All Articles Leadership Management Momentum as a management strategy

Momentum as a management strategy

Newtonian physics offers a new way to look at how to motivate teams to keep growing.

4 min read



Osman Rana/Unsplash

“Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed ” — Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion

Leaders looking for an edge in today’s complex and competitive business environment need look no further than physicist Isaac Newton and his theory of inertia and momentum. At the risk of oversimplifying this genius’ body of work, the bottom line is this: It takes a lot of energy to get something started. And something that’s started will continue moving forward unless something else intervenes.

Momentum could be the 17th-century solution to 21st-century business challenges

Today we focus on and value big initiatives, massive efforts and whopping turnarounds. We think if our undertakings don’t make a splash, they don’t matter. As a result, leaders often find themselves working hard against inertia. And, while this is frequently the appropriate response to a given challenge, it’s exhausting.

But, what many leaders may not appreciate is that finding, fostering and fueling momentum can actually be equally effective, as well as less effortful and a lot more satisfying. Small, intentional steps to get or keep things moving forward can generate surprising – even exponential – results.

So, what are some steps that leaders can take to help fuel momentum and support results?

Set small and incremental goals. Certainly, figuring out how to achieve a significant or complex objective requires a sizable and inclusive strategy. But big plans can be overwhelming. People can become immobilized when the scale or timeline is daunting. So, rather than thinking big, think small. Break it down into doable increments. Let people experience early success and build the confidence and momentum to take on additional and more challenging successive goals.

Create a “next steps” culture. It’s frequently said, “the hardest part of any journey is taking the first step.” And while they may be hard, first steps are also powerful. They overturn the force of inertia and get things moving. First steps demonstrate what’s possible and create the opportunity for others to get involved. As a result, highly effective leaders create a cadence and a culture of “next steps.” They don’t end a meeting without a discussion of next steps. They close all calls with next steps. They know that next steps build energy and momentum for further action.

Punctuate progress. In today’s results-oriented business environment, the idea of progress may not get the attention it’s due. According to researcher and author Theresa Amabile, progress is among the most motivating factors in the workplace. When people see and feel that they’re moving things forward, it inspires additional effort, engagement and momentum. But, even when progress is being made, given the daily grind, employees may not see it. So, point it out. Celebrate it. Recognize it. Encourage it. Progress not only feeds momentum; it is momentum.

Broker small agreements. Negotiating can be taxing and time-consuming. If you’re going to invest the energy, it’s natural to want to craft a comprehensive deal. But frequently it’s more effective to start small. A smaller agreement is easier to come to, approve and execute. Each party gets to know the other, trust builds, and momentum is established for the next (perhaps larger and more sweeping) issue to be agreed up.

Remove roadblocks. That object in motion can only stay in motion unless or until acted upon by an unbalanced force, according to Newton. Unfortunately, there are many unbalanced forces at work in organizations today. We tend to call them roadblocks. Leaders who want to leverage momentum anticipate problems and bottlenecks. They proactively collaborate with their teams to get out in front of issues. They clear the path and facilitate the resources so that ‘objects’, project, initiatives, and teams in motion continue their motion toward results.

Momentum — the physical phenomenon that we take for granted — is a powerful force in our lives. Try it as a conscious management strategy, and you may find that your efforts will become just as unstoppable as that object in motion.


Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog at

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free e-mail on leadership, among SmartBrief’s more than 200 industry-focused newsletters.