If you want your team to be more productive, focus on fostering as much happiness amongst them as possible.

A new study in the Journal of Applied Behavioural Science found that organisations that promote positive and virtuous practices in the workplace outperform those that don’t; and I mean “outperform” in the hard-headed business sense. As the lead author of the study, Dr Kim Cameron, explains: “When organisations institute positive, virtuous practices they achieve significantly higher levels of organisational effectiveness – including financial performance, customer satisfaction, and productivity … The more the virtuousness, the higher the performance in profitability, productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement.”

In virtuous, positive organisational cultures, staff demonstrate friendly interest in and care for their colleagues, provide kindness, support and compassion when colleagues are struggling, forgive mistakes and abjure blame, inspire one another and treat each other with integrity, trust, respect and gratitude.

When they’re in place, they buffer against the unavoidable negative events life throws at us all, such as stress, and they increase staff loyalty, retention and productivity.

How can you cultivate positive practices? Cameron and his associates identify four core principles:

  • Leadership. The organisation’s leaders must exemplify the practices they want to see implemented. That means demonstrating the kindness and caringness they’re seeking to nurture in others and looking for caring characteristics in interviewees.
  • Culture. Studies show this trumps strategy time after time in predicting performance. Telling people, gratis, what you value about them may seem like a small step, but it can become contagious and spread. That’s a virtuous contagion.
  • Small steps. Just encouraging staff to “positively embarrass” one another every day or keep gratitude journals is another small change that fast gathers momentum and alters the culture with it.
  • Workshops and retreats: these give opportunities for employees to think deeply about positive practices and leadership, as well as what needs to be done to turn them from wishes into realities. They can also be fun.
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