Numbers are all around us – and they aren’t going away any time soon. Whether it’s my turnover, my personal bank balance, the level of engagement on my social media or my weekly vitality points – numbers seem to represent my value - my place in this world. If I’m not careful, those numbers start to dictate the emotional tone of my life.

One of our work mottos at THINKspiration is “less numbers, more progress.” I’m going to attempt to unpack it a bit below …

It’s human nature isn’t it? We can’t help setting and pursuing objectives, and then studying the associated metrics. We adapt our actions around the metrics that measure them – with interesting consequences. Frequent flyers choose outlandish routes to maximize their miles. Shoppers contort their shopping habits out of all proportion to earn those few extra customer points. Data, data, data. “Quantifiable accomplishments.” “What you measure is what you’ll get.” It consumes us! And yet sometimes, it backfires. Certain KPI’s are set to improve performance in one area and the net effect is deterioration in another. We obsessively measure staff performance but we forget to monitor employee trust or customer satisfaction. Professionals offering services pursue outcomes which benefit their bottom line more than the clients they serve. We neglect to measure the right things, and the wrong data is captured.

This doesn’t mean we should do away with metrics – it just means we should be more careful about what we measure, and how we measure it. Also, just because we can’t easily put numbers to something doesn’t mean we should overlook it. H. Thomas Johnson made the telling statement: “Perhaps what you measure is what you get. More likely, what you measure is all you’ll get. What you don’t (or can’t) measure is lost.”

Organisations such as the World Economic Forum are regularly pointing to competencies that will be required in the working world of the future: emotional intelligence, creativity, cultural intelligence, and complex problem solving - to name a few. It’s hard to put numbers to these. Furthermore, Martin Seligman (along with many others) insisted that we can’t put numbers to the things that are most important in life – things such as purposeful work, fulfilling relationships and optimism.

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer proposed the term “inner work life” to reflect the psychological experience that people have at work. Their study, involving 238 people across 7 companies, showed the importance of optimism, high motivation, and positive perceptions of work and fellow colleagues. In their book “The Progress Principle”, they show how seemingly minor workday events have a significant impact on the inner work lives of employees. Progress is described as forward movement (even in small steps) in meaningful work. This is something that leaders can foster, facilitate, and leverage every day. When people experience the positive emotion associated with making progress, they remain engaged, motivated, optimistic and innovative in their approach to work. Amabilie and Kramer propose 6 key ideas for leaders to keep in mind if they want to help those in their teams achieve the small wins that will make a big difference. I think these not only make great sense – they are also secrets hidden in plain sight. We can’t ignore ideas like these if we want to build engaged, committed and innovative teams. These key ideas are as follows:

1. Set clear goals (not just one huge audacious goal, but a series of measurable milestones, ie break the mountain down into molehills);
2. Allow autonomy (avoid micromanaging: create the feeling that you checking in rather than checking up on people);
3. Provide Resources (eg technology, information, budget, coaching);
4. Allow ample time (this is a fine art – put in the necessary effort to plan it carefully);
5. Provide support and expertise (ensure that they have access to the people they need, and foster a collaborative environment); and
6. Learn from honest failure (fail well and grow as a result)

When it comes to success, the ideas above point to the fact that we have more influence (and responsibility) than we realise regarding the well-being and productivity of our teams. Let’s put in the time and effort to help them achieve and celebrate small wins. Let’s make sure they recognize the contribution they are making. If they feel they are having more “best days” at work, imagine how it will light up all the other metrics!

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