Chris Cook offers tips on how to create positive organizations.
Q: What are you reading these days?
A: Well, I wanted to update this interview (originally published in 2011) but didn’t want to remove my former references to Flourish by Martin P. Seligman and The How of Happiness by Sonia Lyubormirsky. Even 10 years after this initial interview, both are still top of mind when I think of important positive psychology books. Even so, there are so many new, well-researched books being written about happiness and positive psychology, it’s an exciting time to be practicing in this field. I base much of my work on Happiness at Work, by Jessica Pryce-Jones and the research in the field of Emotional Intelligence.
Q: After three decades of success in the marketing field, you made a change to positive organizational development. What brought about this change, and how are the two related?
A: During my master in management studies, I came across new research that proves increasing an employee’s psychological capital and happiness also increases their productivity and decreases sick time—and they stay with the company longer. That’s a great way to enhance a business’ competitive advantage—by investing in the employees you currently have.
Positive organizational development is related to marketing in that both are ways in which businesses can achieve their goals.
Q: What are some of the factors that make for a healthy, happy organization?
A: Most importantly, employees must feel as though they are able to develop their skills, make decisions related to their work and have a sense of purpose. This starts with a clear organizational vision, well-defined values and a mission that is shared among all employees.
Q: You have a newfound passion for the science of happiness in the workplace. What does research tell us about the relationship between employee happiness and productivity?
A: We’ve always known intuitively that happiness leads to success, creativity, courage, resiliency, productivity and so on. Now, there’s empirical research that proves it!
By definition, happiness at work is a mindset that allows individuals and organizations to maximize performance and achieve their potential. This happens when everyone is mindful of the highs and lows, both working alone and with teams. It’s creating a bank of psychological capital that you can invest in and draw upon.
Q: Describe leadership traits and behaviors that contribute to positive work environments.
A: The leader needs to set the stage with his or her own positive attitude, creating an environment where people are encouraged to achieve their potential through trust, recognition and pride in the workplace.
With high levels of trust, employees are more cooperative, share knowledge and information more readily, and feel comfortable taking risks because of reduced personal pressure. More things can get done more easily.
Recognition of employees results in the desire to contribute more. It can take many shapes and forms—from public acknowledgment to a personal note or conversation. It’s important to understand how to recognize people in a meaningful way to them and to be specific about what was done well and the impact it had for the organization.
And, when employees have pride in their organization, they identify with it, understand their level of contribution, know whom their work affects and are aware of its wider impact.
Q: How do you guide a group with divergent opinions toward consensus and, ultimately, buy-in?
A: You start by listening—to every person’s opinion and thoughts related to the matter at hand. This must happen in an open, trusting and respectful environment. Next, there are group discussions and sharing of facts and feelings, through which several strong themes emerge. There may not always just be one conclusion—often there is a variety of directions/initiatives that emerge. With stakeholders’ involvement from the onset, an organization is more likely to develop good solutions with the greatest amount of buy-in.
Q: What motivates people in the workplace?
A: Daniel Pink’s research for the book Drive shows us that people are motivated when they have autonomy, a sense of purpose and the ability to become better at their jobs. People want to do well, generally, and they are best served by an organization that strives to help its people achieve their individual potential. This, in turn, benefits the organization in creating a competitive advantage within its industry.