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4 Tips for building a positive organisation

1. Callings
An extensive survey conducted by Gallup on employee engagement in the USA estimated that 29% of employees are engaged; 55% are not engaged;  and 16% are actively disengaged. Disengagement tends to increase with length of service. The figures for the UK are even lower. Gallup estimate that only 19% are engaged; 60% disengaged; and 21% actively disengaged.

Traditionally the main way to conceptualise engagement was via money, promotion and other work incentives. Making the job stimulating was also seen to be important. But recent research indicates that what is truly motivating and engaging for employees is when their job links in some way with human relationships and a sense of mission. POS talks about engaging with, or amplifying an employee’s ‘calling’. 

Professor Kim Cameron, from the University of Michigan, argues that the way to help employees see their job as a calling is to ensure that the organisation, and the employee’s role, is related in some way to some wider, human concerns or to emphasis important virtues and values in the person’s everyday role or in the organisation’s core purpose.

2. Encouraging Positive Emotion in the Workplace

Research shows that a simple exercise such as keeping a note at the end of the day of three good things that happened can increase happiness levels by re-educating the individual to pay more attention to what's right about their life. This can be adapted to an organisational context by starting team meetings with a round of what has gone well/been positive since the last meeting. This then allows everyone to start the meeting on a positive, affirmative note and may provide a bank of positive emotion to draw on if more contentious critical issues are discussed through the course of the meeting. It also encourages team members to look for what is going well and what they appreciate if they know they are expected to make a contribution of this kind at the next team meeting.
3. Personal Management Interview Program
Professor Kim Cameron from the Department of Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan has devised a way of improving employee engagement and it is called the Personal Management Interview Program (PMI).  Cameron summarises the PMI as ‘an on-going programe of regular, one-on-one interviews between a manager and each one of his or her direct reports.’

The rationale for the PMI

Underlying the PMI is the fundamental belief that the most important aspect of an employee’s experience at work is their relationship with their manager/supervisor. A person will not experience positive emotion at work unless this basic relationship with their manager/supervisor has positive characteristics. According to Professor Cameron the only way that this relationship can be developed, improved, and nurtured is through devoting time and energy to it. The Personal Management Interview is a way to ensure that managers devote enough time to their direct reports and to ensuring a good two-way flow of communication.

Professor Cameron studied the impact of holding regular Personal Management Interviews on productivity, team working, effectiveness, relationships and climate. The research, conducted on 22 ‘natural teams’, in contrast with a control group, showed substantial benefits.

Using the PMI

1. Initial role negotiation

Prior to the regular meetings, an introductory one-off ‘role negotiation’ meeting is held. Professor Cameron suggests that at this meeting the manager and the direct report discuss and
negotiate –
  • Role performance
  • Areas of responsibility
  • Accountability and reward
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Mission, goals and values

Once clear agreement is reached on the above, and any non-negotiable mattersy ‘identified and justified’ the decisions from the meeting are written up and form the basis for the following monthly meetings.

2. Primary Characteristics of PMI's

  • Regular and private
  • Major goals:
    • Continuous improvement
    • Teambuilding and personal development
    • Feedback
  • First agenda item:
    • Follow up on action items from the previous section
  • The meeting lasts from 45 to 60 minutes
  • Major agenda items include:
    • Organisational and job issues
    • Information and sharing
    • Training and development
    • Resource needs
    • Interpersonal issues
    • Obstacles to improvement
    • Targets and goals
    • Appraisal and feedback
    • Personal issues
  • A supportive, non-punitive environment
  • Last agenda item:
    • Review of action items

3. Implementation Guidelines for PMIs

  • Regularly scheduled
  • Private
  • Free of interruptions
  • Advanced preparation by both parties
  • Accountability required of both parties
  • Training of participants in advance
  • Flexibility in format
  • Action items and improvement plans
  • Feedback, praise and development

4. Beneficial Outcomes of PMIs

  • Actually saves time
  • Institutionalizes continuous improvement
  • Improves and sustains unit effectiveness
  • Improves the quality of communication
  • Maintains accountability for commitments
  • Prevents regression from off-site training
  • Provides opportunities for manager-subordinate meetings face-to-face
  • Enhances meeting effectiveness
  • Provides opportunities for training and development
  • Becomes a success experience in itself

Copyright: Professor Kim Cameron, University of Michigan.

4. Six Ways to Build a More Positive Atmosphere at Work

1. Variation on ‘Three Good Things’
Individuals can benefit from writing down three good things that happened to them that day in a notebook just before they go to bed. This exercise works by  re-educating an individual’s attention so that they look for what’s right with their life rather than focus on what’s wrong. Leaders can introduce a variation of this by beginning meetings with everyone saying what’s gone well since they last met. Display boards can also be used for staff to write up things they feel positive about.

2. Enhancing the sense of meaning and purpose
Individuals commonly report that what they like about work is the sense of meaning and purpose it gives them – i.e. serving a goal larger than themselves. Modern target-driven organisations often discourage individuals from focusing on why the job personally matters and so this type of job satisfaction is often underplayed. Finding ways to keep staff connected to a sense of purpose can be motivating and encourage more positive feelings. This can be done by having a strong vision or mission and talking about this more at meetings. Finding ways to tell inspiring stories about how staff’s work affects clients is another useful way to do this.

3. Building strong relationships between manager and staff
The quality of a person’s job is affected most by the relationship they have with their immediate manager or supervisor. It is impossible to create a positive climate at work without having strong, positive relationships between managers and employees. This cannot easily be done without time. Managers must spend time talking to employees and investing in their relationships. A specific technique called the Personal Management Interview can facilitate this. 

4. Encourage optimistic thinking
In any situation where the risk of failure is not high - e.g. anything concerning growth or development or adjusting to something where you have little choice (such as a job change which you have to accept) – then it usually pays to take an optimistic view and anticipate a good outcome. In organisations where a pessimistic view predominates (eg in team meetings) it can be helpful if this is discouraged by those in leadership positions. The two important aspects of pessimistic thinking at work are –

a. Seeing problems as permanent and intractable rather than temporary and amenable to a solution.
b. Viewing problems as worse than they are. Rather than containing problems pessimists tend to exaggerate them so that they affect all areas of life. Optimists by contrast tend to restrict the problem to the immediate difficulty. This make the problem less overwhelming.

Pessimistic thinking is often driven by fear, not fact. The best way to build optimism is to dispute the pessimistic thoughts with facts. Even where a problem is long-lasting and serious often if it possible to ‘decatastrophise’ it. For example, considering other times when a major problem was finally accommodated, or got round, can be helpful. This insight can encourage people to perceive themselves as resilient rather than powerless.

5. Reduce negativity

Another way to boost the ratio of positive to negative in an organisation is to reduce the amount of negativity and worrying. One way to do this is to encourage staff to make a distinction between the things they can control and the things they can’t control. There’s no point fretting and being negative about things which will happen anyway and which they have no control over. It is much more productive for people to focus their energy and attention on the things which are in their ‘circle of influence’. Ironically, people who do this are much more likely to be influential and have a bigger circle of influence than people who moan and complain.

6. Encouraging a growth mindset

People who endorse a growth mindset believe that ability can improve and develop with hard work and effort.  Research shows that people with a growth mindset tend to do better than those of equal or superior intelligence but who have a belief that intelligence is fixed and unchangeable - a fixed mindset.  Below are some tips for encouraging a growth mindset at work. 

Establish a growth ethos: Create an environment which works around the evidence that intelligence and ability can be cultivated.  Do this by teaching about mindset and referring to it at appropriate times.  Another way to esablish a growth ethos is to model a growth mindset. In other words,  'be the change you want to see'. This may mean telling people how you have learned various skills and about your own development. 

Work with the whole system: For example, teach all tutors or managers about mindsets.  This means that they can influence and inspire others in your organisation.  This will create a change in the whole system. You can print off a power point slide show from the mindset section of our website.

Prime the environment: Use pictures and words to reinforce a growth mindset. For example, a seed growing into a flower illustrates the point about growth and development.  If you use a talent management approach appraise whether this is creating an environment where people are labelled and judged. 

Give growth feedback: When giving people feedback on their performance couch any criticism in terms of where they are now and concentrate on performance. For example, it is not  useful to say 'you aren't a good writer'. It is better to describe the problem in a more specific ways. For example, 'I think you need to get better at sentence construction. Try to write shorter sentences. Read out what you have written and see how it sounds, etc. etc.'


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