Pygmalion and the Leadership Value Chain

I´m still tremendously inspired by my time at the Ross School of Business in December 2017. Today, I´d like to share with you one of the teachings of Professor Bob Quinn (I´ve posted about his fabulous book Lift before). At one point during the training, Bob introduced us to what he calls the Leadership Value Chain. It´s a model of how (top) management´s mindsets, belief systems and values influence their behavior, which in turn influences organizational values and climate, which ultimately shape peoples´ engagement, and, at the end (and beginning) of the day, their behavior:

Leader Value Chain | Robert Quinn | Mappalicious

One of the framework´s assumptions is that change at higher levels can be blocked or at least diluted by stagnation at the deeper levels. Thus, any (hierarchical) organization will fundamentally change if, and only if there´s a change at the level of leadership values and behaviors.

This got me thinking again about self-fulfilling prophecies and the Pygmalion Effect, whereby performance (e.g., of employees and students) can be positively influenced by the expectations of others. It does make a difference if leaders believe their people:

When leaders´ mindsets are shaped by the ideas on the left, they will act accordingly. When they adhere to the conceptions on the right, they will also act accordingly. Yet, the results will be different.

The left side will lead to optimistic, trusting and, thus, empowering leadership behavior, the right side to pessimistic, mistrusting and thus, controlling leadership behavior. People will adjust accordingly, either by being engaged, inquisitive, and entrepreneurial – or disengaged, unwilling to learn, and small-minded. This, in turn, will fortify their leaders´idea of men, either way. Thus, the self-fulfilling prophecy is fulfilled.

Now, here´s a funny thing about the Pygmalion Effect: Research has demonstrated it can (by and large) not be faked. Either you believe “people are good” – or you don´t. You cannot “believe that you believe”. Which leaves us with the following conclusion:

If you want people to change for the better, you better become a better version of yourself first.

Relational Energy: Is your Organization fully charged? 

SONY DSCAre you fully charged right now? Do you feel energized? Full of zest? Or do you feel de-energized? Depleted? Run-down? Or maybe something in-between?

No matter what it is that you´re currently experiencing – it´s clear that humans tend to describe their condition in terms of energetic states. What is this energy? It is clear that we’re not talking about energy in a (strictly) physical sense. Yes, we may feel drained energetically because of a lack of food (especially carbohydrates), and definitely a lack of sleep – and we do feel recharged after eating or taking a nap. But with the kind of energy we´re talking about here, there´s more to it.

By way of example, taking a brisk walk after lunch can restore our energy and help us being more productive in the afternoon, even though a lot of physical energy is actually spent while moving.

Moreover, human energy feeds on interesting ideas, on passion, on having a goals, especially shared goals. Research shows the same activity can be energizing or de-energizing, depending on the question if that activity plays to our strengths – or if it autonomously regulated (by and large: intrinsically motivated) or externally regulated (forced upon us). A great of overview of different frameworks of human energy is given in: Quinn, R. W., Spreitzer, G. M., & Lam, C. F. (2012). Building a sustainable model of human energy in organizations: Exploring the critical role of resources. Academy of Management Annals, 6(1), 337-396.

But most importantly, our energy feeds on interaction with other human beings – yet, it can be drained during that process as well.

Relational Energy

For a moment, think about a typical interaction with a colleague at work. Depending on the quality of that interaction, afterwards you might feel:

  • (a little) elevated/uplifted (= energized);
  • (a little) depleted/exhausted (= de-energized);
  • just as before (= unchanged).

In reality, depending on the quality of past experiences, this process might start well before the actual interaction, precisely when a person starts to think about having to meet with another person. I mean, honestly, how often do we say something along the lines of: “Oh gosh, I have a meeting with X tomorrow – I wish I could send someone else…”

This is the reason why a lot of companies start to adopt a “no-asshole-policy”: They adjust their hiring/firing processes in order to minimize the occurrence of “emotional black holes” among their employees, those people that suck up the energy of their colleagues, even when they are high-performers within their respective domain of work. The damage they cause to the organizational network by far outweighs their productivity in the long run (please check out: Cross, R., Baker, W., & Parker, A. (2003). What creates energy in organizations? MIT Sloan Management Review, 44(4), 51-57).

Now, imagine how many encounters you have on an average day at work, be they short and fleeting (e.g., small talk at the water cooler) or extended and intensive (e.g., a day-long workshop). And now go on to imagine all the people in your company, and their encounters over a day, or a week, or a year.

With a large company, e.g., the one I work for (120.000 employees), we’re easily talking about more than a billion of those interactions per year. That’s more than one billion occasions to either charge or discharge the energy of that organization. Each energetic transaction may be minuscule, but together they form the most important asset of that organization (besides such aspects as the properties, machines, trademarks). Because here’s the thing (and you know this very well from your own life): The energetic state of each employee is connected to a lot of outcomes, such as work engagement, creativity, and satisfaction – and taken together, alles those interactions form a larger part of the organizational culture.

When we´re talking about “change”, usually we´re referring to big fluffy concepts: “change the culture”, or “change leadership”. But can we really work with those entities in real life? Isn’t it more advantageous to start with the little things, the day-to-day behavior? In order to do that, we´d have to be able to measure the nature of those interactions with regard to their “energetic quality”.

Such an attempt has now been made by a team of US-based researchers (Owens, B. P., Baker, W. E., Sumpter, D. M., & Cameron, K. S. (2016). Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(1), 35-49). They define (positive) relational energy as

a heightened level of psychological resourcefulness generated from interpersonal interactions that enhances one’s capacity to do work.

The researchers propose a new scale for the measurement of this kind of energy from the vantage point of the recipient; these are two of the items they propose:

  • I feel invigorated when I interact with this person.
  • After interacting with this person I feel more energy to do my work.

Large companies usually go to great lengths in order to measure employee engagement, satisfaction, and related psychological states. Now imagine having each employee in an organization fill out a short questionnaire on the relational energy they’re getting out of interacting with their closest co-workers, managers, and subordinates. This, in turn, could be used to create a detailed “energetic map” of that organization, thereby identifying the energizers and the “black holes” along the way.

I imagine this could lead to a complete new, data-based paradigms in leadership development.

The 3 Layers of Meaningful Work

A while ago, I shared a summary of a fantastic article on the sources of meaning in work co-authored by Amy Wrzesniewski. This year, while trying to understand how to create infographics, I wrote an article about Michael Steger’s (University of Colorado) CARMA framework on how leaders can help their employees to perceive meaning in their work.

Today, I’d like to share more of Michael’s insightful work. With several co-workers, he created a new scale that aims at measuring how much meaning somebody perceives in his or her current working role. It’s called Work and Meaning Inventory (WAMI, here’s the original article).

Steger et al. find that it might be useful to conceptualize meaningful work as having three different layers (please also see the infographic at the bottom): The meaning of the work itself, the meaning it helps to generate in the wider context of the person’s life, and the meaning that is generated when a job helps to achieve some greater good. In their own words:

Positive meaning in work. This facet is a straightforward reflection of the idea of psychological meaningfulness that has been part of work psychology since the job characteristics model. […] Meaningful work is often a subjective experience that what one is doing has personal significance. 

Meaning making through work. Empirical research has shown that work frequently is an important source of meaning in life as a whole. There seems to be a common overlap between one’s work and one’s life work. Indeed, the idea that work could be meaningful without also leading people to build meaning in their lives as a whole makes little sense.

Greater good (GG) motivations. The desire to make a positive impact on the greater good is consistently related to the experience of meaningful work as well as the related construct of calling. […] This facet reflects commonly held ideas that work is most meaningful if it has a broader impact on others. 

As the saying goes:

All good comes in threes.

Three_Level_Meaning_Steger

Infographic: Building Blocks of the Good Life (PERMA-V)

This is the second artwork (well…) in my self-imposed learning journey on the way to producing decent infographics. This time, I chose Martin Seligman´s PERMA framework, which, by many people, is considered to be the most comprehensive framework of “the good life”, the foundation of Positive Psychology in science and practice.

Since PERMA is not exactly hot from the presses, I added a little twist: For a couple of years now, Marty challenges his students in the Penn Master of Positive Psychology program to propose meaningful additions to the original PERMA outline (Positive Emotions | Engagement | Relationships | Meaning | Achievement). Over time, it became clear that the original framework may be somewhat “neck-up”, thereby omitting aspects such as sports, sex, sustenance, and sleep.

PERMA-V: Positive Psychology, neck-up and neck-down

Therefore, students kept asking for the letter “S” to be added – which ultimately would result in the acronym PERMAS (doesn´t sound too funky…) or SPERMA (uh-uh, not a proper name for a scientific term…). Meanwhile, there seems to be a growing mutual consent to choose the letter “V” for Vitality – and to put it at the end with a hyphen.

What do you think?

PERMA_V_Good_Life

Share and enjoy!

Farewell to Competitiveness – Why Companies need a New Operating System

This post is just a little off-topic, but really just a little. Marc Stoffel is the CEO of Haufe-umantis, a Swiss software company. What make him special is the fact that he´s an elected CEO.

Haufe-umantis is special in many ways. Among the peculiarities is the fact that all leaders within the company are chosen by a democratic election – up to the position of CEO. I´ve had the chance to meet Marc on a couple of occasions. He´s a great guy and holds very intriguing conceptions of leadership, organization design, and engagement. One of his quotes still rings in my ears very clearly:

Employees choose their leaders each and every day – whether they are allowed to or not.

The ROI of Happiness: Spreading the News across Germany

Dr. Nico Rose - Handelsblatt CFO KongressI am super-happy today. Just came back from back-to-back talks on Positive Psychology / Positive Organizational Scholarship in Frankfurt and Munich. On Tuesday evening in Frankfurt, I spoke to a group of about 50 CFOs at a convention hosted by Handelsblatt, one of Germany´s premier financial news outlets. I was a bit nervous since, a) it was a dinner speech and I am not that experienced in giving speeches without a PowerPoint presentation; and b)  I am obviously not a CFO myself – all participants were much older and more advanced in their careers than I am right now. Nevertheless, people were listening attentively and I received a lot of positive feedback. These were my ten main points to convince the financial leaders that investing in their employees´ happiness will bring them a solid financial return:

  1. Compensation: Happy employees are more intrinsically motivated and therefore need less extrinsic motivation. In turn, a happy workforce helps to keep personnel costs at a reasonable level over time.
  2. Health: Happy employees are sick less often, and if they are, return to work after fewer days. This helps to keep healthcare costs in check.
  3. Retention: Happy employees stay with companies for a longer time and create positive word-of-mouth. This helps to keep save costs concerning the functions of employer branding, recruiting, and training.
  4. Cooperation: Happy employees typically display more positive self-regard and therefore are better at handling conflict and situations that entail negotiation.Dr. Nico Rose - Handelsblatt CFO Forum
  5. Engagement: Happy employees display more organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) and therefore are willing to take on responsibility over and beyond their role descriptions and department boundaries.
  6. Innovation: Happy employees are more creative on average. This may foster innovation processes.
  7. Problem-solving: Additionally, they will find solutions to existing problems faster and more frequently.
  8. Meaning: Happy employees experience more meaning at work – which is one of the strongest drivers of motivation and engagement.
  9. Contagion: Happy employees will make other employees happy (at least: happier) by way of emotional contagion, potentially creating an upward-spiral of emotional well-being in the workplace.
  10. Customer Satisfaction: Happy employees will make your customers happy – via their motivation, exceptional engagement, and emotional contagion as well.

Since I was talking to CFOs, I closed my speech by referring to an article from the Journal of Financial Economics. In a paper titled “Does the stock market fully value intangibles? Employee satisfaction and equity prices”, Wharton´s Alex Edmans was able to show that a fictional stock portfolio build out of the “100 Best Companies to Work For in America’’ (as a proxy for companies whose employees are highly satisfied) has significantly outperformed carefully selected benchmarks on a yearly basis between 1984 and 2009. Ain´t that nice? They day after in Munich in a very stylish old movie theater, I spoke about Positive Psychology in general to 160 people working for the German branch of the Bonnier Group, a Scandinavian publishing house. Hopefully, this gave them tons of ideas for new books on Positive Psychology here in Germany. 🙂 Since this was my wife´s birthday and I couldn´t be home that day until dinner, I asked my audience to sing “Happy Birthday” for her – and they did. Thank you, kind people at Bonnier…

Foto credits: Euroforum / Handelsblatt

The Rise of Positive Psychology: Linking the Movement to the 6th Kondratieff Cycle

One very interesting question about Positive Psychology is: Why now? Meaning: Why is it booming at this point in time, why is it gaining so much momentum, why is it turning into a – sort of – movement, attracting the attention of thousands of researchers (plus: institutions that fund research) and practitioners in business, education, healthcare – and elsewhere?

An easy answer could be: Because Marty Seligman chose it as the central topic of his tenure as president of the APA in 1998. Apart from being a brilliant researcher, Marty has proven to be a very good “salesman” and is also highly skilled at securing grants and other third-party funds. But I guess this response is too simple.

The core ideas of Positive Psychology (first and foremost: looking at the “positive” side of the continuum that comprises human behavior and development) have been around for a while, starting with some of the Greek philosophers – and leading all the way up to 20th century humanistic psychologists such as Viktor Frankl, Erich Fromm, and Abraham Maslow. They all do have their well-deserved spot in the psychology hall of fame – and they are widely respected for their (theoretical) contributions. But they did not really manage to turn their ideas into a widely-accepted and especially well-researched “field”, a broad and comprehensive sub-domain of the academic community.

All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come. (Victor Hugo)

Turns out it may not be their fault after all. There is a good chance that they were simply introducing their ideas to the world…too early. Positive Psychology may be booming during this era of economic development (and human development in general) because it could be the decisive force to spur growth and well-being over the next 50 years (or so…).

Positive Psychology and the sixth Kondratieff Wave

Enter Nikolai Kondratieff (1892-1938). Kondratieff devised an economic theory that today is known as Kondratieff Cycles (often called „theory of the long waves“). They are a concept in macro-economics that describes the development (expansion, stagnation, recession) of entire economies. Yet in contrast to most modern economic theories, Kondratieff did not focus on cycles that last for a few years. He tried to describe waves that last approximately 50-60 years.

A core concept of the theory is the notion of “basic innovations”: Kondratieff posited that a wave arises from the clustering of technical innovations that consecutively serve to launch technological revolutions that in turn create leading industrial or commercial sectors (please see the following graph taken from a research report created by German insurance giant Allianz for a basic overview of the first five cycles – and a projection for the upcoming sixth cycle):

Kobdratieff Waves

As you can see our economy is depicted as entering the sixth wave since the first industrial revolution. What you can also see is a list of candidates for the basic innovations that are projected to drive economic growth during the upcoming cycle (e.g. nanotechnology, biotechology, green-tech).

But there´s another important candidate on the list that is also elaborated on in the Allianz whitepaper – but was introduced to the public a lot earlier through the book The Sixth Kondratieff by Leo Nefiodow (which has recently been reissued in a 6th edition): Holistic health. This encompasses all those products and (medical) services that cater to the needs of an aging society. But it also decidedly incorporates all the services that cater to the psycho-social wellbeing of the workforces in our organizations.

This is where Positive Psychology as a growth driver may tie in. Phenomena such as the burnout syndrome have been on the rise for at least the past 15 years – resulting in billions and billions lost for corporations and society as a whole as a result of absence from work and medical costs (…and I´m not even trying to incorporate the “psychological costs”; and the “social costs” for families, friends, communities). And according to Gallup, the U.S. economy loses some 450-550 billion Dollar per year due to a disengaged workforce (for Germany, the number is depicted at around 130 billion Euro).

Positive Psychology (especially positive organizational scholarship) offers well-researched and at the same time practical solutions for (a lot of) these problems, at the individual and organizational level. For an overview, you might want to check the recently published book How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact by editors Jane Dutton and Gretchen Spreitzer. Other valuable books can be found on this list.

To sum up: I propose Positive Psychology may be the decisive basic innovation of the 6th Kondratieff wave.

What do you think of this?