As leaders, we have the opportunity and the obligation to energize our teams, foster hope, and identify and grow the positive. Particularly now, when we face so many unknowns and large-scale changes in how we live and work.
The 24-hour news cycle ensures a steady flow of negative news and information. Fear and risk capture attention. As the saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.” This obsessive focus on problems, risks and dangers can make us feel hopeless and it is difficult to create positive change when we’re experiencing such negative emotions.
Identifying and growing the positive creates a better employee experience, produces more sustainable outcomes and it is fundamental to creating a culture of health and safety in our workplaces.
What is Science of the Positive?
Science of the Positive (SOTP) is a framework used by organizations and communities seeking to change perceptions, behaviours and outcomes. It is based upon the core assumption that The Positive Exists in all people, cultures, worksites and organizations. We can identify and grow the positive by engaging the Cycle of Transformation which incorporates the four domains of – Spirit, Science, Action and Return. Unlike traditional, problem-focused models that begin with Science and jump to Action, this framework always starts with Spirit first to honor the cultures of the people we serve
Spirit is about WHO we are. It’s the story of our organizations – and sets the stage for Science and our “big why” – the reason we do what we do.
When we start with Spirit first, we operate from a place of purpose and positivity and feed a growth mindset that fosters hope. It affects the conversations we have, the questions we ask, the evidence we gather and the actions we take.
Using the SOTP, we move away from fear and misperceptions and instead identify and generate positive expectations, focus on growing community norms and foster hope.
Positive community norm logic model
Spirit – Uncover the positive
Science – Measure gaps
Actions – Challenge misperceptions
Return – Increase health…grow the positive
Hope is a powerful catalyst for change. It helps us renew our daily energy and attracts the people, organizations and resources needed to seize important opportunities and tackle challenging problems.
An article written for the Harvard Business Review highlights the complex yet critical role that hope plays in our organizations. “In order to create more stability in hope cultures, organizations might promote a more realistic form of hope. For example, when organizations face challenges or setbacks, they might discuss what’s still possible. In other words, even when one door closes, organizations might ensure that employees don’t lose sight of those that are still open. Similarly, during tough times, organizations might also remind employees of prior time periods in which they were thriving and making positive progress toward achieving their goals. Such narratives might help restore employees’ hopes, by highlighting that failures are often sandwiched between successes, and that better days may indeed be on the horizon, if they continue pushing toward their goals.”
This approach isn’t about “positive thinking,” and it is not intended to negate pain, harm and suffering in any way. Instead, the SOTP framework recognizes these concerns, yet challenges us to focus on hope and caring and growing the healthy, positive protective factors that already exist in our workplaces, families, and communities rather than operating from a position of fear, risk and protection.
Using the SOTP framework to create a culture of health and safety
A couple of months ago, I introduced members of the CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network to this framework and encouraged them to consider the power of recognizing and growing the positive. The leaders were inspired and highly engaged and shared their thoughts about why growing positive experiences is critical for psychological health and safety. I’ve listed a few of them below.
We spend a lot of time at work. It is important to cultivate a culture of celebration and find the joy in what we do.
Positive experiences create safe connections and increases the chance that people will seek help when needed.
We are social beings who need to feel connected and safe with others; positive experiences foster that.
People are more creative and innovative when they are enjoying themselves and in a relaxed state.
People feel a sense of belonging and are more engaged and productive. They feel valued and appreciated.
It strengthens the team. People are more invested; they are less likely to leave and more likely to bring ideas and innovations forward.
Creates a safe space to be able to share personal experiences – not just the work at hand, but the people at work.
Focusing on the positive, strengthens working relationships through consistent gratitude and recognizing each other’s wins.
A positive, open environment leverages diversity of experience and creates trust and resilience.
In workplaces where a culture of health and safety exists, and there is an emphasis on the positive and fostering hope, there is deeper trust, people feel safe, relationships and the environment are nurturing and there is a greater sense of stability.
This shows up in large and small ways in attitudes, perceptions, traditions, language, and behaviours, such as:
Meetings that focus on employee strengths and positive experience
Team members connecting and laughing with one another
Managers and supervisors creating positive connections with co-workers and direct reports
Greater mindfulness and engagement in meetings and conversations
Validation and support with challenging experiences and emotions
Acknowledgement and gratitude for one another
Respect for and interest in the whole person – not just the work they do
Leaders in the room were energized by the conversation and there was genuine desire to adopt this approach to drive growth and transformation. For some, shifting focus to hope and caring instead of risk and protection is going to take time, but it is a journey worth taking.
I’ll be writing more about how you can implement the SOTP and foster hope in your workplaces. Perhaps you can reflect on some of these ideas and put some of them into practice in your own setting. Watch for the next instalment coming soon.