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The Power of Positivity: Change Management using Principles of Positive Psychology


"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." The saying speaks for itself: find the positive in a tough situation to bring about success.  When looking at people's behaviors, for example, studies have shown that reinforcing good behavior tends to be more effective than punishing the bad. This isn't to say that negative behavior should be overlooked, of course. The principles of positive psychology tell us that focusing on success rather than failure can be a powerful tool to enforce and maintain individual (and ultimately, organizational) change.

Positive psychology, as the name implies, focuses on the more positive aspects of human thoughts and behaviors. According to Psychology Today, "Psychology has traditionally focused on dysfunction...Positive psychology, in contrast, is a relatively new field that examines how ordinary people can become happier and more fulfilled."1 Let's build upon this concept in organizational change management.

In our line of work in change management, success is typically results-driven, dependent upon outcomes such as growth, profit, and increased employee performance. However, a recent study at Stanford University suggests that; believing that we can improve our abilities may be more important than simply believing that we can perform a task.2 Believing that we can improve upon and change our behavior increases our self-efficacy, or our personal assessment of our ability to reach a certain goal. By increasing the organizational self-efficacy of a client, we as consultants are able to help implement an "innovative [and] risk-taking culture of happier employees" who believe they can successfully change their behavior. (This leads to those successful results I mentioned earlier.)

How can we build up this "organizational self-efficacy"? How about...

  • Instead of "Learning from failure," try "Learning from failure and success."

  • Instead of identifying "What is not working and why?" try "What is working and how can we build on it?"

  • Instead of "What are some areas of development?" try "What are the client's strengths and how can they use them more? How are their strengths and development areas related?"3

Traditional methods of "building the case for change [aren't] enough - It must be comprehensible, manageable and meaningful to all employees in order to be successful." Principles of positive psychology aren't just methods we can use as individuals to feel better about ourselves, although this can certainly be a plus. Lacking a positive view of the client's processes and culture prevents us from enabling lasting change. Showing a client how they can build upon what they're good at allows them to believe they can achieve change, creating an engaging challenge rather than an overwhelming obstacle to overcome.

Try approaching your next change management engagement with these ideas in mind. The client will benefit - I'm positive!





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