Positivism creates extraordinary employees

BY Frik Nortje
M.A.Psychology; M.A. Occupational Psychology; MBA (UK)
Frik Nortje is a consultant at Work Dynamics, consulting organisational consultants. Work Dynamics was founded 20 years ago and consults to the public and private sector. Frik works actively with Dr Johan Schoeman who completed his PhD Research in 2012 focussing on Organisational Well-being and Positive Organisations. He has positioned himself as a Positive Organisational expert in this field. Dr Schoeman (a lecturer at the Industrial and Organisational Psychology Department at NMMU), attended an Executive Programme on Positive Organisational Scholarship at the Stephen Ross School of Business at Michigan University USA in December 2013.

“Developing a positive environment in an organisation has a far greater impact than simply creating a sense of feel-good,” says Frik Nortje of consulting organisational consultants, Work Dynamics.

Positive Organisational Scholarship (POS) is an exciting new movement which draws on ground-breaking work in the organisational and social sciences. It focuses on the dynamics that lead to developing human strength, producing resilience and restoration, fostering vitality, and cultivating extraordinary individuals, units and organisations. POS is based on the premise that understanding how to enable human excellence will unlock potential, reveal possibilities, and facilitate a more positive course of human and organisational welfare. Rather than adopting a particular theory or framework, POS draws from the full spectrum of organisational theories to understand, explain, and predict the occurrence, causes, and consequences of positivism.

Prosper through positive deviance

At its core, POS investigates “positive deviance”, or the ways in which organisations and their members flourish and prosper in extraordinary ways. Indeed, the discipline’s name embodies the core values of the movement. “Positive” addresses the discipline’s affirmative bias. “Organisational” focuses on the processes and conditions that occur in organisational contexts “Scholarship” reflects the rigor, theory, scientific procedures and precise definition in which the approach is grounded.

Nortje says that this positive approach does not ignore, deny, or denigrate the negative phenomena and problems found in organisations.

“It seeks, instead, to study organisations and organisational contexts typified by appreciation, collaboration, vitality, and fulfilment, where creating abundance and human well-being are key indicators of success. It seeks to understand what represents the best of the human condition,” says Nortje.

Turning management studies on its head

A few years ago, a group of scholars turned management studies on its head. Instead of analysing organisational dysfunction they became intrigued by extraordinary success. What are the characteristics of organisations whose performance is far above the norm? The field of Positive Organisational Scholarship was born in 2003.

In Positive Leadership, Kim Cameron — one of the founders of this new field — draws on what he and his colleagues have discovered to identify four specific leadership strategies for reaching beyond the ordinary to achieve off-the-charts success, what he calls “positive deviance”. Leaders, Cameron says, must cultivate a positive climate in which emotions like optimism, compassion and gratitude can thrive. They should encourage positive relationships in the workplace so that people actively contribute to the benefit of others, rather than merely receiving support from them. Whenever they interact with employees and colleagues they should employ positive communication, using affirmative and supportive language instead of negative and critical language. And they need to provide positive meaning for their workforce, giving people the sense that they are pursuing a profound purpose and helping them find personal meaning in their work.

Feel-good notions?

These are not “feel-good” notions. Cameron cites solid empirical research to support the bottom-line effectiveness of these strategies, lays out a proven process for implementing them, and includes a self-assessment instrument and a guide to assist leaders in the implementation process. Positive Leadership is a concise, thoroughly researched and practical guide that any leader can use to generate truly amazing results.

Kim Cameron uses solid empirical evidence to craft specific strategies and processes which individuals and organisations can easily use to exploit the remarkable latent power of “the positive” in their business leadership.

According to POS, positive employees result in higher productivity. Higher productivity leads to higher profitability and superior service levels.