How Can You Motivate Knowledge Workers?

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Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

How Can You Motivate Knowledge Workers?

In the current 'knowledge era', the question what motivates knowledge workers, and, being a manager, how you should motivate and manage them is important.
In their article "The Progress of Small Wins" in HBR May 2011, Professor Theresa M. Amabile and researcher Steven J. Kramer are reporting interesting findings and formulate a principle.
By the way, this principle reminded me strongly of above summarized Expectancy Theory (1964) of Victor Vroom (the article itself does not mention this).
According to Amabile and Kramer what motivates knowledge workers is surprisingly simple: the sense of making progress in meaningful work (they call this the Progress Principle).
In this Progress Principle, 3 elements are important:
1. Sense (similar to Vroom's Expectancy)
2. Making Progress (similar to Vroom's Instrumentality)
3. Meaningful (similar to Vroom's Valence)
According to the authors 'this sense of making progress is fundamental to human nature, but few managers understand it or know how to leverage progress to boost motivation'. This while even limited progress (or lack thereof) can already boost (or decrease) morale and engagement and make them more (or less) productive!
Chances are that you, being a member of 12manage, are managing several or even many knowledge workers. What should you do? Quite simply: support this progress. How?
This part of the article I liked most. Interestingly, the authors distinguish between:
- 'Catalysts' (actions that support work): setting clear goals, allowing autonomy, providing enough resources and time, helping with the work, openly learning from problems and successes, and allowing a free exchange of ideas. Beware of the negative counterpart of catalysts, 'Inhibitors', such as failing to provide support and actively interfering with the work.
- 'Nourishers' (actions that support the person): respect, recognition, encouragement, emotional comfort, opportunities for affiliation. Beware of the negative counterpart of nourishers, 'Toxins', such as disrespect, discouragement, disregard for emotions, and interpersonal conflict.

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