Examples and exercises for a positive organizational culture: shared positive goals (part 2)

On a scale of 1 to 10: How positive is the culture in your team or organization? You can usually improve, both in joy and in positive effect, because the ecological, technological and social changes are accelerating. The good news: you make a difference – regardless of whether you are a leader or a team member. Use the insights and tools of positive psychology and organizational science and make a positive contribution to people, the environment, society and your organization’s financial performance. This is part 2 of a series of four articles.

The foundation of a positive culture has four elements: Positive Thinking and Deviance, Shared Positive Purpose, Connection and Collaboration, Learning and Autonomy. In this blog we look at the common positive goal.

A positive organizational culture is inspired and guided by the common positive goal. A common positive goal, the English purpose, is what gives teams and organizations wings. It is not an objective, but a long-term, meaningful purpose that serves something greater than yourself. It is a higher mission – but not a mission statement on paper. Such a positive goal inspires everyone’s thinking and action, all actions and interactions, decisions and priorities. It’s alive. A positive goal focuses on possibilities, not limitations. It positively articulates what you want to achieve (and not what you want to avoid) and what you can do yourself (not what is out of your control).

Three ways of thinking about work

You may know the story of three masons who cut natural stone into large blocks. When a passerby asked what they were doing, the first mason said, “I’m cutting stone.” The other replied, “I am building a wall.” The third beamed, “I’m building a cathedral!”
This story ties in with Lyubomirsky’s research, which distinguishes three ways of thinking about work: people see work as a job, a career, or a vocation. If you have a job, you watch the clock because work is a way to make a living. With a career, you want to move up and you look at the calendar to measure your progress. If you have a calling, you want to make a difference. You do what you like to do. You don’t look at a clock or a calendar, but you feel the urgency: it’s time for positive change!

Ecological and social contribution

In 2022 we have Environment, Social and Governance or ESG challenges that we need to improve at the same time. Climate change, social inequality and fair regulation affect the playing field. A positive goal that contributes to improvements in this area gives organizations and people energy and direction. Both customers and employees demand the companies’. Recent McKinsey research shows, “92 percent want companies to speak up about ESG challenges, with 74 percent pointing out that CEOs should take the lead.” So where do you start? In my book ‘Positive culture you create together’ you will find individual reflection, exercises with colleagues and things you as a manager and organization can do towards the positive goal.

What do you get out of bed for? Man does not live by bread alone. Opinion is essential. Or, as Herman Finkers said (in the film The legs of Sint Hildegard):

“It’s useless, but it makes sense.”

In the pursuit of efficiency and higher profits, meaning or an inspiring purpose is not the first priority. In recent decades, professional bureaucracies and systems have been professionalized based on the idea of ​​productivity, efficiency and market forces. Shareholder capitalism has been a major driver of the 2008 financial crisis, the current climate crisis, the exhausting rat race, rising inequality and the dehumanization of large organizations, including government. Man is a cog in the machine and is too busy for reflection, learning or connection with others.

But we need connection, learning and meaning. Our needs correspond to the four biological drives of the human brain: the need to connect with others, to learn and understand (meaning), to achieve goals/results, and to defend yourself (Paul Lawrence, Nitin Nohria, 2002).

Daniel Pink showed that once you have enough income, you primarily want autonomy, getting better at your profession, and a sense of purpose. You can certainly get meaning from solving world problems. But a less noble but challenging goal can also give teams positive energy.

Dutch Brand New Day shook up the pension market in 2010 as a fast-paced internet pension insurer: Calvinist in cost, exuberant in service. They are enterprising; customers can arrange their own pension and more. But if you have questions, you can also quickly turn to a ‘real person’: someone on the phone straight away, without annoying menus. If you want, you can call the director. The human dimension counts as well as low costs. They are extremely customer oriented and want a 9 or a 10 from the customer. They get that from 34 per cent. Eighty percent would recommend BND to others. Quick profit is not the goal, a long-term relationship is. BND wants to be a good organization, doesn’t like hierarchy, grows fast and donates 10 euros to the pot for every compliment from a customer. As one employee writes on Linkedin: “I’m still a fair Brand Newbie, but already know I’ll be here for a long time. Working with financial systems as an IT professional is a challenging job, but very satisfying. Combine this with the social nature of BND and you attract a group of professionals who want to deliver top performance while also knowing how to enjoy life.”
In other words: goals such as delivering top performance together and achieving the best for your customers also provide a lot of energy. It also serves as a common inspirational goal. Think of Coolblue’s slogan ‘Everything for a smile’. They also focus primarily on the customer, and that can be energizing.

If you want more positive deviation – see if your common inspirational goal can make the world a little better.

Exercise: from the outside in

Don’t stay in your own bubble or team. Contact with internal and external customers, suppliers, opinion leaders, family, friends, artists, researchers and students in your field gives meaning and input to your work. What does your team or organization contribute to these groups of stakeholders? How do they see the world? What else do they need? What advice do they have? What else would they do with your forces? Also consider the ‘silent stakeholders’: what would nature and future generations say if they could answer these questions?

You can collect the answers and present the information to your team. Or invite specific target groups to a brainstorm or workshop with your team on these issues.

  • What do we contribute to? [ander team, deze doelgroep, de wereld]?
  • What goes well – what is our added value?
  • What else do they need?
  • What advice do they have?
  • What else would they do with your forces?

We help people

Complete the sentence together: “We help people to…” You can do this for your organization (the people in the outside world), but also for your team (where the people you help are also colleagues from other teams and departments). Both parts are important, but what you can do for external customers is often very motivating. How do you make their lives easier, more fun, better – what need do you fulfill? What contribution do you make?

You will find much more theory, tips and exercises in the book. Go for it!

You create culture together

In the book Positive culture, you do it together! you’ll find all the theory from positive psychology and organizational science you need. But it is also a practical toolbox with examples, reflection questions and exercises, including suggestions for team sessions to jointly develop the four elements of a positive culture. You can use each chapter individually, together with colleagues and as a leader of the whole team.

Flourishing is good for people and achievements, but also for the world. Because everything you learn at work, you take home and out into society. This is how we pass on positive thinking and action. For the climate challenge, we need all our creativity, cooperation, resilience, learning and determination. Are you following? You make a difference – regardless of whether you are a leader or a team member. Onward to more positive teams and organizations – because we must work better together to meet the environmental, social and technological challenges. Your team can also have a positive impact.

Read here part 1: Positive thinking and action and part 2: Connection and collaboration

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