Maintain energy by marking progress

Leaders need to set ambitious goals for the future, but we also have to keep the team going along the journey. Maintain energy by marking progress.

“Are we there yet?” Ring any bells? Parents are well-used to providing frequent reassurance to children that we ARE going to reach the destination eventually. But as leaders, we often forget that it’s just as important to mark progress towards our goals.

It’s right that leaders are comfortable in setting out ambitious, often far-reaching goals for the future, and creating momentum in the team towards the destination. But change is hard work, and it’s often only part of everyone’s day job, so it’s inevitable that energy will flag at times.

We often cite the saying that ‘every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’ – but omit to mention that it continues with single steps too. How you mark those steps and maintain energy on the journey is key for change leaders.

To keep the energy up, you’re going to need your team to be in no doubt that their hard work is paying off, and that they’re getting closer to the destination with each step they take. Just reminding them about the wonderful final destination isn’t enough – you need to mark progress along the way.

People need to see that progress is not only possible but is happening. John Kotter
People need to see that progress is not only possible but is happening. John Kotter

Practically, then, what can leaders do?

Here are some practical things you could do to show that progress is happening:

  1. When vision-setting, don’t stop before you’ve specified some milestones on the journey. People need to know in advance what at least the first few steps look like.
  2. Be disciplined about noticing and celebrating the small steps that are taking you towards your destination. Don’t take for granted the commitment and effort that each small win has cost your team.
  3. Be honest when you need to make a detour, and plan some new small-step milestones that you’ll celebrate.
  4. Use data to motivate. From the very first day, collect measures that show that change is happening, and progress is being made. And show the data in real time – make today’s progress visible today. It’s not enough only to measure distance travelled at the very end of the journey.

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