Inspired by Research: 5 Tips on How to Create Positive Organizations

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar July 20, 2016

An important destination on our America trip is Ann Arbor. It's in this rather small city in Michigan where three of our Bucket List heroes live and work.

Ann Arbor is the home to the University of Michigan, one of the foremost research universities in the United States. We are here to visit the Center for Positive Organizations, based at the Ross School of Business. Our Bucket list hero Chris White leads this Center which is on a mission to inspire and enable leaders to build high-performing organizations that bring out the best in people. The Center wants to be the catalyst for the creation and growth of positive organizations.

Bucket list hero Chris White

We are here to understand more about the academic and scientifically proven background in the field of employee happiness and engagement. The Center seems to be the place to be. Chris White and his colleague Esther Kyte tell us that globally 300 scholars are (loosely) connected to his organization. However, as we heard before, they have to disappoint us when they share that the amount of scientifically proven evidence on the topic is low. Chris advocates that it is of importance to both study theory and real life cases. At the Center they do both and use the collective data to accomplish their mission. It is therefore that Chris prefers to talk about the facts and practices that are 'inspired by research' instead of 'based on research'. He shares what he thinks are the most powerful aspects of the positive leaders and organizations the Center has studied so far.

1. Create 'leverage points'

The goal of a positive organization or leader is not to be perfect. It's to build relationships and teams that are high performing and enable people to thrive. Positive organizations enable this by focusing strongly on the strengths of employees instead of on their weaknesses. As a positive leader there are some moments that are more important than others, Chris calls them 'leverage points'. He talks about moments of truly human connection that generate good will, energy and positive bonds. Chris tells us that research suggests a good social network leads to higher levels of happiness, creativity and health. Chris wrote recently about four of these leverage points in a Huffington Post article. Here's the four points that can turn you into a positive leader (this is applicable to everyone that wants to become more leading, not just for those in a leadership position!):

  • It all begins with you
  • Hire for energy, not just capability
  • Build high quality relationships
  • Unlock potential in the group

2. How to be your best self

We can keep a positive mindset by focusing on our strengths and start building a positive personality at work. At the Center they use a powerful personal development tool, The Reflected Best Self Exercise. It's a tool that enables people to identify their unique strengths and talents. In this exercise each participant asks positive feedback from their 30 closest friends, family members and colleagues. They ask them to share the 3 best memories of when they where at their best in a elaborate manner. From all these memories you will be able to synthesize a complete view of your total 'best self'. It provides rich content that makes you better understand who you are when you are at your best. And people that are aware when they are at their best are more likely to be at their best more often. As a result those people tend to be more creative, less reactive to stress and less likely to be sick.

3. Focus on on-boarding

A successful relationship between employee and organization should start off on the right foot from the beginning. A carefully designed on-boarding process can do wonders. From the start it's important to know the new person deeply. Before introducing them to the real work it's important to explore and test when the person is at his or her best and what the organization can do to bring his or her best self to work as often as possible. Chris emphasizes that research suggests that when the 'best self' exercise is part of the corporate on-boarding, new employees feel less emotionally exhausted and less likely to quit. It suggests that after a successful on-boarding process people tend to stay longer in the organization, professional relationships are improved and teams work better together.

4. Establish pairing partnerships

Keeping a positive environment requires sustaining energizing relationships with the people close to you. In the workplace we can accomplish this with the creation of pairing partnerships. To establish such a partnership, first try to identify the relationships that energize you at work this week. Then, try to invest and increase the time you spend with energizers and minimize the time you spend with what Chris calls energetic black holes. By spending more time around energizers you are building more positive relationships that provide you with more energy and a better knowledge-sharing experience. We saw a similar practice, Talking Partners, earlier this trip at Next Jump in New York City. They showed us that having people around you at work that care for you, actively stimulates us to have more collaboration.

5. Set up collective processes

Working at a more collective level is a key part in building a positive organization. It's important to introduce collective processes that enable people to unlock all the available potential within the organization. The right collective processes engage the employees within the organization and help people to create the habit to ask for and offer help to each other. We saw a powerful collective process in real life at Zingerman's later that week. It's called open book management and during our visit we experienced how incredibly powerful this tool is. More about that in our next post.

6. Ensure a positive ending

It can always happen that a person doesn't fit anymore within the organization and that the professional relationship needs to be ended. According to Chris, the organization should always try to end the relationship in the best possible manner. It's important to understand what went well and what went wrong. Try to learn as much as possible from the situation and try not to make the same mistakes in the future. Ending in good terms is important as former employees are still one of the most important representatives of the organizations.

Inspired by research, learned by doing

The above practical tips are powerful ways to create a more positive organization. They allow you to start making small but significant changes in the way you work. Take a moment to pick your personal favorite and start putting it into practice. Gather some colleagues who might be interested to join you and start making baby steps. Experiment a lot, fail even more and get up as fast as you can. It's well worth the effort. If you don't believe us, at least believe in research ;)

Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
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