A Positive Culture Starts With One Uplifting Person. Will That Be You?

Enjoy this guest post by Marcella Bremer

Have you ever worked in a positive culture? If you frown, then you haven’t! A positive culture gives people wings and swings results into a positive spiral. It “broadens and builds” people and organizations as Barbara Fredrickson researched. When people feel positive, they become more open and resourceful and achieve better results which reinforces the positivity. A positive culture contributes to the bottom line as positive organizations are engaged, innovative, competitive, agile, collaborative, and productive.

Isn’t that too good to be true? Well, no! Scientifically validated research shows that positive leadership (of yourself, and others) is the key to a positive culture and quantifiable positive outcomes.

This is important because many people don’t believe that a positive culture is possible. Maybe you started your work life optimistically, then you turned realistic and, finally, you may feel pessimistic or cynical because your workplace is far from positive. Yet, this is what companies such as Ford, Kelly Services, Burt’s Bees, Griffin Hospital, and Zingerman’s have been doing. They prove that you can create positive change in your organization through simple actions and attitude shifts.

What is a Positive Culture?

Positive leaders can change what is “normal” and all positive cultures have four ingredients. Based on positive psychology, positive cultures cherish an “abundance mindset.” There’s trust that there will be enough for everyone and aims to enlarge the pie instead of dividing its parts resulting in winners and losers. This first ingredient, Positive Awareness, helps to see more solutions, the half-full glass, and positive potential that is waiting to be realized. We are often used to aim for the default baseline: “We fix a problem to go back to normal”. Positive cultures aim for “positive deviance” where people are performing beyond expectations but without exhausting anyone or pushing too hard.

A positive culture builds on what is already working well. It appreciates people for their unique contributions. This is the second ingredient: Connection and Collaboration. It includes leadership basics such as connecting with and caring for people, being authentic and honest, communicating continuously and coaching people as well as stimulating them with compliments.

The third is a meaningful Shared Purpose that people like to contribute to, and the fourth part of positive cultures is Learning and Autonomy. People are trusted to do their work and even excel. People have choices and enjoy autonomy—no micro-management needed, no detailed instructions. Learning is the norm, and developing ideas together, learning from mistakes, and trying out things is appreciated. There’s no need to be perfect and no fear to “lose face.”

There’s only one requirement: that you engage and commit. When you work in a positive culture, you go “all in.”

What Positive Culture is Not

The issue with positive culture is that it can sound corny. “Positive means fake smiles, slacking off, and dreaming.” Let’s quickly look at these three common objections.

A positive culture stimulates people to be authentic at work so they can give their best. That includes off-days and occasional bad tempers. No need to fake a smile. Just be you and solve what you can solve – knowing that it will pass. Slacking off is the opposite of achieving positive deviance with a team. Positive leaders (and co-workers) give candid feedback to anyone who doesn’t contribute to the team as expected – and they try to help them improve.

Positive people might also be more realistic than cynics. Yes, really. Research shows that we’re wired to focus on the negative because that helped us survive physical dangers. Nowadays, it’s helpful to be able to see the positive potential that’s hiding in plain sight. No dreaming needed: stay grounded and work toward the best possible outcome.

What Can You Do?

So, what could you do to develop a more positive organization? What is interesting, is that organizations operate as non-linear networks. This means that you can influence your workplace. My book Developing a Positive Culture shares many tools to develop a more positive culture, with Interaction Interventions and/or Change Circles.

Culture happens when people get together because they copy, coach, and correct each other all the time. Culture is sustained in every interaction so if you start changing interaction patterns, you start to influence the system.

Interaction Interventions are small interactions that you can do on a daily basis to influence your meetings, co-workers, and eventually the organizational network. They are small but not insignificant, especially if you team up with like-minded co-workers. Interactions in meetings matter to the culture, so I share ways to make meetings more interactive and positive. I also share tools for leaders to work with their teams on values, purpose, positive challenges, and trust.

Next, there are Change Circles if you want to enroll the whole organization in culture change. This is a larger-scale approach that works if there’s attention for personal interactions in small groups that influence the culture.

Start with Kindness

So, how positive is your current contribution? What would happen if you role-model kindness, whatever your position at work? You understand that everyone tries their best, and everyone can make mistakes. So, you show compassion. You don’t take things too personally. It is safe to share “failures” or doubts with you.

You are present for your coworkers and teams. You give genuine attention. You give compliments. It costs nothing. All it takes is you: the best version of you. You can start today, no matter how busy you are or how challenging it may be to see something good in your coworkers.

But What If It Is Not Easy?

But what if you work in a corporate environment that does not “do” kindness? You may be labeled as weak, or you may be mocked. How kindness is perceived, depends on the current culture. Yes, being kind sometimes takes courage! Yet, a positive culture can start with one person who interacts kindly and offers a positive perspective… Are you going to be that uplifting example?

My book Developing a Positive Culture focuses on what you can personally do to develop a positive culture. Based on both research and practice, you’ll see how to engage your co-workers with Interaction Interventions or Change Circles. If you influence one person, one interaction at a time, you contribute to a more positive organization.

About Marcella Bremer

Marcella Bremer, MScBA, is an author and culture consultant. She is the author of Developing a Positive Culture Where People and Performance Thrive and co-founder of the online Positive Culture Academy. You can receive weekly inspiration to energize and engage your workplace from her blog, Leadership & Change Magazine.

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