Think about the last time you were stuck on the freeway. Really stuck. The we-haven’t-moved-an-inch-in 30-minutes kind of stuck. Zero progress. No forward movement.
Now – remember how you felt when the car you’d been staring at for 30 minutes – the one in front of you – began to move. Just a tiny bit of forward momentum, at first, but you were MOVING. When you’re stuck, any forward movement is reason for hope.
Here in California, we’ve even named the condition. The CHP will declare a Sig-Alert if at least one lane of freeway is predicted to be immovable for 30 minutes or longer. Drivers will go to great lengths to avoid Sig-Alerts. I am not the only one who will alter my route and go many miles out of my way to get around a standstill. The theory being, “I’d rather be moving than not.”
Being stuck is something very few of us tolerate well.
Think of all the ways we can get stuck:
- “He’s not in, can you hold please?”
- “We are number 13 for departure.”
- “We’ve arrived ahead of schedule, but there’s no gate available.”
- “Hmm, have you tried re-booting it?”
- “That’s a good idea – let me get back to you.”
- “Probably 35-45 minutes for a table.”
- “I’d like to help you, but we don’t have the budget.”
- “We have your application on file.”
As frustrating as being stuck can be, forward momentum can provide amazing motivation. Just like the way you feel when traffic finally starts moving again, getting unstuck – moving forward – nearly always makes us feel better. Dozens of psychologists have shared their theories on this. Maslow suggested that human beings were driven by a need to make progress toward the next highest level of his famous hierarchy. Frederick Herzberg listed “achievement, increased responsibility and advancement” among activities that motivate employees.
Douglas McClelland wrote that the need for achievement was one of the strongest human desires. And not because we want the stuff that comes with achievement, rather because we NEED to achieve.
If you manage people and are held accountable for their performance, consider what you can do to help them achieve forward momentum. If lack of progress is de-motivating, ask yourself what you can do to turn the tide, lift the Sig-Alert and facilitate even incremental amounts of progress. Where are the bottlenecks? What policies inhibit progress? What can be done to keep projects moving ahead?
Here’s an idea – what would happen if you gathered your team together, showed them the image to the left and asked, “What can we do make this cartoon irrelevant?”