Six Essential Ways to Build a Positive Organization

Excerpted from original article by Kathy Caprino at http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2013/12/13/6-essential-ways-to-build-a-positive-organization/

When you look around your office, do you see a positive organization that fosters growth, expansion, and engagement, or the opposite?

Recently, I connected with Chris White, Managing Director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations, and Adjunct Faculty at the Ross School of Business, for his take on how we can create positive organizations that make the utmost of their human resources.

Chris shared his thoughts, based on research from the Center:

“There are abundant resources, talents, abilities and strengths within and around you in your organization, if you are attuned to them, and know how to bring them to the forefront. Too often these powerful resources are trapped within the rigid processes, structures and systems. These resources, if tapped, can lead to vibrant, energized people contributing at the highest levels in thriving workplaces. These are assets that can generate extraordinary performance, both individually and collectively — resources like commitment, creativity, inspiration, generosity, and integrity — authentic leadership at all levels of the organization. We call those workplaces that have learned to unlock these exceptional human resources “Positive Organizations.”

Research from The Center for Positive Organizations as well as its community of scholars at other top academic institutions around the world, tells us that in following an overarching approach of drawing on and nurturing key human resources, there are specific ways to harness the power of people that is currently trapped within the matrix. Doing so can ultimately build a truly positive, thriving organization.

Here are Chris’s suggestions for six ways to get started to build a positive organization:

Focus Behavior on the Do’s, Not Just the Don’ts

University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business Professor Kim Cameron, a leading researcher in organizational effectiveness, has convincingly linked “virtuousness” in organizations – the presence of attributes like generosity, forgiveness and compassion – to enterprise performance. Similarly, Ross Professor David Mayer, a researcher in field of social and ethical issues in organizations, is helping to grow awareness of Positive Ethics: understanding how to move cultures beyond preventing unethical behavior, toward the abundance of high-integrity actions. As a leader dedicated to building a positive organization, ask yourself, “How many of our corporate policies actually encourage virtuousness vs. only mitigate the risks of unethical behavior?”

Help People Connect Positive Meaning to Their Tasks and Projects

Did your team just spend the day “doing email” or were they actually engaged in something more important and meaningful that makes a profound difference in peoples’ lives?

Studies by social science Professor Adam Grant showed that telesales teams who were exposed to short, appreciative testimonials from the beneficiaries of their work before beginning their shifts performed markedly better than control groups who did not. The kicker: both groups used exactly the same scripts. The difference was all in the meaning and positive emotions that the callers took into their work. Illustrating how teams’ tasks and responsibilities actual make a difference in people’s lives can significantly improve their effectiveness.

Offer People Structured Freedom to Shape Their Own Roles

Research by Adam Grant, organizational behavior Professor Amy Wrzesniewski, and doctoral student Justin Berg shows that giving people a way to shape their own roles in line with their values, passions and strengths leads to measurably better engagement and performance. Google GOOG -2.51%’s People Analytics Director Brian Welle credits The Job Crafting Exercise™ in helping to build performance by helping his people identify who they are authentically and tap into what is most important to them at work. The exercise is designed to help employees make their job more engaging and fulfilling by looking at it in a new way — as a flexible set of building blocks rather than a fixed list of duties.

Find the Energy in Your Organization

Every organization has energizers—those who enliven others with their positive energy. Energizers are positive influencers, effective leaders, and value creators. They are ideal champions of organizational change and innovation. Ross Professor Wayne Baker maps energy networks in groups, teams, or organizations. His energy maps help to spot the organization’s energizers, including those who are in positions of formal authority or who are quiet energizers who don’t seek the limelight. These energizers often make excellent leaders of organizational change initiatives, yet are frequently overlooked when these teams are pulled together through traditional approaches.

Build Positive Self-Identities at Work

You may well know your strengths. But who are you when you are at your best? How would your closest friends, family and colleagues describe you when you’re at your best?

Often, by eliciting stories from others about when they have seen you at your best, you gain a more complete picture of your potential as a leader. How you see yourself profoundly impacts how you behave. The Reflected Best Self Exercise™ is one example of a personal development tool that enables people to identify their unique strengths and talents. Each participant requests positive feedback from significant people in his or her life and then synthesizes it into a cumulative portrait of his or her “best self.” People more aware of who they are when they are at their unique best, are more likely to be at their best more often.

Draw Strength from High Quality Connections

It only takes a moment to make a truly human connection, a connection that can generate good will, energy, and positive bonds.

We have dozens of opportunities to do so each day. These micro-moments are what positive organizational expert, Ross Professor Jane Dutton, calls High-Quality Connections, and what social psychologist Barbara Frederickson calls Positivity Resonance. For example, in the Center for Positive Organizations, they routinely start meetings by each sharing a recent piece of good news. Empirical evidence suggests that these moments of connection can lead to great benefits in happiness, creativity, and health.

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An emphasis on building positivity and strengthening positive practices in organizations is not just a “nice to have,” empty leadership mantra, but a critical business imperative for leaders and managers who wish to ensure the long-term success, growth, stability and competitive advantage of their organizations.

Take a long, hard look at your organization and evaluate concretely its emphasis on positivity. What step can you take today as a leader to unlock the vast potential of your human resources?

(For more information, visit the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and its Center for Positive Organizations.)

(For more on accelerating individual career success and growth, visit www.elliacommunications.com and The Amazing Career Project.)