Do you Want to Make your Work more Meaningful? Aim for the S.P.I.R.E.!

SPIRE_StegerI´m a big fan of the work of Professor Michael F. Steger (Colorado State University), one of the world´s foremost scholars on the subject of meaning in life and meaning in work (see his TEDx Talk here).

In fact, he´s not only a top-notch scientist, but at the same time he´s able to turn his research (plus other people´s scholarly work) into actionable insights for business leaders. Accordingly, I was more than thrilled when Michael agreed to work with me on a paper that showcases some research on the question of how leaders can help to make the work of their subordinates more meaningful. While the original paper was written in German, there´s a neat summary of that research (CAARMA leadership) available via Positive Psychology News Daily.

Today, I´d like to introduce you to another framework that has been described by Michael, precisely via this book chapter. Where CAARMA leadership focuses on the role of the leader in creating (more) meaningful work for employees, the acronym S.P.I.R.E. points us towards all those resources and pathways to meaning that employees control unmediatedly. The building blocks of this acronym have been synthesized by Steger based on some 40 years of extant research on meaningful work.

Strengths

In Steger´s words: Know your unique strengths and talents, and use them in executing your work, even if that means going above and beyond your basic job duties.

Now obviously, in order to make this recommendation work, you´ll have to find out what your strengths are in the first place. A good place to start would be taking the VIA survey, a test that was developed based on a framework of 24 character strengths first described by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. Or, you could create your Reflected Best Self™ portrait, a method developed at the Center for Positive Organizations (Ross School of Business). In this LinkedIn article, I explain how you can do that.

Personalization

In Steger´s words: Bring more of yourself to work, align work with your values, take responsibility and adopt an ownership mentality for your work and your organization.

A rewarding pathway to tackling the challenge of (increased) ownership could be practicing what Professor Amy Wrzesniewski (Yale) calls job crafting – which is defined as ‘‘the physical and cognitive changes individuals make in the task or relational boundaries of their work’’. Basically, via job crafting employees progressively turn the job they currently have into the one they really want to be in. Here´s a nice description of fellow Penn MAPPster Paula Davis-Laack via Psychology Today.

Integration

In Steger´s words: Integrate the motivation of and execution of your job with other elements of your life, work in ways that bring meaning to the rest of your life.

Now, that is obviously a task which cannot be executed just like 1…2…3. Finding the right balance (or rather: blend) to me seems to be an ongoing internal exploration and negotiation between the different selves that comprise the “whole person” over the span of a lifetime. Nevertheless, I recently stumbled upon this beautiful article in the Harvard Business Review crafted by Brianna Caza, Lakshmi Ramarajan, Erin Reid, and Stephanie Creary that might point you towards some meaningful pathways: How to Make Room in Your Work Life for the Rest of Your Self.

Resonance

In Steger´s words: Learn your organization’s core values and mission, find ways in which it resonates with your personal mission and meaning through everyday work.

As with the aspect of strengths, this pathway will not come to life without a fair amount of soul-searching and self-discovery. Aligning our personal mission with that of our organization requires discovering (or rather: building and exploring over time?) our life´s mission in the first place. Now personally, I´ve wrangled with the concept of a personal mission for several years, especially when being contrasted to a similar, but somewhat different matter, a personal purpose statement. Even though the following article by Disney Institute´s Bruce Warner covers this topic on the level of the organization, it helped me tremendously to clarify my mission and my purpose (at least in their current versions) – that´s why I´m recommending it to you here: The Difference Between Purpose and Mission.

Expansion

In Steger´s words: Seek ways in which your work can be grown to benefit some greater good, expand your concerns to embrace broader interests beyond your self.

I figure there are countless opportunities to achieve this goal. To start, you might find some inspiration in this New York Times article covering research by Wharton professor Adam Grant (described in his seminal book Give and Take) written by Susan Dominus.

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Following these recommendations can help you to propel your work life onto a more meaningful trajectory. Quite naturally, it´s not a good idea to tackle all of these different pathways at the same time. I´d start with those one or two drivers that resonate the most with you for the time being.

Enjoy!

Foto Credit

Feedback on Optimal Human Functioning: The Reflected Best Self Exercise™

Nico Rose | Jane Dutton

Nico & Jane Dutton at Ross School of Business

In mid-December, I got to spend a week in Ann Arbor at the Ross School of Business, taking part in an open enrollment course called The Positive Leader: Deep Change and Organizational Transformation. It´s a formidable tour de force through the most important frameworks and applications of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS). I´m going to write some more about my experiences over the upcoming weeks.

Today, I´d like to share with you the Reflected Best Self Exercise™, a powerful tool that helps people to learn more about their individual strengths and what they´re like when they display some form of peak performance (from the vantage point of other people). In short, the exercise is about asking a group of people to supply you with stories of times when they perceived you to be at your best. In other words, you ask people for feedback about your strengths and capacity for peak performance – and only about that.

What other people appreciate about us tends to appreciate over time.

What´s so special about receiving only positive feedback once in a while? It´s extraordinary because we typicially hear mixed messages, e.g., as part of a performance appraisal at work. What´s the point? Rick Hanson, author of “Hardwiring Happiness”, likes to say “our mind has velcro tapes for negative and teflon layers for positive information.” Even if the usual feedback we receive is mostly positive, our brain drives us to ponder almost exclusivley on the negative (= potentially harmful) information. This mode of processing has actually helped us to survive as a species over thousands of years (please see Bad is Stronger than Good for more background) – but it also keeps us from truly taking in any positive information, unless we explicitly allow ourselves to focus on that side of the spectrum, so we can learn and grow based on who we are when we´re at our best.

Learning from what´s already (more than) good

How are we supposed to improve and grow when we´re not focusing on our weaknesses? As the saying goes, “where attention goes, energy flows” (and results show). Learning about who we are when we are at our best helps us to:

The last bullet point seems especially important to me as it points towards the so-called Pygmalion Effect, the phenomenon whereby higher expectations by others lead to an increase in actual performance. When we ask people to reflect on our positive sides, we actually help them to perceive what Jane Dutton calls the “zone of possibility”, a reservoir of untapped resources and growth potential. Via authentically pointing us towards these strengths and capabilities, they help us to become more than we currently are. This is the true nature of appreciation. The typical connotation of “to appreciate” points towards a strong form of liking. But it also means to grow in value. What other people appreciate about us tends to appreciate over time.

Reflected Best Self - Nico Rose

How does the Reflected Best Self Exercise™ work?

  1. Collect stories from a variety of people inside and outside of your work. You should receive feedback from at least 10 people. By gathering input from a variety of sources, such as family members, past and present colleagues, friends, teachers etc., you can develop a broader understanding of yourself. Specifically, ask them to supply you with short stories of episodes when they perceived you to “be at your best”. Ask for specific and tangible examples, not general impressions.
  2. Recognize patterns and common themes: After gathering those stories, read through them carefully, allowing yourself to take and savor in the positive content. Then, go through them several times, making mark-ups and remarks with a pen. The goal is to search for common themes and recurring patterns within the different stories. These commonalities will serve as the base for your “Best Self Description”.
  3. Then, write a description of yourself that summarizes and distills the accumulated information. The description should weave themes from the feedback into a concise “medley” of who you are at your best. This portrait is not meant to be a complete psychological profile. Rather, it should be an illuminating image you can use as a reminder of your contributions and as a guide for future action (you can see the result of my own process in the picture on the right).
  4. Redesign your job (optional): Now that you you have crafted your “Best Self Description”, what are you supposed to with it? To start, it´s a very good idea to hang a print-out in some corner of your office so as to have an easily accessible reminder of you can be, for those times when things become stressful (and they always do in large organizations). This will help you to keep your composure and look beyond the constraints of the current situation. In the long run, it´s definitely useful to think about the larger implications of your best self:
    • To what extent is your current job playing to your strengths?
    • Can you change your current task and responsibilities so as to better reflect your best self? (please see: Job Crafting)
    • Or should you maybe think about a change of careers to realize your full potential?

I hope you will have tons of fun and insightful moments with this framework; I surely did. By the way, I´ve found out earlier this also works perfectly using social media channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn. You can read my account of this “experiment” here.

Resources

You can find a full description of the Reflected Best Self Exercise™, its application, and the underlying research via these articles:

You´ll find lots of resources with regard to the Reflected Best Self Exercise™ on the website of the the Center for Positive Organizations at Ross School of Business.

Top 10 Positive Psychology Articles for the first Half of 2016

 Top 10 Positive Psychology ArticlesCherished reader, as it has become a tradition, I’m sharing with you those articles that your fellow readers liked the most over the first half of the year. Maybe, there’s something that you’ve missed and want to read again?

Looking at the selection, it becomes clear that readers were strongly interested (and willing to share) blog posts that contain infographics. I’ll try to keep that in mind when thinking about future directions for Mappalicious.

  1. Great Infographic on Self-Compassion: How not to be Hard on Yourself
  2. Fabulous Infographic: Why People become Unhappy
  3. The Meaning of Life according to different Philosophers [Infographic)
  4. Do you want to find more Meaning in your Work? Here´s where you should look for it – according to Science
  5. Strengths gone astray: The real mental Illnesses?
  6. Explaining Character Strengths to Children: Meet the Dynamos
  7. Surprising Finding | Mental Illness vs. Mental Health: Continuum or Matrix?
  8. Infographic: How to be Wise – as an Entrepreneur (and in Life)
  9. The 3 Layers of Meaningful Work
  10. Meaninglessness at Work: The 7 Deadly Sins [Infographic]

Honorable mentions

These two articles are not blog posts, they are permanent pages on my site. But as people like them so much, they typically show up in the top 10 list every year. For that reason, I’ve taken them out of the regular top 10 but still present them here:

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.

If you´re Happy and you Know it, write a Blog

Dr. Nico RoseMost weeks, I put something between five and ten hours into bringing fresh Positive Psychology content to Mappalicious. Sometimes, people ask me about my motivation or my goals for the blog – which more or less translates to “Are your earning any money with this?”

The answer is: No, I don´t – and I don´t intend to do so. They pay me a heck of a lot of money in my management job which grants me the freedom to pursue Mappalicious as a delightful hobby.

Maintaining this blog is an autotelic activity: The journey is the destination.

Curiosity and love of learning are among my signature strengths according to the Peterson/Seligman typology. And my favorite way of learning new stuff is to read and then write about it. So, I´d probably keep on writing even if nobody ever read it – but it´s all the more fulfilling to hear that people actually enjoy and profit from my writing efforts. Funny thing: Wherever I go in the (Positive Psychology) world, a lot people feel they already know me – even though we´ve actually never met before.

Other than that, I just receive a lot positive feedback, mostly from students who share how, by way of example, my list of eminent Positive Psychology articles has helped them with finishing a paper or something like that.

Just over the last weeks…

  • I was informed by the academic director of the MAPP program that people actually read my blog to prepare for their applications to UPenn.
  • One of the top researchers in the field analogously said Mappalicious is one of the best free resources on Positive psychology on the net.
  • Mappalicious was included in a list of noteworthy happiness blogs along with top-notch sites such as the blog of the Greater Good Science Center and FulfillmentDaily.com.

Oh, and then I received this beautiful piece of feedback via Facebook – and I have permission to share it with you:

I feel grateful and lucky that your posts appear in my homepage every day, I think you might want to reorganize your signature strengths and put zest/energy above all of them! I´ve never seen that much discipline to post everyday a well thought and evidence based posts. Very good combination or as I like to call it “orchestra” you have there playing your character, the melody is inspiring.

Maybe you deserve to be paid, if not in hard currency, definitely in emotional currency, and hear that from someone: I usually save your posts to read them later while I´m cycling. Your posts have a great impact on people´s day.

Thank you!

Positive Psychology: Infographic on the 24 Character Strengths

This one´s just a quickie. I just wanted to share with you a nice infographic on the 24 character strengths according to the framework of Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman. It´s taken from the homepage of the VIA Institute on Character. They have recently re-launched their website and offer other free stuff on character strengths. Please go and have a look…

VIA_graph.png

Strengths gone astray: The real mental Illnesses?

One of the cornerstones of Positive Psychology is a framework of 24 character strengths, introduced in 2004 via a book written by the late Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman.

In order to be qualified as a universal character strength, an attribute must display the following attributes characteristics:

(1) A strength contributes to fulfillment and to the good life.
(2) A strength is morally valued in its own right.
(3) Displaying a strength does not diminish others.
(4) Almost every parent wants their child to have the strengths.
(5) There are rituals and institutions within a society that support the strength.
(6) Each of the strengths is universal, valued by almost every religion, politics, and culture – now and in the past.

Chris Peterson also believed that these character strengths could be used to conceptualize a new theory of mental illness, one that is fundamentally different from the frameworks presented in the different versions of the DSM. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could complete this new theory and present it to the public.

Via an article in the Journal of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman laid out the basics of Peterson’s framework, some fundamental ideas that he left before his untimely death. In Seligman’s words:

The theory is Aristotlean, evoking the health of the golden mean: it claims that psychological health is the presence of the strengths and that the real disorders are the absence, the excess, or the opposite of the strengths.

Peterson created a tableau, consisting of the 24 strengths, and 72 terms that represent the absence, excess, and opposites of each “asset”:

Mental Illnesses according to Peterson

Seligman goes on to concede that the framework is far from perfect in its current state. But thought-provoking it is – and that’s a lot…