Have you ever felt frustrated, staring at your monitor while a large file downloads from the internet? I guess most of us have at some time or the other and the temptation to keep checking if the file is actually downloading is very high. You just need to know that it’s actually happening!
This is exactly why most smart websites, browsers (or file downloading software) provide percentage-completed progress indicators. The filling up of the bar gives users a sense of progress (even if its misleading at times). Dr Brad A. Meyers in his paper “The importance of percent-done progress indicators for computer-human interfaces,” points out that “Practical experience and formal experiments show that progress indicators are an important and useful user-interface tool, and that they enhance the attractiveness and effectiveness of programs that incorporate them.”
When it comes to complex tasks and large projects in the workplace, pretty much the same logic holds true. People prefer to get feedback of how they are doing and where they are in the overall scheme of things. Instantaneous feedback has a strong positive reinforcement effect.
In the article “The Power of Small Wins”, Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile, writes
“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 the difference in how they feel and perform.
The power of progress is fundamental to human nature, but few managers understand it or know how to leverage progress to boost motivation.”
Here’s is Teresa explaining the Progress Principle at her TEDx talk.
Don’t underestimate the significance of recognizing small achievements. Often the best way to achieve large complex tasks is to break them down into smaller sub-tasks. Completing these smaller tasks gives a sense of achievement and motivates people to move on to the next problem on the list rather than feeling overwhelmed by a much larger task that seems unachievable.
Celebrating small achievements is a wonderful way to get people charged up and motivated to do more. The path to eventual success in the project might be long and arduous, but that’s no reason it should not be fun. Besides, small celebrations also give an opportunity for other team members to join in and get the momentum going on your team’s psychological progress bar.
References and Acknowledgements for this post:
The importance of percent-done progress indicators for computer-human interfaces, Brad A. Myers, Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto; The Power of Small Wins, by Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer, Harvard Business Review.
Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net.