When we focus on business improvement, the easy part is fixing holes in systems and processes to gain quality and efficiency. But the key to making those fixes stick is the people. Enter: positive psychology.
Positive psychology is a psychological theory that looks at the positive side of human behaviour. Where psychopathology categorizes undesirable behaviour, positive psychology builds on character strengths to help optimize organizational productivity. Positive psychology is especially well suited for use within culturally diverse workforces. Here’s how it works in an organizational setting.
- Goals – when a problem is identified, instead of blaming workers for poor performance, invite the workers to embrace the opportunity to participate in creating a new set of objectives and goals to solve the problem. In doing so, the workers improve their skills. For example, instead of pointing out that the workers’ “inefficiencies and lack of productivity are inhibiting workflow,” the leader says, “Let’s make records management a priority and skill for improvement.”
- Feedback – once the problem is identified and the worker is invited to participate in problem solving, the leader needs to provide specific and immediate feedback about the problem. Following from our example above, “inefficiencies in filing methodology are costing the organization $1 million in lost productivity annually” offers a measurable and definable goal for workers using positive psychology. Providing a measure in these terms ensures that workers really hear the message (criticism for poor work, on the other hand, may breed hostility and more inefficiencies).
- Challenge – now that the workers understand why it is important to fix the problem (e.g., loss of $1 million due to inefficiencies), challenge the workers to discover the root cause of the problem. For this step, leaders need to take care to ensure that the strengths and talents of the workers invited to identify the root cause be matched to the level of the challenge. If the challenge outmatches the workers’ skill, then a heightened level of anxiety can occur which is counterproductive to the task at hand.
- Coaching – when the root cause is identified, invite the workers to brainstorm and pilot a solution to the problem. The leader does this through coaching and mentoring the workers. Coaching and mentoring are goal-oriented and collaborative processes that encourage building on strengths to implement solutions. Building on strengths can help enhance performance. In our workflow inefficiencies example, the brainstorm solutions provided should focus on the workers’ primary character strengths to increase their self-esteem and participation in solution implementation.
- Rewards – in order to ensure that the solutions devised are consistently and reliably implemented, rewards are essential. Rewards should include rituals that the workers develop to help them reduce their anxiety over the new performance levels. For example, teaching the workers to use enthused and compelling self-statements ensures continuing good performance. So instead of negative thinking such as “I can’t do this,” the workers’ self-talk includes: “What a great opportunity for me … I can expand my new learning to other areas … there’s a promotion in my future.”
Using positive psychology to include workers in solving organizational problems can help leaders solve vital productivity issues, improve the organization’s existing skills, and ultimately improve the organization’s bottom line over time. In addition, leaders will realize a happier workforce as a result. And who doesn’t want a happy work environment?