Compassion and Business: How does that go together?

The word compassion sounds “soft”. It invokes images of praying Buddhist monks, nurses taking care of the feeble, or a priest administering the last rites to a dying person. What surely doesn´t come to mind is the picture of a corporate boardroom, right? But why?

When we walk into to the office in the morning and someone asks us “How are you?” we´re supposed to say something along the lines of: “Fine! How about you?” It´s part of the language game in the corporate world. We know this. At the same time, we all know that quite often, people are presenting a white lie at this point. We know this very well precisely because we do the same every once in a while. We say “I´m fine” even when things clearly aren´t fine at all.

Life can be a bitch. Our loved ones become sick or pass away. We fight with our spouses, our children, our parents, our neighbors. There are bills to pay and sometimes the end of the month is still too far away. Hell, the Warriors lose to the Cavs after a 3:1 lead in the NBA finals. It´s tough.

This emotional load – we bring it into the office, no matter if we admit it or if we decide to cover up. Most people indeed choose to cover up – as somehow, someone decided a hundred years ago that businesses ought to be rational places, spaces where emotions don´t belong or even disrupt normal functioning (whatever that is…).

The problem is: It´s just not possible. People cannot shut down their emotions at discretion. At least not for longer periods of time – and certainly not without paying a price.

There is always pain in the room.

This sentence was coined by the late management professor Peter Frost, one of the pioneers studying and advocating compassion in business settings. It´s a quite powerful proposition, even though (Or maybe: because?) it states something very obvious. Shit happens to the best of us. We suffer – and sometimes, it takes us a long time to cope. We feel pain and sorrow and those feelings don’t bother to ask us if we are currently at work or at home.

So, how should managers and co-workers react? The common rules of business tell us to ignore or downplay the issue but in most cases, that´s not what really helps.

Not showing our suffering or downplaying the suffering of our colleagues is a perfect example of what Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen calls a system of holding back in return and advance. We don’t openly display our suffering because we expect from prior interactions that it will not be acted upon appropriately. Meanwhile, the others see no need to act compassionately as everything seems to be OK. Ad infinitum. And the longer this “non-reciprocity circle” is in place, the harder it becomes for an individual to make a first move in order to interrupt the chain of neglect.

Another way would be to act compassionately: To notice the negative feelings of our co-workers, to feel empathetic concern, and to act accordingly. Compassion does not equal to fully experiencing the same feelings as the person we´re compassionate to.

Put in a straight-forward way…

…being compassionate means to be willing to imagine how it would feel like to walk some miles in another person´s shoes – and then, upon recognizing this would probably be hurtful, trying to appropriately mitigate that pain or suffering.

That´s it. It´s not a mystic thing – and we don´t have to mediate in a cave for 20 years before we´re able to pull off that stunt.

We know how to be compassionate even before we can ride a bike. Small children act compassionately by nature. When they see another child crying, they instinctively show signs of distress – and then they try to help with their restricted means, e.g., by caressing their counterpart or sharing a toy.

But somehow, this get´s lost as we get our high school diplomas, university degrees – and then move on to become business people. Which is a pity, because businesses create a lot of pain themselves – it´s not all from our private lives. People suffer because they don’t get that promotion, because their buddies get laid off, or just because co-workers, or even worse, bosses behave in outright toxic ways. Again, we all know this to some degree.

Here´s the point: Science shows over and over again that by carelessly ignoring these emotional dynamics, businesses are hurting the bottom line. If you want to know how, I´d like to point you towards this superb review article written by science rock star Jane Dutton of University of Michigan´s Center for Positive Organizations and some colleagues (that´s also where I “stole” the graphic from):

Dutton, J. E., Workman, K. M., & Hardin, A. E. (2014). Compassion at Work. Annual Reviews of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 1(1), 277-304.

annurev-orgpsych-031413-091221_f1

Feel-Good vs. Feel-Purpose: Hedonia and Eudaimonia as separate but connected Pathways to Happiness

Ever since graduating from the Penn MAPP program, I give a handful of presentations and keynotes on Positive Psychology each quarter. Since I´m an executive in a multinational corporation, I mostly get invited to talk to fellow businessmen, and the greater part of my talks addresses human resources, leadership, and organization culture topics. One of the charts I show early on in each and every presentation is this one:

Fifteen_Seconds_Graz_Rose.png

I deliberately show it early in the game in order to convey that Positive Psychology is not a sort of Happyology, that it´s not about wearing rose-colored glasses all the time. Yet, it also serves to clarify the consequences of different human resources and leadership behaviors and programs. One of the most important takeaways:

Hedonic and eudaimonic pathways both play a crucial role in order to keep employees fully engaged and productive – but most measures that foster hedonic experiences are rather short-lived and, perhaps even more important, easy to copy by competitors – whereas conditions that foster meaning an purpose are rather hard to replicate.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon an exquisite book chapter by University of Ottawa researcher Veronika Huta which explains in detail the differences between hedonic and eudaimonic orientations in life (and work). She analyzed a multitude of definitions and conceptions on the differences of hedonia and eudaimonia from previous research and boiled them down to a comprehensible set of attributes. These are the most important takeaways.

Hedonia, in short, is about:

  • pleasure, enjoyment, and satisfaction;
  • and the absence of distress.

Eudaimonia is more complex in it´s nature, it´s about:

  • authenticity: clarifying one’s true self and deep values, staying connected with them, and acting in accord with them;
  • meaning: understanding a bigger picture, relating to it, and contributing to it. This may include broader aspects of one´s life or identity, a purpose, the long term, the community, society, even the entire ecosystem;
  • excellence: striving for higher quality and higher standards in one’s behavior, performance, accomplishments, and ethics;
  • personal growth: self-actualization, fulfilling one’s potential and pursuing personal goals; growth, seeking challenges; and maturing as a human being.

Other important attributes and distinctions:

Hedonia is associated with:

  • physical and emotional needs;
  • desire;
  • what feels good;
  • taking, for me, now;
  • ease;
  • rights;
  • pleasure;
  • self-nourishing and self-care; taking care of one’s own needs and desires, typically in the present or near future; reaching personal release and peace, replenishment; energy and joy.

Eudaimonia is associated with:

  • cognitive values and ideals
  • care;
  • what feels right;
  • giving, building, something broader, the long-term;
  • effort;
  • responsibilities;
  • elevation;
  • cultivating; giving of oneself, investing in a larger aspect of the self, a long-term project, or the surrounding word; quality, rightness, context, the welfare of others.

To close, it is important to say that both pathways to happiness are not mutually exclusive (in the strict sense). Meaningful experiences can certainly bring about pleasure – and taking care of ourselves can certainly add meaning to our lives. As such, we must also refrain from equating the pursuit of hedonia with shallowness. As the graphic at the top of the article illustrates, we need to grow on both dimensions in order to live a truly fulfilling life.

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On the Meaning of Meaning at Work: A Collection of Infographics

Over the last weeks, I invested a lot of hours in trying to better understand the antecedents of meaning and purpose at/in work. While doing so, I created a couple of info graphics that serve to explain different theories and outlines. I thought it would make sense to collect them all in one place to show point of convergence and divergence. Here you go…

CARMA_Work

Anatomy_Meaning_Work

IMG_9786

Three_Level_Meaning_StegerThe final graphic is not my creation – the picture is taken directly from the article listed in the respective headline.

Meaning at Work Grid

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Mappsterview No. 7: Jessica Amortegui, Positive Business Champion

I was in the ninth cohort (2013/14) of the Master of Applied Positive Program at Penn – and the program is going strong. Consequently, there are tons of brilliant MAPP Alumni out there who have fascinating stories to tell: About their experience with the program, about Positive Psychology in general – and about themselves of course. I really want to hear those stories. That´s why I started Mappsterviews.

Jessica_Amortegui.jpgPlease introduce yourself briefly:

I am an introvert masquerading as an extrovert who still gets deathly shy meeting new people. Luckily this all dissipates when speaking to large groups (the bigger the better!). I have spent the past five years working in Silicon Valley and seeing my uber active boys, age 7 and 4, grow up way too fast.

What did you do before joining the MAPP program at Penn?

I started my career in consulting, first as an external consultant and then moving in-house. I dabbled in different kinds of consulting, from management to organizational development, to change management and human capital. After about seven years, I made the move to inside a company, and really enjoyed it. Besides the reduced travel load, I was able to build deeper, more meaningful relationships with employees. I also loved the awesome employee discount perks (Nike and Victoria Secret were my favorites!) After three years at a software company I am grateful to back at a product company building cool tech gizmos that I can procure with the coveted an employee discount. 🙂

What got you interested in Positive Psychology in the first place?

I was actually an unconscious, quasi-competent practitioner for a few years without even knowing it! I was delivering these two-day culture shaping workshops that applied many concepts of positive psychology in powerful experiential learning exercises – gratitude, positive emotions, strengths-based perspectives, etc. I became so passionate about the content and delivery that I began to read more about the work. I serendipitously stumbled on the MAPP website in 2007. I was pregnant with my first child at the time and thought I would never be able to squeeze the program into life. In 2013, six years later, I finally made it happen!

You now work for Logitech. What´s your role there?

I lead the Global Talent Development function. I joined a little over a year ago, and started development at the company – they didn’t have anything for employees. It has been awesome to create and build from scratch. The foundation has very much been inspired by the MAPP program. I have had the most amazing sand box to test, learn, and apply what I learned. The company is just over 2,500 employees globally, so you are able to see and feel the systemic change. That has been the most rewarding part of my job – to work at scale and see the impact.

Very recently, your company was awarded with the grand prize at Ross School´s Positive Business Project competition. What´s your project about?

I think of the project like my MAPP capstone – it was nine months worth of work that came together in a variety of mutually reinforcing initiatives. I knew if I was going to imbue positive practices into the organization I would need to pull many levers, and do them simultaneously. I created a two-day workshop that provides all employees an entrée into positive psychology. Participants experience vulnerability and connection, create a team purpose statement, and uncover their character strengths, to name a few. This is what we called our signature Logitech program. In one year, we had nearly 800 employees around the globe go through it – all by word of mouth.

I believe investments like that – in the whole person – will never backfire. It breeds a kind of loyalty that no cafeteria and ping pong table can ever deliver.

This intensive experience was complimented with 90-minute positive deviant workshops that we ran globally. We also rolled out job crafting to the entire organization. Together, employees got hit with tools and techniques that began to build different ways of thinking about themselves and their jobs. They began to reflect on themselves as people – not just employees. I believe investments like that – in the whole person – will never backfire. It breeds a kind of loyalty that no cafeteria and ping pong table can ever deliver.

What are the future plans for your initiative?

We want to build more relevant touch points with our employees. Our first phase was broad and now we are trying to go deep. We are working on producing more custom experiences for different employee segments that can meet them where they are and then take them to where they want to be. We have some cool new tools we are piloting to make that happen; tools that will give every employee one-one-one support and encouragement so they can truly flourish. This story is being written now, so stay tuned!

Given that you’ve successfully implemented Positive Psychology practices at your workplace: What´s the most important piece of advice for HR colleagues who´d like to do the same?

Oh wow – I feel so humbled by this question. I am the one who is always needing the advice! I think, in general, I have to reveal a dirty little secret. I have found some Positive Psychology words can really turn people off – to say you are taking a strengths-based approach, can make some, sadly, immediately shut down. I actually shy away from using a lot of the positive psychology language (this feels like a shame, as I do believe that words create our worlds, à la David Cooperrider!).

I try to describe what I want to do in language that I know matters to the organization. What do they want to see happen? Even if I don’t agree, I know it’s what they need to hear to support my cause. I then craft experiences that have an equal amount of pathos and logos. The employees and leaders the experience and embody it. They begin to talk about gratitude, strengths, connection, autonomy, and purpose – not me. I think there always needs to be a sense of co-creation despite knowing our larger agendas. Sometimes my ego wants to “prove” that my way is the more “enlightened” way. I step back and remember that what’s important is that I am not proving myself, but rather improving my craft.

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.

Power = (Work x Wellbeing) / Time

I’ve spent the last two days at the University of Trier in Southern Germany. The university hosted the very first conference of the “German Association for Research in Positive Psychology” (DGPPF in German). I’m so excited about the fact the Positive Psychology is finally picking up momentum in my country.

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend all the workshops and lectures as I had a lot of work to do on the side. As I’m not a researcher myself, I contributed by hosting a workshop on marketing research(ers) to the press and via blogging.

The one takeaway that inspired me the most was the closing slide of a lecture given by Prof. Dr. Michaela Brohm who also happens to be the founding president of the newborn Positive Psychology association. She proposed we need a new formulation for “good work” by drawing upon a well-known formula from physics – where power (or output) is defined as the amount of work / time. Brohm referred to this as “cold work”.

She proposed to add another variable to the equation: Wellbeing. While work that is detrimental to psychological health might still lead to results in the common sense, it’s just not “good work”. Accordingly, the new formula goes as follows:

Power = (Work x Wellbeing) / Time

Prof. Dr. Michaela Brohm - DGPPFI love the notion that work and wellbeing are linked via a multiplicative function – because this implies that work which does not foster the (psychological) wellbeing of the worker potentially devalues the whole outcome of the process – whereas work that also builds wellbeing drastically increases the value of the investment. Brohm called this “warm work”.

I firmly believe we need this kind of catchy simplification because a prompt like that helps us to remember the core messages long after a talk or lecture.

Well done!

Passion. Purpose. Performance. Positive Business Conference (Day 1)

I’m absolutely thrilled to be at the University of Michigan, attending this year’s Positive Business Conference at Ross School of Business.This post is my personal summary of the conference’s first day, brought to you via some of the tweets I’ve put out there…

Prof. Vic Strecher shared some really intriguing upsides of having a strong purpose in life. More importantly, you should check out his fabulous app JOOL.

Prof. Jane Dutton had me change my mind on using the term rockstar only in contexts that involve electric guitars. She shared with us her Flourishing Triangle framework of organizational effectiveness.

I was equally thrilled to be able to learn directly from Prof. Alex Edmans, whose work on the financial impact of treating employees exceptionally well has been covered extensively on Mappalicious.

Prof. Joe Arvai shared some incredible research on how to help consumers make more ethical buying decisions. E.g., why is that we can consciously choose from what part of the world our coffee comes from (and how it was cultivated) – but not with regard to our gasoline? And what if we could

After lunch, I was thrilled to have the opportunity of attending a workshop led by Prof. Robert Quinn whose blog posts I share frequently via my Positive Psychology News Digests.

Once more it became clear to me that we do not really understand “a thing” (even if we’ve heard about it a lot of times) until somebody explains it to us in the exactly right words at the right time.

When you’re in the right space, the smartest “person” in the room is the room itself.

Jim Miller, VP at Google, shared insights on the special culture that drives the incredible success of the company.

Of course, there were more sessions, and more speakers, and an abundance of inspiring conversations while having delicious food – but I cannot cover it all here.

Yet, one last thing I found out is this:

Share and enjoy!

Positive Business Conference