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  • AutorenbildBirgit Ohlin

Positive Organizational Development with Kim Cameron: “Steve Jobs Could Have Done Better”

He has come to Vienna on a mission.

Kim Cameron, professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan, hopes to enable a one percent improvement in the workplace by the end of today’s workshop. Cameron’s workshop is part of Seligman’s Europe Tour 2016 which took place July 2 – 10 2016.

While I wonder whether it was worth coming from Zurich to Vienna for a one percent improvement, Cameron explains: “If we fly around the world and get it wrong by one percent, we would land in Scotland or Southern Italy rather than Vienna.” I smile. Never underestimate the big impact of small changes.

Cameron is a very gentle, charismatic and (of course) very positive man. He used to study the effects of downsizing in companies when he began noticing a difference…While the majority of organizations deteriorated, some actually ended up flourishing despite the pain and drama. This is how Cameron got into Positive Psychology, studying the effect of forgiveness. He has also written numerous books and journal articles (see reference list below) about the benefits of positive psychology in the workplace.

Cameron opens the workshop by outlining success stories of companies which have used Positive Psychology to turn their negative situation around. He then recaps some of the PP tools he uses and offers his ideas on the application in an organizational context. All his recommendations, he points out, are based on empirical evidence, have a theoretical grounding and have been proven to work by Cameron himself. All his recommendations, he points out, are based on empirical evidence, have a theoretical grounding and have been proven to work by Cameron himself.

Cameron’s Recommended 3 PP Tools and Advice for Application

1) Gratitude Journal

Keep a gratitude journal in which you write down three good things every day. Or write a gratitude letter to someone, telling them how much you appreciate their support.

Gratitude exercises have been found to improve well-being through the development of a greater sense of appreciation (Lyubomirsky, 2008; Seligman, 2002). The exercises work to broaden mental flexibility, improve memory and help solve problems which require more complex cognitive processes (Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002; Fredrickson & Losada, 2005).

Applying Gratitude in the Workplace:

The CEO of a Mexican university had cards printed with the company’s values printed on one side (one value per card) and the other side left blank. Whenever an employee had exhibited one of the company’s values during work he would use the card with the appropriate value and write a short note for the staff member, recognizing their behaviour. This is just one way of showing gratitude in the workplace.

More Ideas for using Gratitude in Organizations:
  • Start team meetings with the question “What has inspired you this week?”

  • Celebrate successes with your team

  • Design a wall for positive milestones and provide an ideas box so that leaders and staff alike can use it to pin anything they are grateful for or proud of

  • Hand a booklet to each of your staff and invite them to keep a gratitude journal

  • At the end of the year, send a gratitude letter to your employees’ families and praise the employee. Tell the family how much you appreciate the effort their family member puts in at work and thank them

2) Contribution

By contributing to other people’s happiness we improve our own well-being. Therefore, rather than simply rewarding employees who do well, companies need to put rewards in place which include actively contributing to benefit others.

Research indicates that giving increases well-being more than receiving. Altruistic behaviour makes us happy (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008; Warneken & Tomasello, 2006)

Applying Contribution Principles in the Workplace:

An airline handed out reward certificates to their frequent flyer guests in order to recognize their loyalty. The certificates could be handed out to Delta staff who stood out in their behavior or performance, either on the ground or during the flight. This way, guests were able to recognize their exceptional behaviour.

For guests, this had a positive effect due to the benefit experienced through contribution discussed above. For the airline, the impact was twofold. Staff received more praise and recognition, and guests would search for employee excellence, which had a similar effect to writing a gratitude diary.

More Ideas for More Contribution in Organizations:
  • Get someone who did well to mentor and coach others rather than just complimenting them

  • Reward great performance with 1 + 1. The person receives two pieces of recognition, one for themselves and one they can hand to someone who has supported them in the process

3) Strengths-based Organizational Behaviour

Rather than focusing on what is wrong using tools such as gap analysis, organizations should engage in virtuous practices, practice open and honest communication, institutionalize forgiveness and foster trust and integrity, in order to build on the strengths and resources of the company.

A positive organizational culture has been found to have an impact on performance, staff engagement and turnover. This may be due to the heliotropic effect, defined as “the tendency in all living systems toward positive energy and away from negative energy” (Cameron, 2008).

Applying Strengths-Based Behaviour in the Workplace:

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