How Does Positive Organisational Behaviour Turn Into Positive Organisational Performance

Positive organisational scholarship researcher Kim Cameron reports that flourishing organisations, that is organisations that are success as well as being described as great places to work, exhibit three key cultural characteristics.


A strong interest in learning from positive deviance

All organisations have an interest in learning from negative deviance, that is, when things go wrong. Rather less have an interest in learning from positive deviance, when things go right. But they are missing a trick. We now know that very often the root causes of success are not just the polar opposite of the root causes of failure. Taking an active interest in learning from exceptionally good performance allows organisations to increase their ability to succeed.


The modelling and promotion of virtuous actions

There is still a strong organizational story that suggests that a successful organizational culture is hard, macho and dog-eat-dog with little time for sentiment. By contrast Cameron’s research has found that organisations that promote virtuous actions, by which he means things such as kindness, patience, humility, generosity and forgiveness reap the benefits in organizational performance. A moment’s thought suggests this makes sense as such an environment means people are likely to take more learning risks than in a blame orientated culture with a minimal toleration of mistakes or errors. Of course the learning process still has to be managed, but the recognition that people are human and that in any human system error is inevitable helps liberate learning behaviour and reduce blame avoidance and buck-passing.


A strong bias towards affirming the best in people and situations

Cameron found that his exceptional organisations had a real bias towards noticing and affirming the best in people. We might say they had developed skill with their appreciative capabilities as well as their critical ones. Being affirmed in your essential goodness as well as your particular strengths helps boost confidence and morale. It also affects motivation. People grow towards the best reflections of themselves. Reflecting back the best of people helps them attain their potential.

This collection of behaviour actively promotes two organizational processes that lead to improved performance


Upward virtuous circles of positive emotion and behaviour

When we see others displaying exceptional virtue, we are inspired to emulate them. People behave better in the company of the better behaved. The kind of culture described above contributes to a self-reinforcing virtuous circle of people feeling good, therefore being more inclined to do good things, therefore more likely to be observed by others behaving well, who in turn are more likely to be inspired to behave at their best, with colleagues, customers and suppliers. All these little bits of behaviour add up to a performance culture.


Social Capital

These three key organizational behaviours also contribute to the development of good social capital. Social capital describes the levels of trust and connection between departments or divisions in an organization. High levels of social capital promote good information flow and low-level decision-making and problem-solving, all of which contributes effectively to local and global performance.

More on these and related topics can be found in Sarah’s book Positive Psychology at Work.

See more articles from the Knowledge Warehouse on this topic here.

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