Where Next With Positive Psychology

Earlier this month I attended the Global Strengthscope Practitioner Conference in London. A wonderful and inspiring conference where completely unexpectedly I was presented with the 2017 conference ‘Outstanding Contribution to Positive Work Practices Award.’ I was delighted and honoured and it got me thinking about what we have achieved so far in bringing positive work practices into the workplace and what we have yet to achieve.


There are some specific practices that stem from positive psychology that have and are definitely making their way into the workplace. Strengths awareness is one. Thanks to the work of Strengths Partnership and others the language of strengths, and, the ability to identify and measure strengths is an established work practice in many organizations. The need to help people work to their strengths is making headway in organizations. Only the other day I received an inquiry from someone in a large manufacturing automobile organization for a strengths framework to replace their competency framework. They wanted a ready to go, large scale complete strengths based process to support development from recruitment onwards. I was able to introduce them to BeTalent who have developed a fantastic, online strengths and related behaviour assessment and development process, suitable for use at scale, that is exactly what the inquirer was looking for. This ‘work practice’ is on the edge of mainstream practice.


The importance of mood or positivity to work culture and performance is making headway although still regarded by many as something to concentrate on after doing the difficult thing not as a way of doing the difficult thing. Positivity is central to Appreciative Inquiry, a methodology for change that can usefully be regarded as an operationalization of positive psychology for the workplace, which itself is definitely more widely known and practiced in the UK than it was when I started practicing in this way in the late 1990s. It is taught as an approach in our management colleges and these days people are more likely to approach me specifically asking for an Appreciative Inquiry intervention.


Wellbeing has long been a workplace concern, and the emphasis of positive psychology on flourishing and positive health has had an impact on workplace practices in this area. Nic Marks, previously of the National Economics Foundation and presently CEO of Happiness Works has been a pioneer in developing organisational ‘happiness’ or wellbeing measurement tools built from positive psychology principles. The development of organization-wide measurement processes allows positive work practices to be implemented at scale.


For myself, as a sole practitioner, my contribution has been more on a ‘bits and pieces’ basis. I bring the positive psychology perspective to bear on every assignment one way or another, and increasingly find myself an educator both in business and academia on positive psychology and its implementation in the workplace. I am able to run Appreciative Inquiry informed events, or run sessions on strengths, or help develop positive and appreciative leadership skills. And of course I have tried to spread the work through my writing. And I am not alone, there is a growing band of UK based positive psychology practitioners, thanks not least to the Positive Psychology Masters established at the University of East London by Dr Ilona Boniwell.


For the future my ambition and vision is for this to become a movement.


To this end I am already talking to people about establishing something akin to an Institute for Flourishing Organizations. I see such an organisation acting as a central hub for those attempting to create flourishing organizations in the UK, those seeking to work in such organizations and those with skills to help. In my mind it will be a home for those interested in this growing movement so they can find other like-minded people. I want it to act to bring the positive psychology and the Appreciative Inquiry field together around their shared ambition of creating flourishing at work.


My vision at present for such an organisation is that it would promote positive psychology practice in organizations; offer measurement and assessment processes, possibly a badge of accreditation; act as guidance for job seekers looking for organizations that ‘got this’; offer a resource for academics seeking research possibilities; bring together positive psychology and Appreciative Inquiry. This organisation would be where my friend who asked if I knew of organizations that worked in a strengths-based way so he could apply to them, and my colleague seeking a strengths-based alternative to competencies, could come to find answers.


I firmly believe we have enough knowledge and well developed practice now that we can offer a full organisational service that has something to offer or say to every aspect of organisational life from recruitment to strategy to downsizing. We know we can help organizations adopt more flourishing work practices on a piece by piece transactional basis, and I believe we know enough now to be able to develop a truly transformational way of organisational life fit for the challenges of twenty-first century life.


I can’t think of a more fitting way to build on the honour of the award and to create a lasting legacy of my nearly thirty years of contributing to positive workplace practices.


I’d love to hear any initial thoughts in response to this piece, and if you want to be involved in the conversation as it develops please let me know.