Why Positive Organizations Matter

Creating workplaces conducive to human flourishing is one of the most important challenges facing the world today. Rising to this challenge will not be easy.

One can paint a gloomy picture of the human experience in organizations today. Just 30% of the American workforce is actively engaged in their work99% have experienced or witnessed incivility in the workplaceAround the world, there are 168 million child laborers. Of these, 85 million are involved in hazardous work that puts their health or safety in jeopardy.

Moving forward, there is reason to think that this landscape will become even more treacherous. There simply will not be enough jobs to go around. Artificial intelligence and automation, combined with population growth, have led some commentators to predict extreme dislocation of workers and accompanying social unrest. This is exacerbated by systems and policies that are accelerating economic inequality. Indeed, many credit this dynamic as being an influencing factor in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. In November, disenfranchised voters cast an angry ballot for a candidate promising to bring back the good days in industries such as coal mining that are surely on death’s door.

Yet there is reason to be hopeful as well. As Scott DeRue, Dean of the Michigan Ross Business School, often says, “business has the potential to be the greatest force for good in the world.” Indeed, business will have a central role to play in the accomplishment of every single one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Business is a powerful force for economic development. Globally, extreme poverty has been reduced by 50% (or more) in the last thirty years. Business is a powerful force for human development, too. Millions of people find their organizations to be a source of deep meaning and uplifting relationships in their lives.

We are in an era of intense disruption technologically, politically, economically, and socially. In this situation, we can choose to be victims, accepting whatever hand fate may deal us. Or we can seek to come out of this period of change invigorated by a new and better world of work. In every crisis comes opportunity.

We can make workplaces healing and generative spaces for ourselves and others. Some have argued that the deeper purpose of business is to bestow dignity on those engaged in it. We earn the respect of ourselves and others because of the values we embody and the contributions we make to the world around us. We can create good jobs, paid enough, with working conducive to human flourishing.

We have reason to believe that embracing the pursuit of positive organizations will be better for firm performance, too. At a firm level, there is a correlation between appearing on the Best Places to Work list and their stocks performance. For those of us working within organizations, there are implications. Those who have a high degree of learning and vitality – what Spreitzer and Porath call Thriving – are likely to have higher performance and experience less burnout than those who do not.

The time is now to build positive organizations. The world needs it. And each of us needs it – as leaders, students, scholars, and citizens.


This post was written for the Huffington Post’s Great Work Cultures initiative.

How to Avoid Being a Fake Positive Leader

There are sessions taught in some companies these days on “Executive Presence.” Such courses help high-potential employees to walk, talk, and look like a leader is meant to look. Whatever that is.

Ugh.

All too often, programs like these emphasize techniques people can employ to create a certain impression, rather than their underlying leadership principles and values. Consequently, the practices advocated are not strongly rooted in integrity. Nobody enjoys feeling like they are on the receiving end of a technique that someone is trying in order to get what they want. We call that manipulation. When people try to be someone they are not, we experience it as superficial, inauthentic and insincere.

Instead, let us pay more attention to our belief systems about leadership and organizations. Here are three mental shifts that allow the practices of being a positive leader to be enacted with integrity, and real impact.

1. From fixed to growth mindset

Do you believe that your abilities in a particular area are set in stone, or do you believe that — given proper attention — that they can improve? Do you hold the same belief about those around you? How you answer those questions may have implications for happiness and performance related outcomes, according to research by Carol Dweck. In short, cultivating a growth mindset – one that emphasizes the learning journey over the immediate results – helps drive a range of helpful outcomes.

We can help ourselves to adopt a growth mindset by being deliberate about our learning experiences in our day-to-day roles. Sue Ashford and Scott DeRue, faculty associates at the Center for Positive Organizations, call this “mindful engagement.” Rather than being dependent on standalone training sessions, the mindful engagement process can be applied to many of our ongoing tasks and responsibilities. For instance, perhaps you want to get better at leading a team meeting, or conducting a performance appraisal for the first time, the process can be broken down into three main steps:

a) Set learning goals. Before beginning any particular experience, identify your learning goals. What is it that you are seeking to develop here? What experiments are you running?

b) Get input. While undertaking the experience, the researchers recommend collecting feedback from others. What is going well? What is not? Why?

c) Debrief. Afterward, conduct an After Action Review. What should we keep for next time? What should we adjust for next time?

2. From problem solving to possibility finding

Sometimes, there are problems that do need to be fixed. So fix them! Positive leadership does not mean ignoring things that need to be improved. But many people go overboard with an obsessive focus on problem solving.

We see the obsession all around us. Organizational antibodies just love to find initiatives that do not look like the rest of the system. They kill everything that looks different by a thousand cuts. “We tried that once and it failed,” says one colleague. “We could never try that here, it wouldn’t work,” says another. Or, sometimes, you will just get ignored. These are all insidious ways of damping down the enthusiasm of those trying to create positive change.

As leaders, we can choose to place the majority of our attention and leadership energy on what is working well. Part of the key to creating sustainable change is to carefully ration the amount of change imposed from the outside. Instead, it is almost always better to find what is already working inside an organization and amplify it. “What is going well here?” positive leaders ask on a daily basis. “How could we make it even better?”

3. From hierarchical thinking to influence without authority

When you think of getting things done in your organization, do you picture an organizational chart? Or do you imagine a network of relationships? In reality, of course, most organizations are both hierarchical and based on networks of relationships.

However, the concept to which you assign primacy here says something about how you think of the workplace.

Positive leaders recognize that seldom are organizational decisions made by a single dominant player. Rather, there are influence systems around decision makers, where people are constantly jockeying for position. Within these systems, the degree to which you positively energize those around you can in turn impact the influence you have in the organization and the performance. By energizing others with character strengths such as compassion, presence, enthusiasm, purpose, generosity, humor, and care, you can both improve performance, and become more influential in the system. In turn, you may also make the culture more resilient.

Adopt a growth mindset. Encourage it in others. Find and amplify the good. Be a positive energizer. Help others to be positive energizers too. That’s the kind of executive whose presence I want to be in.

Chris White (@leadpositively, leadpositively.com) is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business (@MichiganRoss). The Center is the convener of the Consortium of Positive Organizations, a catalytic co-learning community of leaders actively building high-performing organizations where people thrive.

Originally at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-to-avoid-being-a-fake-positive-leader_us_58eba536e4b0145a227cb6da

What Positive Leadership is Not

It drives me nuts.

Few things make me crazier than when people misunderstand what it means to be “positive” in the workplace, and then project that misunderstanding onto others. Many people interpret positive leaders as being “nice” or “happy” all the time. While this may be true, being nice and happy all the time is not the goal of being a positive leader. My purpose in this blog post is to dispel three of the most common misconceptions about what it means to be a positive leader or to build a positive organization. By doing so, perhaps we can become better leaders, too.

I may experience uncomfortable misunderstandings about the nature of positive leadership and positive organizations more often than most (as managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations). Here are some interactions from a typical day in my life:

  • I get into an elevator, and someone says to his neighbor “uh oh, better be happy now!” Cue awkward laughter, and then silence.
  • A student is outraged when I give her a suggestion for improvement. “I thought you were meant to be ‘positive,’” she complains angrily. Cue difficult conversation.
  • A meeting participant apologizes to me — “I’m sorry, I know this isn’t very positive, but…” — before sharing his important concerns about a project. Cue concern about how many other people are holding back their good ideas because of this inaccurate interpretation of the word “positive.”

These minor situations reflect dangerous misunderstandings of what it means to be a positive leader, or to attempt to build a positive team or organization. Here are three of the most common misconceptions about people aspiring to be positive leaders:

1. “You have an overly optimistic view of the world (or yourself)”

Wrong. Positive leaders are actually trying to have a more accurate view of the world and ourselves than occurs naturally for most of us.

We are naturally wired to dwell on negative feedback longer than positive feedback. Indeed, studies suggest that our memories weight negative feedback more than three times stronger than positive feedback. As such, most people have an unreasonably pessimistic view of themselves. Think about the last time you received a combination of negative and positive feedback points. Which kind of feedback did you dwell on more? By consciously noticing, savoring, and celebrating positive experiences, we are actually just bringing things back into more of a realistic (and healthy) equilibrium.

2. “You are okay with poor performance, effort, or behavior”

Wrong. Positive leaders are committed to applying an affirmative bias, and to achieving extraordinary outcomes.

A foundational piece of research by founders of Positive Organizational Scholarship addressed the need for both/and attributes throughout organizational culture. We need to be both competitive and collaborative. We need to be both creative and have strong controls in our processes where necessary. And of course we need to be both supportive and challenging to help people grow. Bob Quinn has used the metaphor of a positive leader having one hand on her teammate’s back to push her along faster than she thought possible; the other is under her arm to break her fall if needed. Giving someone endless free passes for sub-par performance is not being a positive leader. In fact, it is not being a leader at all.

3. “You should be happy all the time”

Wrong. Positive leaders experience the same range of emotions as everyone else.

Unless you have truly achieved enlightenment, most of us experience a range of emotions. We are happy, sad, angry, curious, perplexed, excited, and much more over the course of any given day or week. Trying to force ourselves to be happy all the time, or pretend we are happy when we are not, is inauthentic. This lays the seeds for unsatisfying relationships with others, and sets people on a slippery slope toward depression.

We can choose to cultivate gratitude in our lives though. We can appreciate our good qualities and experiences. We can appreciate the contributions of others. We can deliberately try to notice and celebrate these things with sincerity and enthusiasm. Like a muscle, our ability to experience and express gratitude gets stronger with use. The more grateful we are, the more genuinely happy we are – and the better we will be as leaders.

Positive leaders are committed to finding and amplifying what works well in their organizations. They help to create elevated purpose for the whole, and help individuals find meaning in their work. They foster energizing relationships. They act with integrity and compassion. If they happen to be nice or happy from time to time as well; hopefully, the rest of the world will welcome that, too!

Chris White (@leadpositively, leadpositively.com) is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

Healing Spaces: Values and Politics at Work

This is a time of strong emotions and opinions in the United States. Most likely this is true around the world. How do we create workspaces where people can express and have dialogue about how they are feeling, without alienating others who may not feel the same way?

This is a different kind of column for me. Rather than writing about something I feel confident about because of research-based principles and practices, I am sharing something I am struggling with. Perhaps you are struggling with it too. Or perhaps you have figured it out and can share with me how to do so (feel free to comment below, or email me directly at chriswhi@umich.edu).

I believe that organizations have the potential to be places of healing. Almost all of us come to work with “baggage” – often counterproductive coping mechanisms learned from hard experience in past jobs, in our families, in our personal lives. Workplaces can provide an environment that allow people to unlearn some of these approaches and replace them with patterns that might be more trusting, open, vulnerable, creative, relational, and hopeful.

Here is a small example of what I mean by “organizational healing” in every-day life: I find that it often takes new team members some time to get used to being asked what they think on a problem or issue that they are bringing to me. In traditional hierarchical organizations, issues are escalated to the manager to be resolved by their supposedly “superior wisdom and experience.” Yet most of the time, the person bringing the problem actually knows what to do, they have just never been asked for their opinion or empowered to act on it. As a result, the manager becomes a bottleneck in the system and the team member stops thinking for themselves. Over time, people can break this habit and learn a new pattern: of either resolving the issue themselves without needing to take it to the manager, or bringing it to the manager with their thoughts and suggestions on how to resolve it. The manager ceases to be such a bottleneck, and the team member has the chance to grow in capability and confidence.

Another such coping mechanism revolves around expressing strongly held views. Indeed, in U.S. culture, it is often taboo to discuss politics at work (or around the dinner table). We fear alienating colleagues and friends, and so many of us choose not to openly discuss which party or presidential candidate we prefer. One difficulty with this these days is that it is increasingly unclear where to draw the line between what is political, and what is giving voice to values about society. If we do indeed want people to bring their whole selves to work, and let the workplace be a means to help us get to know our true selves, then we need to create a space to talk about the things that matter most to us.

Constitutional rights are not political. No political party “owns” values like freedom of speech, nor the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Everyone deserves the right to be treated with civility, and dignity. Virtues such as honesty, compassion, patience, forgiveness, tolerance, and humility are not political. Discussing such behaviors – including where public figures meet these ideals or fall short – are not only acceptable in the workplace, they are essential if we are to try to create the kind of workplace, society, and world that is possible. In any era, under any president, this would still be true.

In our team at the Center for Positive Organizations (we have 100+ students, faculty, and staff, plus an even larger network of scholars and leaders around the world), we are advocating this approach. It is not always easy, and it is certainly not perfect. Already, we have had some people expressing discomfort or concern. But it is important, and it is worthwhile. Positive organizations are an essential foundation for a positive society.

To support people trying to lead others through these turbulent times, we have created a website of essays and resources. Feel free to visit it here, and please share with us your advice and experiences too.

 

Originally at : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/healing-spaces-expressing-values-vs-being-political_us_5894ae06e4b061551b3dfdc9

Can You Create Change From the Bottom Up?

An interview with the awesome Michelle McQuaid. Originally at http://www.michellemcquaid.com

 

Do you lack the authority to create the kind of positive changes you’d love to see in your workplace? Have you tried to get leaders on board and had no luck? What if there was a formula that helped you fly under-the-radar and create the kind of changes that would really help people flourish?

Be it helping our organizations to become more responsive to customers’ experiences, supportive of the needs of employees, environmentally sustainable, or community minded, it is clear that businesses can truly benefit from the social and environmental passions of their employees.  But let’s be honest, convincing business leaders that this is the case is easier in some workplaces than others.

So how do you get leaders on board with these approaches?

“Trying to create positive changes in an organization when you don’t have authority, is like trying to create change in society so there is a lot we can learn from social movement activists and apply it workplaces,”explained Chris White the Managing Director of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and the co-author of Changing Your Company from the Inside Out, when I interviewed him recently. “For example, successful social activitists look for the right opportunities at the right time to harness and mobilize support to get the traction they need to push from the bottom up and turn their radical ideas into action.”

Chris suggests that social intrapreneurs – those who create positive change in organizations even when they don’t have formal authority – are most successful when they follow the social activists formula of when, why, who and how in workplaces. It is how employees at IBM created the corporate Peace Corps, how a team at eBay developed a fair trade marketplace, and how people convinced Ford to embrace an ambitious global human rights code.

“Like a martial arts master, intrapreneurs are able to achieve their objectives by aligning their movements with the momentum of their organization, and acting without causing serious harm to the system,” Chris explained.

But do organizations really want social intrapreneurs?

Chris suggests that by tapping into the ideas, passions and energy of social intrapreneurs, organizations not only foster more innovation, but in the process they also can increase the engagement and retention of talented employees, improve their bottom line, and help advance social and environmental solutions.

For example, the UK-based Barclays Bank regards social innovation as about ‘doing good’, and at the same time representing real business opportunities. As a result of some persistent intrapreneurial work they have established an innovation fund to address social challenges, and are fostering more initiatives by encouraging their intrapreneurs to apply for financial support, coaching or mentoring.

So what does it take to be a social intrapreneur?

Chris has found there are four levers from the social action moment that are vital to selling ideas within an organization:

  • When? – A great idea pushed at the wrong time is unlikely to get traction. Conversely, a counterintuitive idea can be successful if the timing is right. Look for shifts in leadership priorities, which create an urgent need for new solutions. Your goal, like a skilled dancer, is to position your idea to be carried along by the momentum of the system — not swim against the tide.
  • Why? Make the case for your idea using the language and strategic priorities of your company. In many corporate cultures, making the ideas sound like a natural evolution rather than a radical departure, can reduce resistance to adoption. Your goal is to create a mental image that activates the support of important allies, but does not trigger alarm bells for potential resistors.
  • Who? Take time to map the decision makers for your idea, and the influence system around them. What are their priorities? How will you need to adapt your case to each of them in order to be effective? Your goal is to build support along the way, making the eventual decision a straightforward sign off.
  • How? Look for sensible solutions” to organize your initiative. Maybe it is a smaller pilot program to manage risk smartly. Maybe there is a previously successful program that can be largely replicated. How can you use technology to connect and scale your idea? Your goal is to make this an easy idea to grasp as rollout begins.

Chris suggests that many of us to hold back from originating radical change due to fears our leaders will not be supportive of bottom-up change created without authority. However, in reality he has found senior leaders are often very supportive and welcome their social intrapreneur’s initiatives.

What positive changes could you initiate in your workplace?

This interview was produced in partnership with the Positive Business Conference held each year at the University of Michigan. For more on the conference please visit http://www.positivebusinessconference.com.

In Defense of Doers

Leadership experts make it sound easy: “Follow these simple steps and you will have amazing results!”

The typical format is somewhat formulaic. With poise and pithy quotes, we deliver our sticky stories. We boil down thousands of hours of research and experience into a set of snazzy slides and talking points. When they go well, our sessions help people make sense of the chaos around them. At our best, we provide practical tools and approaches that may make people more effective or happier at work.

I say this with some basis in experience: I could probably be perceived as one of these “leadership experts.” I run a research center with a mountain of relevant content. I teach an MBA class at a top business school. I blog regularly throughmainstream media outlets. I give dozens of external talks and workshops a year. I have written a book through a prestigious publishing house. The resume adds up to the picture of a “leadership expert.”

Yet I have also been leading teams and organizations for the last eighteen years. This allows me to say unequivocally: leading and managing people is much, much harder than talking about it.

The reality of organizational life is messy. It doesn’t fit neatly into the two-by-two frameworks, or three step processes that make for compelling 700 word blog articles. The people we work with on a day to day basis have their own baggage from previous jobs. Maybe their previous boss was a tyrant, always looking for what was being done “wrong.” The people we work with have their own lives outside of work. Maybe he or she is exhausted from working a second job, or going to evening classes, or has young children who are not yet sleeping through the night. The people we work with have diverse strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Maybe a struggling team member could be a superstar in a slightly adjusted role or working environment. The complexity is mind-boggling.

And you know what? The same goes for me. I have my own baggage from previous jobs. I have had a controlling boss. I have experienced a sense of betrayed trust in the workplace. I too have my own life outside of work. I am spending much of my time excitedly preparing for a wedding next year, with all the new challenges and opportunities and growth that weddings and married life bring. I have my own strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Connecting dots in strategy and networks comes naturally to me; defining and implementing consistent processes does not. I am far from perfect.

So what advice might I share with someone brave enough to show up every day, trying to build a positive organization in the messy, complex real world of work?

Be humble.

When you are wrong, or fall short of what you expect of yourself, admit it. Admit it quickly and unreservedly, to yourself and others. Apologize. Being humble will both manage expectations, and build trust. And try again.

Be gentle with yourself.

Accept, right now, that things will rarely go exactly as planned. Some things you try will not work the way you hoped. You will find some people harder to work with than others. Just do your best, and be kind to yourself about the emotional bumps and bruises along the way. These psychological knocks are simply the cost you pay for caring about your team. Being gentle with yourself will help you sustain yourself and gather up the energy needed to make your organizational change efforts successful. And try again.

Keep learning and improving.

Never fall into the trap of believing that the formulas proposed from most “leadership experts” will work perfectly in your organizations. They will require skilled adaptation. You will need to become comfortable using the tools that they recommend. Ask for feedback often. Look for subtle feedback in what you are told and not told by those around you. Continually learning and improving will make you better and inspire those around you to want to partner with you. And try again.

What is the best advice you have for someone trying to build a positive organization?

Chris White (@leadpositivelyleadpositively.com) is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

Originally appeared at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/in-defense-of-doers_b_12441314.html

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4 Ways to Build High-Quality Workplace Connections

How could you become more creative, healthier, resilient, think faster, and feel better about yourself? How could your team become more creative, trusting, and better learners? How could your organisation move faster and more effectively within its teams and across its silos? How can even the budget-constrained achieve these kind of (research-based) outcomes?

The answers are all around us. It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s how you connect with others.

High-quality connections are often short-term interactions, the micro-bits of a relationship over time. They occur when both people feel a sense of positive regard from the other, a sense of mutuality, and feel vitality or energy in the connection,” says Professor Jane Dutton from the Center for Positive Organisations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “They strengthen both people who experience them– leaving them stronger, both physiologically and psychologically.”

Dutton identifies four pathways for building these high-quality connections:

1. Be here now

I was recently walking through the park when a young mother with a stroller approached in the opposite direction. “What, no phone?” she asked, laughing. A bit confused, I smiled at her and kept going. It slowly dawned on me that every single person in the park was glued to their mobile phone and was missing out on experiencing the golden sunshine, the glistening water, the luscious green trees.

Especially in this day and age, paying complete attention is the ultimate compliment. We feel heard, respected, and valued when someone gives us their full attention. “Increase attention to and presence with each other,” advises Dutton. Be present, even if only for a moment. Put down your phone. Open your door. Listen.

 2. Build trust

Trust can sometimes be elusive in the workplace. Most of the time, I have been fortunate to have incredibly energising relationships with my colleagues and collaborators. Yet over my career, there have been a few work relationships that have just felt fragile and tentative, for no reason obvious to me. Those times when I have not been successful in building authentic and positive working relationships nag at me for longer than I care to admit.

It is easy for us to forget that what we see of the other person is just a tiny fraction of the whole. All of us bring “baggage” to our work, and our relationships, that is accumulated from our past experiences. These residual perceptions and beliefs can be hard to leave behind, in order to build high-quality connections. Yet, if our motivation to build high-quality connections are sincere, all we can do is try. It is a daily process. “Help others know you have their best interests at heart”, encourages Dutton. By being open, being reliable, and being competent, you can make a great start in earning trust, and feeling more comfortable in trusting others.

 3. Offer support skillfully

What is helpful to one person may be acutely unhelpful to another. “Know and provide what other people need to be successful,” suggests Dutton. “Make others succeed. Catch them when they fall. Know what ways of helping others really work for them.”

This may sound like it is easier said than done! Implementing #1 (listening and being present) will help. Professor and bestselling author Adam Grantrecommends a practice of “five minute favours”, in which we set aside a short block of time to do helpful deeds. An additional resource to help with this is theTask Enabling Exercise (TEE). The TEE helps identify and strengthen the relationships that are most important to you in being successful at work, and the relationships in which you are equally important to others.

 4. Play more. Play often

Sometimes we can take ourselves too seriously that we may be fearful either to initiate or engage in playful behavior. We believe that people around the table may be too busy to join in, or that we may be negatively judged for suggesting such a silly idea as being playful in the workplace.

Getting past this fear of resistance of judgment in order to play more, benefits the overall team culture. Indeed, for humans and many other species, the instinct to play with others is hardwired into us from birth.

Dutton encourages us to try different, contextually appropriate, forms of playing in order to build connections in psychologically safe ways. For example, at theNeutral Zone, a youth-driven space for leadership development, teen leaders often begin meetings by asking a fun, thought-provoking question to everyone before the meeting gets underway. This enables participants to use more creative parts of their brains first before jumping into the work.  At Menlo Innovations, on the other hand, much of their coding work is done in pairs. As such, when two people are reporting out to the broader team on projects, they hold the two horns on a Viking helmet. This physical artifact strengthens the bond between the two people, and keeps an element of silliness in the room.

So often, we look for what to do, or with which company to do it in order to thrive at work. It turns out, who we do it with may be an equally important question to ask. How do you build high-quality connections as you go about your day?

 

Originally at http://blog.gotomeeting.co.uk/2016/09/21/build-high-quality-workplace-connections.html