With this Calendar, you´ll start 2018 just right | Action for Happiness

I´m a big fan of the non-profit Action for Happiness and have written on their work multiple times in the past. Today, I´d like to share with you another of their awesome tools, helping to bring Positive Psychology to the general public. Enjoy!


Organizational Energy: A Whole-System Approach

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the concept of relational energy, the idea that energy is generated via positive interactions between an organization´s members – resulting in a fully charged system.

Org_Energy_BruchToday, I´d like to introduce two other approaches that aim at assessing organizational energy. In both, St. Gallen-based (Switzerland) Prof. Heike Bruch plays a major role.

In an article Bruch co-authored with Sumantra Ghoshal in the Sloan Management Review from 2003 based on several case-studies, she introduced the idea that an organization as a whole system can be described via a grid that describes the intensity and the quality of the present energy. In doing so, she also promoted the concept of “organizational burnout”, a state that may arise when an organization spends to much time in the upper left quadrant of the energy grid. I highly recommend reading the original article – as it also provides valuable ideas on how to shift an organization from one energetic state to an another (“Slaying the Dragon” and “Winning the Princess”)

In 2011, she followed up with this article: Energy at work: A measurement validation and linkage to unit effectiveness. This further explores the idea of “whole system energy” but tackles it from a more quantified point of view. The authors define

collective energy (henceforth productive energy) as affect, cognitive arousal, and agentic behavior among unit members in their joint pursuit of organizationally salient objectives.

One important notion is that the researchers view productive energy as having affective, cognitive, and behavioral components – so it´s not only about “feeling energized”:

Affective energy refers to members’ shared experience of positive feelings and emotional arousal due to their enthusiastic assessments of work‐related issues.

Cognitive energy refers to the shared intellectual processes that propel members to think constructively and persist in search of solutions to work‐related problems, including the mental faculties to focus attention, shut out distractions, and have a desire to make “good things” happen.

Behavioral energy reflects members’ joint efforts designed to benefit the organization; it encompasses the pace, intensity, and volume with which members purposefully invest physical resources.

 The other important distinction is the facet of emergence:

We take a multilevel position on energy, conceptualizing it as both an individual‐level and a collective‐level phenomenon. We, therefore, recognize the need to discuss the nature of its emergence or how the lower‐level parent construct (i.e., individual‐level energy) materializes to form a collective construct (i.e., productive energy).

Accordingly, the authored have used a questionnaire to assess individual energy, but used that data to additionally compute a collective energy level, e.g., that of the whole business unit, by aggregating the individual energy levels. Here are some of the items they used:

  • Affective dimension: People in my work group feel enthusiastic in their job.
  • Cognitive dimension: In my work group, there is a collective desire to make something happen.

  • Behavioral dimension: People in my work group often work extremely long hours without complaining.

After statistical analyses, the authors conclude that

productive energy appears to be an emergent phenomenon. That is, energy referenced at the unit level considers the context or social environment in which individuals work and is distinct from the attributes of those individuals.

In a separate study, they also find that

the productive energy of firms is positively associated with firm performance.

I´m really eager to see how this stream of literature will develop in the future – and how it might inform practical interventions, e.g., in the field of human resources development.

What drives Workplace Happiness? A Survey of 200,000 People

BCG_Decoding_TalentOne of the central tenets in Positive Psychology is “Other People Matter!” – coined by the late Prof. Chris Peterson. This is also true for the workplace. Hell may be other people, as Sartre famously said. But they are also heaven if companies manage to create asshole-free offices.

I recently stumbled upon a study carried out by consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG). They surveyed more than 200,000 people globally from all walks of life on the drivers of workplace happiness (among other things). At the end of the day, they came up with a list of 26 different factors. In the graphic, the top 10 attributes that influence workplace happiness are displayed.

Now, if you ask me, the top 4 factors are all about (positive) relationships:

BCG_Decoding_Talent_RankNo. 1 is “appreciation for your work”. Yet, appreciation doesn’t come out of nowhere. It´s provided by bosses, co-workers, and subordinates. It´s other people.

No. 2 is “good relationships with colleagues”. Clearly, that´s other people.

No. 3 is “good work-life-balance”. For me, that translates to “My job enables me to have good relationships with people apart from the workplace”.

No. 4 is “good relationships with superiors”. That’s probably very close to No. 1.

I rest my case.

Who´s the Boss? A Tale of Cops and Cheerleaders…

Cop CostumeOk, whatever you think…the title is not the tag line for some special interest porn flick. It’s about leadership. Precisely, COP and CHEERleader are acronyms that I stumbled upon yesterday in an article by the name of Forty things every Manager should know about Coaching. They define two antagonistic frameworks of leadership, and ultimately, underlying views of the nature of man.

COP stands for “Coerce – Organize – Punish”. Basically, it describes what effective leadership was thought to be for most of the 20th century (and the eons before that…). You can still “smell” a lot of Taylor´s “Scientific Management” in there. What is says between the lines: People are inherently lazy and incapable. That´s why the leader has to motivate his “followers” using external rewards and punishment to get the desired results. And above that, there´s one person that knows which form of organizing the tasks at hand is the best: the leader – and no one else.

On the other end of the spectrum, CHEERleader stands for Challenge – Empower – Encourage – Reinforce. It´s based on the assumption that people are intrinsically motivated (please read my article on Self-Determination Theory for a little background information), capable or organizing themselves (alone as well as in groups), and eager to learn, grow, and achieve – in short: that people are grown-up individuals capable of deciding what´s best for themselves as well as the companies they work for.

What do you think of this?


Picture source


My Year in MAPP: A 5-Step Course in the fine Art of Being Un-German

In general, I hate this sentence – but: time flies.

Right now, I´m in Philly, precisely: in room 340 of Wharton´s Huntsman Hall, for attending the final onsite period of the 2013/14 MAPP program at University of Pennsylvania. Seems like yesterday that I wrote that blog post on being admitted to my deepdive into Positive Psychology at UPenn. Maybe it´s still a little bit early for reminiscence, since there´s still a lot of work ahead (final papers, capstone projects) – but lately, I´ve been musing on a truly intriguing question:

Is MAPP a Course in being Un-German?

Flag - German SmileyThat question only makes sense when you´re German, of course – which I happen to be. My MAPP classmates surely know I´ve been using this definition a lot over the year: un-German. What do I want to say here?

Despite that disreputable first half of the twentieth century, I kind of like being German. According to most socio-economic (and also ecologic) indicators, it´s a very good place to live. Hey, according to BBC we might even the most popular country in the world. Go figure!*

But what do other countries like or maybe even admire about Germans? Let´s look at some of the (pretty thoroughly verified…) stereotypes:** People definitely love our cars (and the fact that there´s no speed-limit on most areas of the Autobahn), they indulge in our Bier, Schnaps, and Riesling-Wein (especially around the time of the Oktoberfest – which I´ve never visited by the way…), our ten trillion varieties of Wurst and the Schnitzels (although the original Wiener Schnitzel is from Austria, of course). So generally speaking, people like our products. They love things “Made in Germany”.

Because that´s what we´re good at. Germany has an “engineering culture”. We´re good at planning things and following through with it, that´s our Prussian heritage. We´re builders and craftsmen, planners and executors, not so much “poets and thinkers” any more. We´re industrious, punctual, orderly, dependable, and basically good at “being good at things”.

Emilia Lahti & Nico RoseRather not on top of the list is “the German” as a person(ality). Most other countrymen consider us to be blunt to the point of outright rudeness – if we´re talking at all, that is. We´re not the epitome of warm-heartedness, either (that may be a result of our language). And while Germany typically is considered to be the “export world champion”, our humor definitely is not one of our hit products.

Additionally, we´re just not a very optimistic people. I mean, compared to most other countries, we´re really really rich and really really healthy and long-living. We´re well-off – period. Still, collectively we´ve managed to have a special kind of fear being named after us: “German Angst” (roughly: being overly cautious and pessimistic). Oh, and we´re also good at feeling Weltschmerz – which can be described as the state of “being pissed off with existence in general and also in particular”.

So on the face of it, trying to be a good German and studying Positive Psychology (here´s a short definition) does not add up. At the end of the day, Positive Psychology is just too … ahem … positive. Rather, a German in a Positive Psychology course seems like a prototypal case of “opposites attract”.

Yet, in spite of it all, I did it. And here´s what I´ve learned…

Lesson 1: Greeting Somebody

In Germany, most people opt for a solid handshake when greeting somebody they do not know that well. Among younger people and goods friends, you’ll also see the occasional hug or that “kiss-kiss embrasser thing” we copied from our French neighbors.

In MAPP, people hug each other at all times. Basically, our bodies are completely entangled while being on campus. Was a little strange at first – but then I´ve found this piece of research that shows how important hugs are for our health.

LOVE_Penn_PhiladelphiaLesson 2: Engaging in Small-Talk

In Germany, when meeting somebody again after several weeks, of course you´ll engage in some microscopic dose of small-talk. E.g., when somebody asks you “How was you flight?”, you´re supposed to reply something like this: “Oh, it was the worst thing ever. There was a delay of at least five minutes. And they didn’t have Becks beer on board. I did not get the window seat I wanted and the food servings were tiny. The guy next to me smelled like a dead rodent and I had already seen all of the HIMYM episodes they showed on board.” The other person will then reply: “Oh, I know exactly what you´re saying. It´s been even worse for me…………..”

In MAPP, when people ask how your flight was, you´re supposed to say “Awesome!” That´s it. And the other person will respond: “That´s awesome. Let me give you a hug…”

Was a little strange at first – but then I´ve found this piece of research that shows how mostly looking on the bright side of life is really beneficial for your psychological and physiological well-being.

Lesson 3: Taking a Break

MAPP Energy BreakIn Germany, when you take a break (which we don´t do that often), you basically stop doings things. Maybe, you have a piece of Streusel-Kuchen, maybe you check your mobile phone for messages. And if you meet a German who is one of those rare positive outliers on extraversion, you might be able to get him engaged in a little small-talk – but don´t count on that.

In MAPP, when you take a break, you´re not allowed to sit down and just do nothing. Because breaks are supposed to be “energy breaks”. So basically, somebody will walk up front, put on some music that is not Rammstein, and then coerce all the other people in the room into frenetic singing and shouting, and moving their bodies in distinctly inappropriate ways. Afterwards, you return to your seat. But before that, you hug.

Was a little strange at first – but then I´ve found this piece of research that shows how taking short breaks from work for dancing is really good for your health and gets so creative juices flowing

Lesson 4: Answering “complicated” Questions

In Germany, when somebody asks you a (“complicated”) question, you answer. That´s it. If you don´t want to do something or disagree, you just say “Nein!” or “That´s not a good idea.” Works out fine.

In MAPP, when somebody asks you a (“complicated”) question, you´re supposed to say something like this: “Oh, that is a truly brilliant question (break into huge smile while speaking…). I really appreciate it. It´s just so thoughtful and deep. I could have never come up with that in a million years. By the way, I just love your hair today. So, about your question…”

When you want to say “No” to somebody, or “I think that´s a bad idea” things get a little more complicated. Because: You can´t. It´s sort of “not allowed”. So instead, you might want to start with something along the lines of the above-mentioned phrases. Now, proceed by putting on a (just slightly) less smiling face and say, e.g.: “Let me give you a little bit of context on that.”*** Then, in excruciating length and detail, you recount each and every item of information that may or may not be relevant to the current affair, starting roughly at Lincoln´s “Better Angels of our Nature” address. And basically, you keep on going until the other person has forgotten what she wanted in the first place. Afterwards, you hug.

Was a little strange at first – but then I´ve found this piece of research that shows how important it is to really be empathetic towards other people, and to engage in (what Positive Psychologists call) active-constructive responding.

MAPP White DogLesson 5: Finishing something

In Germany, when you´ve finished something, you start doing something else immediately (except for when we want to practice the art of Gemütlichkeit – but hey: drinking beer is also doing something…). That´s what we´re here for. We do stuff. We finish it. We do something else. I mean, one of the largest chains of building centers in Germany advertises the slogan “Es gibt immer was zu tun…” (“There´s always something to do…”).

In MAPP, when you´ve finished something, you cannot do something else immediately. Nohoo! Somebody will walk up to you and ask you to savor what you´ve just did. So you might have been to the rest room, reenter the classroom – and somebody will approach you and ask: “Nico, did you take enough time to savor that experience?” Not.

But savoring really is a big issue in MAPP. Now, that is really really un-German. I´ve understood that it´s close to the concept of being “gemütlich”, just (mostly…) without beer. Basically, it´s the opposite of feeling Weltschmerz. It´s about back-pedaling, admiring your recent accomplishments, and giving yourself (and the world in general…) a mental pat on the back – and a hug.

Was a little strange at first – but then I´ve found this piece of research that shows how taking your time to savor life and the beautiful things (and maybe even some of the not so beautiful things…) it entails is really important for our well-being and finding meaning in life.

So, that´s what I´ve learned. Here´s the management summary:

Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world.

(William James)

Alternatively, in the words of Henry David Thoreau:

Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.

MAPP 9 & Co.: Thanks a million! Love you guys. Lots of hugs…




* But to be honest: that survey is from 2013, a year without any major soccer tournaments. That doesn´t really count…

**You will find 151 of those in Liv Hambrett´s hilarious and at the same time truly insightful piece What I Know About Germans.

*** Thank you for that one, James!

“You´re doing just fine.” On the Power of Trust and day-to-day Positive Feedback

Blind SymbolAs I´ve already told you in this post on the significance of empathy, one guest lecturer at MAPP 13/14 onsite has been Jane Dutton who is known best for her research and teaching on high-quality connections (at work).

Jane stopped her lecture once in a while to lead us through some practical exercises on that topic. On one occasion, half of the group was blindfolded and then led through the hallways of Penn´s Huntsman Hall by the other people for several minutes. Now, I´ve done this sort of thing a couple of times before in coaching seminars – but I´ve never had such a powerful realization as I had this time:

I was feeling pretty save and comfortable in the beginning. My partner guided me with her hands and simple verbal cues, telling me to go left and right whenever needed. At one point, we were walking straight along a stretched-out hallway.* All I had to do was walk straight-on – so my partner stopped giving verbal feedback.

Somewhere half-way down that hallway, there was an ever so small bump in the floor, I guess a spot where a cable lay beneath it. But it was enough to catch me off-guard and lessen my trust considerably. Upon understanding that, my partner started to behave very differently. Instead od telling me only about necessary changes, she started to give me constant feedback, mostly along the lines of:

You´re doing just fine. The way is free. Just keep on going!

What a tremendous change that was! A genuine difference that makes a difference! And a powerful metaphor for everyday (business) life…

Because, on a closer look, we´re running around blindfolded all the time. We hear, see, and know so little compared to the sheer endless amount of information that is out there and could be of value for us. What a difference it makes to just hear “You´re on the right track” from somebody who just happens to know a little bit more than you do.

So if you´re a boss, a parent, or just somebody who happens to care about other people: How about telling them that they´re doing fine at least once every day? Not because they did something special. Just because they need and deserve it…


*I still wonder what all those suited-up Wharton MBAs thought of our crazy group of people playing children´s games in their sacred halls…

A powerful Lesson in Empathy: What if we were Mindreaders?

One of the guest lecturers at MAPP 13/14 onsite No. 8 was Jane Dutton, who is best-known for her research on what she calls High-Quality Connections (in the workplace).

As part of her lecture, she showed us this video by the Cleveland Clinic. I´ll let it speak for itself…