According to research by Teresa Amabile from the Harvard Business School, your best work days likely include making progress – even if it is just a small win — on work you consider meaningful or important.
Amabile calls this the “progress principle.” When she compared her research participants’ best and worst days (defined by their mood, specific emotions, and motivation levels), the best days were those where any progress on the work by either the individual or their team took place. If you feel motivated and happy at the end of your workday, odds are good that you made some progress that day.
Nonprofits are built for meaningful work almost by definition. Therefore, we in the sector should have a leg up on good days. But, of course, we all know that’s not the way it works. Plenty of people, situations, and events can get in the way of daily progress.
There are lots of things you can do to stay focused on your progress, such as keeping a daily “Small Wins Diary,” regularly talking about small wins with others (we start all of our Mentoring Program group calls this way), and refocusing your thoughts away from frustrating “how” questions to the more fulfilling “why” questions related to why you do your work.
Also take note of your relationships with your managers. Our Nonprofit Communications Trends Report research confirms how important strong relationships between executive directors and communications directors are for both personal happiness at work and organizational communications success.
Watch for management behavior that can drain your motivation and put a huge dent in your sense of progress. Amabile and her team identified four ways that managers routinely and probably unwittingly zap the meaning out of their employees’ work. Three of these four are definite problems in the nonprofit sector.
1. Dismissing the importance of employees’ work or ideas and settling for mediocrity.
This is a big one for nonprofit communicators who work in organizations that don’t value the strategic importance of good communications. If your nonprofit doesn’t believe in and invest in the power of great communications to achieve its goals, it’s hard to see how you can stay motivated for long.
2. Destroying a sense of ownership by switching people off project teams before work is finalized.
I don’t see this happen quite as often in the nonprofit world probably because nonprofits are chronically understaffed, so it’s rare for people to get pulled off work. It’s much more likely that new work gets piled on before the old work gets done – which leads us to problem #3.
3. Shifting goals so frequently that people despair that their work will ever see the light of day.
Bingo! No clear goals and shifting goals are a huge problem, especially in nonprofit communications where there are so many choices to be made each day. Unfortunately, many nonprofit managers focus too much on just producing communications without being clear about their goals for those communications.
4. Neglecting to keep subordinates up to date on changing priorities for customers.
Being kept out of the loop is another common complaint from communications directors, although the changing priorities are more likely to come from management than from a nonprofit’s customers or clients. Keeping the internal lines of communication open is essential to keeping employees engaged.
Now you know: No matter how small the wins, try to get them and appreciate them!