Most of us go to bed thinking about the work that didn’t get done and the tasks that are still on the list instead of recognizing what went well and how we moved the needle forward, even if only a little. That makes sense, since humans are wired to focus on the negative. This is evolution’s way of keeping us alive.
For CEO’s and leaders running organizations, it’s important to acknowledge this natural negative lean. This is especially true when people in work organizations are constantly bombarded with problems to solve, roadblocks to remove and a never ending set of tasks.
Leaders that don’t intentionally create a positive organization will have a negative organization by default. Here we will explain why being positive is so damn hard, the benefit of a positive organization on both productivity and engagement, and two research backed programs that leaders can prioritize to create the positive shift.
Bad is Stronger Than Good
Research shows that due to evolutionary adaptation, we have a negativity bias, or a built-in tendency to focus on the negative over the positive. To put it simply, bad is stronger than good. We see this in the news when stories that frighten us make headlines, but positive stories receive very little air time. We see this in work organizations when negative feedback is perceived to have a greater effect than positive feedback.
We also experience this in our self-talk, being judgmental about how much we didn’t accomplish versus focusing on how we contributed and added value each day. Even some of the most successful creative geniuses fall into this natural negativity trap. Walter Isaacson takes us through the life of one of the world's greatest polymaths in his new book, Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci’s areas of expertise are so expansive, the best way to conceptually organize them is alphabetically. He was an anatomist, a botanist, a chemist, a draftsman, an engineer, a geologist, an inventor, a mathematician, a painter, and a sculptor to name a few.
Da Vinci was one of the most accomplished and successful humans in the world. Two of Da Vinci’s paintings, the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, are the most reproduced paintings of all time. As an anatomist, he was the first person ever to draw the lungs, the reproductive organs, and the first scientific representations of a fetus in-utero. Da Vinci wrote one of the most expensive manuscripts of all time, The Codex, which was purchased by Bill Gates for over 30 million dollars. He accomplished all of that within a relatively short, 67 year lifespan.
Five centuries have passed since his death, yet we’re still learning from him. As the story goes, Da Vinci died in France in the arms of King Francis I. His last words were, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” Perhaps the most brilliant and accomplished person in the history of humanity beat himself up for not doing a better job!
The Benefits of Positive Organizations
Reading Da Vinci’s last words highlights the negativity bias that affects even the most talented among us. So why should this matter for every CEO and company leader?
Out of the 70,000+ leadership books prescribing steps to create high performing organizations, Positive Leadership by Kim Cameron stands out among the rest. Not only is it grounded in empirical research, Positive Leadership proves that organizational performance and thriving employees are directly correlated, not mutually exclusive. In other words positive organizations that develop practices that enable employees to thrive are also among the top performing and most successful.
Organizations that are intentionally positive outperform organizations that are not, and organizations that are not intentionally positive are by default, negative. Positive organizations are organizations characterized by both high performance and high engagement.
Below, we will highlight two research backed programs that leaders can implement to turn their companies into positive organizations where both employee performance and engagement are at their peak:
Weekly Check-ins and One on Ones
Positive CEO’s provide managers with the tools they need to offer regular feedback and coaching to their employees. Ongoing and regular one on one meetings are a proven methodology to turn managers into positive leaders and create a culture of positive communication.
Research shows that one on ones not only improve engagement but also improve productivity and the completion of key objectives. In academic studies, teams that initially implemented one on ones and then stopped saw a decrease in performance after those brief meetings were removed. Once one on ones were reimplemented, performance soared as a result. One on ones are the most high leverage meeting a manager can have to directly impact team productivity, goal accomplishment, morale and engagement.
Recognition: The Magic 5:1 Ratio
Positive organizations are characterized by positive leadership, and positive leadership is characterized by positive communication. Leaders can build a culture of positive communication through a cadence of solid recognition from managers and peers.
According to Gallup, a culture of recognition not only boosts employee engagement, but also productivity and retention. Research shows that in high performing organizations, the ratio of positive to negative statements is 5:1. Positive statements are those that express appreciation, support and helpfulness whereas negative statements express criticism, disapproval, dissatisfaction, and cynicism. As a leader, it’s important to ask yourself, what does your organization sound like? Do you hear more criticism or more praise?
Communicating effectively is a top strategy for CEO’s who are interested in building positive organizations where both organizational performance and employee engagement thrive. Performance Management Technology helps leaders implement the types of recognition and feedback programs that matter most.
Similar to Da Vinci, even the best of us are poor judges of our own performance, which is why leaders need to be intentional about providing feedback and developing programs that allow their teams to do the same. Imagine if the king had given Da Vinci praise for his many accomplishments. Would he have been more encouraged? How else would the world have been impacted?
About the author: Courtney Bigony (@CourtneyBigony) is Director of People Science at 15Five (@15Five), the leading performance management platform, and founder of The Deep Feedback Movement, where she provides actionable insights for People Teams based on the latest social science research.
This post was originally published on 15Five.