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.

22 Positive Psychology-infused Articles every (HR) Leader should know

Positive Organizational ScholarshipPositive Psychology has a lot to offer for leaders, especially those people taking on a leadership role in human resources and people management. In this post, I´ve gathered 22 research articles infused by Positive Psychology (more specifically: Positive Organizational Scholarship) that, in my opinion, have tremendous value for aspiring as well as established managers and entrepreneurs.

The topics comprise desirable attributes and personality variables such as grit, character strengths, and core self-evaluations, how to create positive relationships at work, how employee motivation is created and sustained, how to find meaning and purpose in work, and several review articles, e.g., on the connection of positive emotions and job performance. Enjoy!

P.S.
This is my 300. post since I’ve started Mappalicious about two years ago. Giving myself a slight pat on the back right now…

7 Research Articles linking Happiness and Subjective Wellbeing to Performance and Success Measures

One of the most stunning ideas from the field of Positive Psychology is that happiness (and other forms of positive affect) are not only a consequence, but also a prerequisite for success and performance in organizations. Yet, to be honest, the empirical evidence is still very scarce. Especially the link between employee happiness and performance on the organizational level is still uncharted territory to a great extent. Yet, some things are out there – here´s a little compilation for you.

  1. The benefits of frequent positive affect: does happiness lead to success
  2. Happiness at work
  3. The moderating role of employee positive well being on the relation between job satisfaction and job performance
  4. Psychological well-being and job satisfaction as predictors of job performance
  5. The Happy-Productive Worker Thesis Revisited
  6. On the role of positive and negative affectivity in job performance: A meta-analytic investigation
  7. Well-being and organizational performance: An organizational-level test of the happy-productive worker hypothesis

Happiness_Success

Being your Best on the Job: The Case of Thriving at Work

A couple of days ago, I shared some videos where Kim Cameron elaborates on his ideas about organizational energy. Yesterday, I stumbled upon an adjacent concept that I find equally interesting: Thriving (at work). It was first described by a group of researchers comprising – among others – Gretchen Spreitzer and MAPP lecturers Jane Dutton and Adam Grant.

Striving is a seen as a two-dimensional construct. In short, we experience ourselves as striving when we feel a sense of a) vitality and b) learning. More precisely, vitality represents a sense that one is energized and has a zest for work. Learning, in turn, is signified by the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills to build capability and confidence.Together, these dimensions capture both the affective (vitality) and cognitive (learning) essence of the psychological experience of personal growth (Porath, Spreitzer, Gibson & Garnett, 2011).

There is some preliminary evidence that the experience of thriving as depicted above is significantly linked to favorable outcomes such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and even performance. In this paper, a questionnaire for the measurement of thriving is described. If you´re interested, please watch this short video of Gretchen Spreitzer describing the concept. Enjoy!

Are you a H.E.R.O.? Positive Psychological Capital (PsyCap) explained

Positive Psychological CapitalSince it´s “formulation” at the onset of the new millennium, researchers have tried to apply Positive Psychology to organizational settings. E.g., Adam Grant promotes pro-social behavior in business settings, Amy Wrzesniewski looks at how employees can foster (perceived) meaning via job-crafting, and Jane Dutton investigates the impact of high-quality connections.

Another interesting framework is offered by Fred Luthans and his colleagues. They have developed the idea of Positive Psychological Capital (PsyCap) which is seen as a valuable extension to the concepts of economic, human, and social capital (see table above; taken from Luthans et al., 2004). PsyCap is theorized as a higher-order construct that is “composed” of four underlying constructs, precisely Self-Efficacy (also called Confidence), Hope, Optimism, and Resiliency. It´s called higher-order because PsyCap is not just “made of” the underlying constructs, but taken together, they form something new, an entity that is more than the sum of its parts. Please see diagram at the bottom, based on Luthans & Youssef (2004). This shows the whole framework, precisely: the H.E.R.O. formation by which the constructs is sometimes known to the general public. What are the building blocks all about – as defined in Positive Psychology?

  • Hope is as a positive state where our feelings of agency (goal oriented determination) and pathways (proactively planning to achieve those goals) interact.
  • Self-efficacy is depicted as confidence in our ability to achieve a specific goal in a specific situation.
  • Optimism is theorized as a realistically-positive view of what can or cannot do.
  • Resilience is defined as successfully coping with adversity or stress. In organizational settings, it is characterized as the ability to “bounce back” from high workload, conflict, failure, and ongoing organizational change.

Why were these four concepts chosen? In the words of Luthans et al. (2004):

The four psychological capacities of confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience are measurable, open to development, and can be managed for more effective work performance.

Why is this important? Because it means that – unlike trait-like concepts such as general intelligence – PsyCap can be developed by deliberate practice. Just the other three forms of capital, it can be built and enhanced – in a rather short amount of time, by the way (see this paper for more info). As such, it can be a very valuable tool in organizational and personnel development.

Why should you care (especially if you are a CEO or HR Director)?

Well, you should care if you are interested in having a healthy, engaged, and high-performing workforce. A meta-analysis (a type of study that aggregates the results of prior studies) based on 51 empirical investigations found a wide array of positive consequences for workers displaying high (vs. low) PsyCap. From the study abstract:

The results indicated the expected significant positive relationships between PsyCap and […] job satisfaction, organizational commitment, psychological well-being, desirable employee behaviors (citizenship), and […] measures of performance (self, supervisor evaluations, and objective). There was also a significant negative relationship between PsyCap and undesirable employee attitudes (cynicism, turnover intentions, job stress, and anxiety) and undesirable employee behaviors (deviance).

Are you curious now?

PsyCap Structure

Does Coaching really work? Yes, it does! And here´s some sound Scientific Evidence…

I´ve been working as coach for almost six years now. Now obviously, I should be convinced that I´m good at what I do. I should be convinced that what I do matters. And I should be convinced that coaching does work in general. And I am. And so are (most of) my clients. It is immensely exhilarating when a client gives you a call after some months to tell you that you played a small part in changing his/her career, relationship, or life per se for the better. It feels so good that sometimes it also feels kind of weird that, on top, I´m being paid for what I do. However, all of that is what scientists call anecdotal evidence. It´s nice to have, but does not really prove anything in the terms of psychological science.

Luckily, there are scientists out there who really want to get to the bottom of things (and are willing to be engaged in some high-class bean counting…). The most sophisticated way to get to the bottom of a psychological phenomenon is to conduct a meta-analysis. It´s a technique to aggregate the results of already existing empirical studies, thereby increasing the underlying sample size, which in turn leads to more reliable results.

Now this is exactly what Tim Theeboom, Bianca Beersma, and Annelies E.M. van Vianen from the University of Amsterdam have done – pertaining to the effectiveness of coaching in an organizational context. After screening +100 existing studies on the effectiveness of coaching, they included 18 studies in their meta-analysis (typically, a lot of the extant studies can not be included because of a lack of scientific rigor).

What they´ve found is good news – for me as well as the ‘coaching profession’: Coaching does work! Specifically, it is associated with the following positive outcomes:

  • Higher job-related performance of the coachee.
  • Increase of self-regulation skills (a.k.a. ‘self-management’).
  • Increase of coping skills (e.g., handling work-related pressure).
  • Increase of positive job attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction).
  • Increase of overall well-being.

Now does this prove the effectiveness of coaching once and for all? Obviously, it does not. But it´s a very good starting point.*

 

* And it should also help to convince skeptical HR people – who typically have a say on the implementation of coaching in their corporation.