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How to Start Relentless Momentum

We work with a number of growing and transforming enterprises, so we're especially attuned to the number one challenge leaders in those situations face: They need more than everyone's buy-in. They need everyone to care.

At the buy-in level, they win it when their team understands the company’s strategic goals and when each person knows how to work towards them in their own job.

But getting people to care is another matter. Lots of techniques exist, as do lots of cliches. One technique is to give people financial incentives, aligning their self-interest with the company. One cliche is that executives should praise people very seldom, because that way they will strive for it harder.

Neither works for today’s employees. Financial incentives focus people’s efforts too narrowly. And in a digital world awash in instant gratification, neglecting to praise people makes you seem like you don't care, which defeats your purpose. Today’s A-players are different, and so to get them to care, you need to take a different path.

The Missing Link

The key to relentless momentum is to engage their pride. “As emerging research shows,” HBR writes, “pride gives people grit.”  Proud people own their work challenges and rise to them. And gritty people don’t give up.

So, how do you engage pride successfully?

For decades, researchers thought that since emotions overwhelm most of us, every one of them must undermine our self-control. It's easy to see their point. Say you love chocolate; when its there, you’ll eat it, because your emotions take over, dominate your self-control, and demand instant gratification.

However, new research has found that some emotions – particularly pride – do the opposite. Instead of overwhelming you and your self-control, they actually make you more future-oriented than you normally would be.

Pride makes you more willing to place your gratification in the future, and decades of studies have all but proven that people who can do that outperform those who seek immediate gratification. You remember your Psych 101 class where they taught you about Stanford’s famous Marshmallow Test from the 1970s. Children were offered one marshmallow now, or two in ten minutes. Decades later, the ones who waited to get two marshmallows outperformed the others in every metric, from education to income to health.

“Put simply,” HBR explains, “a willingness to accept sacrifices in the moment – to work, practice, or otherwise persevere in the face of difficulties – is what drives productivity…”

People who feel proud of their work and their company can delay gratification. They can think strategically, act with restraint, and plan ahead to get a better result. Pride enhances the perceived value of future satisfaction, and the more you think it’s worth, the easier it is to work towards it. 

And only pride causes this to happen. Making people happy, incredibly, does not have the same effect. Happy people might be more pleasant, but researchers found that people who are proud will expend considerably more effort than people who are merely happy. 

You can see how pride would help managers lead their teams through extreme growth or transformation. HBR found that pride “is one of a select group of emotions that engenders perseverance and success at work.” 

Old fashioned management techniques just won’t cut it because they miss the pride component. They're focused on an outdated psychological model that's all about self-interest. 

Fast moving companies need more than that. They can’t see what’s coming, and they have to trust everyone to handle the unexpected. They need everyone to care.

Unlocking Pride

Creating and sustaining a culture where people are proud of their company and care about their work requires several integrated and balanced components.

But you can add the most powerful one to your management style today, because it depends upon something that you control completely: your praise.

There's some merit to the old cliche mentioned above. If you praise too much, it means too little. That's on an individual basis, however – if you praise one person too much, it has a negative effect on that person and on the whole group. However, praising a number of individuals, one at a time and when it's merited, can completely transform their sense of pride and how much they care.

A few well-timed words of praise after someone has made their metric move or after they've completed a project can make an enormous difference. As HBR explains, if you want to tap people's pride wisely in your business, “you have to give specific, targeted praise on discrete, measurable tasks.”

When you do that, the individual gets a boost to their pride, and the rest of the team sees that you care. And you’re well on your way towards relentless momentum.