Research: Linking “Positive Practices” to Organizational Effectiveness

Stones - GrowthThere are tons of books out there explaining how to use Positive Psychology for boosting the performance of organizations. But the truth is: from a scientific point of view, we really do not know very much about this link. There’s abundant research on the connection of positivity and individual performance – but it remains by and large unclear if this influence on the micro-level yields any outcomes on the macro-level. Of course, it seems to make a lot of sense to infer this relationship – but where’s the research?

A very worthwhile attempt is offered via an article named Effects of positive practices on organizational effectiveness by Kim Cameron and his colleagues. Based on prior research, they developed an inventory of what they call “positives practices”. According to the authors, these can be described as

behaviors, techniques, routines […] that represent positively deviant (i.e., unusual) practices, practices with an affirmative bias, and practices that connote virtuousness and eudemonism in organizations.

In order to do so, they administered a large number of questionnaire items to diverse groups of people. Afterwards, they clustered the answers in order to find common themes and pattern in the data. They found that all positives practices could be categorized into six distinct subgroups:

Caring

People care for, are interested in, and maintain responsibility for one another as friends.

Compassionate Support

People provide support for one another including kindness and compassion when others are struggling.

Forgiveness

People avoid blame and forgive mistakes.

Inspiration

People inspire one another at work.

Meaning

The meaningfulness of the work is emphasized, and people are elevated and renewed by the work.

Respect, Integrity, and Gratitude

People treat one another with respect and express appreciation for one another. They trust one another and maintain integrity.

Having found that structure, they gathered data from several divisions of a financial services company and one operating in the healthcare industry. They asked employees to assess their respective business unit (= the organization as a whole, not individuals) with regard to being a place that possesses the aforementioned attributes. Additionally, they obtained data on several objective and subjective key performance indicators of those business units – and finally looked at the connection of the presence of positive practices and organizational effectiveness measures. Here´s what they´ve Cameron and his colleagues found (in their own words):

In Study 1, positive practices in financial service business units were significantly associated with financial performance, work climate, turnover, and senior executive evaluations of effectiveness. In an industry in which positive practices might be assumed to carry little importance, organizational performance was substantially affected by the implementation of positive practices.

In Study 2, improvement in positive practices over a two year period in health care units predicted improvements in turnover, patient satisfaction, organizational climate, employee participation in the organization, quality of care, managerial support, and resource adequacy.

 In the course of arguing why positive practices should have a performance-boosting effect, the authors conclude that

cognitively, emotionally, behaviorally, physiologically, and socially, evidence suggests that human systems naturally prefer exposure to the positive, so it is expected that organizational performance would be enhanced by positive practices.

Of course, Cameron et al. urge us to be careful not to make strong inferences from their results:

The results of these two investigations, of course, are suggestive and not conclusive.

Still, their work is one of the first and still very rare pieces of research that links positive organizational behavior to organizational effectiveness. I am very much looking forward to scholars who pick up on these findings and expand our knowledge on the positivity-performance link.

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