Setbacks', examples of which could include failing to solve a problem, making errors / misjudgements, or running out of (time, money, resources, etc... ).

Lots of interesting ways that this could (should..?) impact upon how we measure the progress of teachers, how we provide performance feedback and the working conditions we seek to create in schools...

The book is well worth a read, but so is this talk by behavioural economist, Dan Ariely, where he expresses similar sentiments about the importance of making (and knowing that we are making) progress in our work:

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