A step by step guide to our research process…
Our research into ‘Best’ began with a positive psychology approach focusing (naturally) on the positive, what is working and why are employees staying in their jobs, rather than on negative issues such as employee turnover.*
In 2000, Seligman put forward the idea that psychology suffers from a “preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life” and neglects to build on positive qualities.
He suggests that by also focusing on the conditions that support well-being, contentment and happiness, psychology will learn to “build the factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish”. We couldn’t agree more!
Our research aimed to further study the idea of ‘best at work’ but in the context of a few different work environments to make sure we were on to something. The context was slightly different in terms of the industry but also in terms of the definition of what ‘best’ looks like.
We started with an initial case study in a well know department store. They have great Christmas adverts…
We visited 3 different stores: The one with the highest performance, the one with the highest levels of employee engagement (staff survey) and the one with the longest serving staff. We spent two fascinating days in each, observing and talking with staff and in total interviewed 42 staff across the sites – using appreciative inquiry questions.
We also asked members of the stores to complete a questionnaire – a learning point for us here – it was very long and I didn’t get a huge response. But after interviewing, we used Nvivo to code the themes. We had assigned the themes on internal characteristics and behavioural expression. You can check out the background to that choice here.
Having coded these themes in terms of internal characteristics and behaviours, we did a cluster analysis and found consistent elements of
across each store. These elements are beginning to appear in additional studies we have conducted in different working environments too. Rather exciting is that that perhaps we are getting closer to describing what best is like within these stores!
The so what, or Pow factor of this research seems to be indicating that the following are key to being at your Best*:
In terms of the internal characteristics – I have passion and pride and I am confident that I am contributing were two of the most common themes. And in terms of behaviours the most common was I take ownership for delivery.
One little surprise that came up from the research was actually from a conversation starter activity. We gave our test subjects a sheet of words and asked them to highlight which were important to them personally. We then asked them which were fed or supported by their work. An average of 93% of the words highlighted were also supported by their work.
One interpretation here is that there is potentially some sort of values connection exists for these individuals.
This throws up a whole lot more questions for us to consider, as there are particular implications for business as well as for coaching and development practitioners.
We’re getting closer to having a confident framework to describe a shared meaning of being at one’s best in work. And the next step for us is to illustrate the implications of this framework in terms of providing greater definition to the notion of positive workplaces and the application to work structure, people management practices, personal development, learning and development interventions and recruitment and succession planning.
We just need to remember to take it one step at a time!