The book: The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer; Harvard Business Review Press.

The big idea: The single most important thing business leaders can do to improve morale is help employees feel they are making progress at work.

The backstory: Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Kramer, a psychologist, set out to study "inner work lives": the perceptions, emotions, and motivations that govern employees' reactions to workplace events.

Horses' mouths: The authors asked employees from various companies to submit daily diaries. They found that accomplishments and setbacks on work projects had huge effects on morale, greater than recognition or financial incentives.

The voyeur factor: The book quotes liberally from diaries. Eavesdropping on the goings-on at these (unfortunately anonymous) companies is both fascinating and disturbing.

If you read nothing else: Chapters Five, Six, and Seven lay out steps for improving employees' inner work lives, including expeditiously supplying a team with extra help and emphasizing that its work is important to the organization.

Food for thought: Incremental accomplishment is touted in several recent books, including titles by Robert Sutton and Peter Sims. Are we seeing a movement away from Jim Collins's Big Hairy Audacious Goals?