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:


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.


People avoid blame and forgive mistakes.


People inspire one another at work.


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.

Do you want to find more Meaning in your Work? Here´s where you should look for it – according to Science

Feeling that your work has a deeper meaning or purpose has many positive consequences, for yourself as well as your organization: For instance, higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction, and (individual) performance. Therefore, researchers as well as practitioners have tried to find the antecedents of meaning in work for quite some time. Yet, it turns out that it´s a pretty complicated issue. A job that yields a lot of meaning for one person might feel totally meaningless for another individual.

Where should we look for the source of meaning in work? Is it something that can be found within ourselves? Does it depend on the type of job? Or is it determined by some characteristics of the organization? The answer is: very likely, all of those factors do play their role – and in part, meaning depends on the interaction between the characteristics of the person and those of the job.

In an empirical study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, Tatjana Schnell and her colleagues surveyed some 200 people from different occupational backgrounds. In short, here´s what they´ve found:

When looking at all factors in a single model…

  • the strongest predictor of meaning in work is job significance (= the perceived implications one’s deeds have on an organizational, societal or even global level);
  • the runner-up is the organization´s socio-moral climate (= a culture that fosters a) open confrontation with social conflicts and problems; b) reliable appreciation, care, and support; and  c) participative collaboration);
  • third place goes to the organizations´s self-transcendent orientation (= commitment to a higher purpose, combined with a concern for ethics and integrity);
  • and the last (but not least) impact comes in the form of work-role fit (= a perceived match between personal identity and actual job activities).

All in all, those attributes are able to predict almost 50% of the variance pertaining to participants´ level of perceived in meaning in work (that´s quite a lot in the context of psychological research). To put in everyday language:

We find meaning in our work when we frequently have the opportunity to perceive the (positive) outcome of our individual contribution, when our organization promotes a culture of fairness, trust, support – and authentically commits to some “greater good”, and when we feel that our job provides us with lots of opportunities to use our unique talents and matches our personal values.

In another fascinating article, Brent D. Rosso et al. try to provide an integrative model that compasses (more or less) all known factors that influence perceived meaning in work. Personally, I think it´s a very insightful (and: beautiful…) piece of research – and I will reread it frequently. I think, it is pretty self-explanatory, so I´ll leave it up to you to make the most of it.