Originally written in English
This article first published at The HR Agenda Magazine [July-October 2018 issue].
HR needs to go to its next stage of evolution and positively reinvent itself towards a new approach in HRM. It’s time to apply positive psychology principles and methods to HR’s traditional roles through a new framework called Positive HR or HR+.
For some, positivity can simply be a fad, a feel-good buzzword. For the high-pressure, high-stake Japanese workplace, positivity can be a tool for survival and the most essential way to do business.
The term “survival” here is used in the literal sense; the country continues to face high rates of suicide associated with overwork and workplace pressures. Despite changes in attitudes and steady gains in suicide prevention over the past decade or so (thanks to the concerted efforts of private and public sectors), a lot of work still needs to be done.
Such continued prevalence of work-related suicides is a sign that it’s time to look into a more “invasive” approach, something that cuts through the layers and goes deep into the very heart of the culture.
After all, suicide comes from deeply layered and deeply seated issues. And so do the other issues enumerated in the currently being proposed work-style reform legislation: long hours, gender equality, worker safety and aligning traditional work practices with digital innovation. Something radical, proactive and incisive might just be the approach we are looking for. I’m talking about Positive HR Management or HR+.
Building Strengths-based Workplaces
Developed first as a conceptual framework, Positive Human Resources Management is designed as a strategic tool to “help build more strengths-based workplaces that maximize the human potential and create more Positive Organizations and Institutions in the world.”
Also called “Positive HR” or “HR+,” it is derived from the science of positive psychology and its related offsprings, particularly Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) and Positive Organizational Behavior (POB).
With barely two decades since the introduction of integrating positive psychology to organizational setting, the theory and practice are still relatively in its infancy and thus continues to evolve, expand and open new areas of research, study and application. Positive HR is a way of continuing and contributing to the further development of the field of POS/POB.
Why Positive HR?
Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch once said that “Business is about people.” That is, no matter how much money, technology, intellectual property rights, materials and other resources an organization has, business results are still going to be delivered by and through people. Hence, it makes sense that people are indeed an organization’s most important asset.
In an organizational setting, the HR function acts as the steward of this essential organizational asset by carrying out the roles above in the HR value chain of recruit, retain and release.
However, the traditional roles that HR plays are experiencing new challenges to make itself relevant in the new world of work. The advent of globalization, social media and advances in positive psychology, neuroscience and sociology changed the work, the worker and the workplace in significant, often irreversible ways – and so must HR make meaningful changes, too. HR+ addresses this call for change.
The Core Elements of Positive HR
Mapped against the five core elements of modern human resources management, Positive HR is composed of the following core elements, with Positive Culture as the overarching element.
• Positive Recruiting
• Positive Performance
• Positive Pay
• Positive Development
• Positive Engagement
Here is a quick look at the action steps HR can take to utilize these core elements:
Performance profiling. Based on Lou Adler’s methodology, performance profiling transforms the traditional job description into a more dynamic, forward-looking and positive way of defining the job. How can HR apply this approach? One way is to focus more on the key performance indicators of the job (i.e., how does success looks like on the job?) and less on a list of activities and requirements [Adler, 2007].
Strengths-based recruiting. Instead of finding people to match a job, identify a person’s strengths or natural talents first and then find a suitable role/job for the person within the organization. As Jim Collins said: “Get the right people on the bus in the right seats” [Collins, 2001].
Behavioral on-boarding. Utilize onboarding practices that are explicitly designed to foster rapid and significant quality connecting for newcomers [Dutton, 2014].
Job crafting/redesign. Reconfigure or customize the job to fit a person’s strengths, passions and values to unleash motivation and engagement [Wrzesniewski, 2014].
Agile & rating-free performance management. Make performance management collaborative, future-oriented and growth- or strengths-focused through real-time feedback or conversations, just-in-time learning and flexible goals.
Positive deviant performance. Celebrate extraordinary, spectacular, remarkable performance to inspire a sense of wonder and awe. Focus on achieving the best of the human condition, not just on success itself [Cameron, 2014].
Total rewards approach. As an organization, communicate what you believe is important and valued through a combination of cash and non-cash compensation as well as direct or indirect forms of rewards that address both the intrinsic and extrinsic factors of motivation.
High-quality connections (HQC)-based rewards. Use team incentives to focus attention and motivation around collaboration, which fosters the building of HQCs [Dutton, 2014].
Strengths-based development. First, identify a person’s dominant themes of talent. Then, discover specific talents within those themes. Finally, refine these talents with knowledge and skills [Clifton & Hodges, 2012].
The Science of the Individual (SoI). Look up the study, “The Science of the Individual” that says “individuals behave, learn, and develop in distinctive ways, showing patterns of variability that are not captured by models based on statistical averages” [Rose, Rouhani, & Fischer, 2013]. To apply, advocate the shift in focus to individual strengths and weaknesses or edges (variability) rather than lumping people into categories based on the concept of what is average.
Paradoxical leadership. Also known as “Both/And” Leadership [Smith, Lewis & Tushman 2016] or “Competing Values” Framework [Cameron & Lavine 2006] where two or more competing values or leadership traits are used not against each other but along with each other. Instead of “either/or,” use the power of “both/and” to deliver results by leveraging synergies and distinction between opposing values or leadership traits.
HQC-focused development. Advocate the use of “play” at work to build new knowledge, generate new ways of interacting, and broaden action learning possibilities by evoking positive emotions [Dutton, 2014].
Job crafting/redesign into developmental plans. As opposed to the traditional employer-centric employee developmental sessions, job crafting empowers employees to take control. Let them shape key parts of the meaning and identity that they experience in their work, and in doing so change the boundaries of their jobs in ways that allow for personal growth and well-being [Wrzesniewski, 2014].
Thriving /Flow. The stage of employee well-being where people experience growth and learning marked by a sense of vitality and flow – a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation [Spreitzer & Porath, 2014 and Csikszentmihalyi, 1990].
Mindfulness. Train your mind to pay attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, through the practice of meditation, random acts of kindness, and other training interventions. The practice of mindfulness is strongly correlated with greater well-being and perceived health which results in higher engagement.
Radical collaboration. Build and maintain workplace relationships using the concept of Fundamental Interpersonal Relations
Orientation (FIRO) as your guide. According to the FIRO theory, “all human beings want to feel significant, competent and likable. All human beings also have some fear of being ignored, humiliated or rejected. How we feel about ourselves and others has a strong influence on our behavior, when we are acting together with other people. Rigid behavior in our relationships is the enemy. By becoming more aware of our defensive behaviors and fears, we can diminish our rigidity” [Tamm & Luyet, 2004].
Positive identity. Lead the process of (re)defining a person’s identity using images, stories and descriptions that are considered to be positive or valuable using the Grow, Integrate, Virtuous, Esteemed (GIVE) model and facilitating reflected best-self engagement [Roberts, 2014].
Positive emotions. Study the broaden-and-build theory which proposes that “micro-moments of positivity accumulate over time and put people on a trajectory of growth by broadening their awareness and building their resources for survival” [Fredrickson, 2001].
Impact meetings. Establish the practice of having the employees realize how their work and the organization’s day-to-day work has meaningful, lasting benefits to the actual end-users or customers of their products or services [Grant, 2014]. By doing this, employees can easily make a direct connection of the impact of their work for the greater good of the society.
Affirmative bias. Move toward enabling thriving and flourishing rather than addressing obstacles and impediments. However, Affirmative Bias does not necessarily ignore negative events but instead build on them to develop positive outcomes.
Mindful negotiations. Adopt a positive and conscious approach to negotiations, so you as a leader can bring out the best in yourself and others. Cultivate relational mindfulness and narrate emotions to co-create extraordinary economic outcomes and individual and organizational well-being [Kopelman & Mahalinga, 2014].
Thriving /Flow. Enable people to thrive at work by sharing information, providing decision-making discretion (empowerment), minimizing incivility, and offering performance feedback.
Positive Energy Network. Positive energy is characterized by a feeling of aliveness, arousal, vitality and zest which allow people to perform, to create and to persist as well as unlock resources and capacity within people to flourish and thrive [Cameron, 2013]. Develop a network of people with positive energy to create a butterfly effect that produces more benefits for both individuals and organizations.
Virtuosity. Enable virtuousness as part of the organizational culture by expressing gratitude, enabling forgiveness and facilitating transcendence [Cameron, 2013].
Positive ethics, positive deviant performance and positive identity. Foster ethical practices in an organization by ensuring the code of ethics is indeed enforced, hiring the right employees, doing an ethics audit, and reminding employees about a larger purpose [Mayer, 2014].
Marking the Next Stage of HR Evolution
The practice of people management has come a long way. However, HR needs to continue to evolve and even reinvent itself to meet the challenges of the ever-changing world of work. Your organization, for instance, can start your own drive toward Positive HR by studying positive management concepts and planning how the action steps above may apply to your organization. As such, Positive HR marks the next stage of evolution for the practice of people management and in the process, help create more Positive Organizations and Institutions in the world.
If you or your organization wants to implement Positive HR or any of its elements to help you create a positive workplace and engaged, happy and committed employees. Please send your expressions of interest or inquiries to email@example.com. You don’t have to see the entire stairs. Just take the first step.