What are the Implications of Best?

implicationsWhat do we do with this new found information?

Having set out to explore the shared meaning of being at one’s best at work* and developed a confident framework to describe it, let’s consider the implications of the this new understanding.

We’ll take a look at a number of workplace applications we can put this framework to work in.  Knowing that being at one’s best involves both positive subjective states and positive behavioural patterns, the workplace environment needs to acknowledge and address both of these aspects of the individual.

Our research* into positive workplaces identified a range of characteristics that are linked to the framework and are reflected in the frameworks themes yet there was no clear definition of a positive workplace.  So perhaps the framework could help to provide some structure to that definition?

One where people feel positive about their job, themselves and their colleagues and they are demonstrating behaviours related to achieving, supporting and interacting?

Totem Lollipops

Organisations wishing to develop a positive workplace will therefore need to attend to the structure of the work and the relationships surrounding it.  They will need to ensure that the work is structured in a way that provides opportunity for individuals to demonstrate the positive behavioural patterns of the framework.

Whilst achieving the goals of the work and organisation are often the rationale for the workplace structures, in order to develop a positive workplace there also needs to be more interaction between individuals and opportunities for them to be able to support each other in developing the goals.

Creating interaction with ‘customers’ is perhaps more difficult in back office environments however even in these circumstances internal colleagues are benefiting from the work completed so could be seen as internal customers.  There’s a clear rationale for greater interaction and communication within teams and between teams.

There are also implications for people management practices.  The framework highlights the importance of both behaviours and subjective states.  People management practices often focus on the output of the individual – their achievements.   Competency assessments of individuals focus on the achievements through behaviours.  Whilst achieving behaviours are a key element of being at one’s best in work they remain just a single part of the framework.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Acknowledging the importance of supporting and interacting behaviours are also vital alongside attending to the personal subjective states of individuals.  If these become part of the recognised and prioritised actions of the workforce then there is likely to be less silo working and more collaboration.   The additional focus on attending to individual’s subjective states is likely to demand even more interpersonal skill from managers.

The support they will require in being able to handle the complexities of emotions in the workplace also becomes important.  The framework however could act as a diagnostic for when individuals are not at their best and this will help to prioritise appropriate interventions.

Whilst the organisation and managers need to encourage a positive workplace by attending to both subjective states and behavioural patterns, the responsibility for being at one’s best however must also lie with the individuals.

Personal awareness and development needs to attend to both subjective states and behaviours.   By structuring learning and development interventions to provide insight and development in terms of the subjective states and the behavioural patterns of the framework, greater improvements to the workplace and to performance are likely to be seen.

How organisations plan and recruit for future needs is also impacted.  Traditional competency assessments purely focus upon the achievements whereas the supporting and interacting behaviours are also necessary to evidence.  Investigating the subjective states of individuals will also give an indication of how likely one is to see the individual at their best.

The understanding of being at one’s best that the  framework provides has clear implications for individuals and organisations.  Understanding is the starting point, what is done with that understanding is likely to make the difference between simply being “OK” at work and being at one’s best in work.


(*Addicott 2015)

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Psychological Capital

12It’s a bit like hope, but with a purpose!

As part of our continued updates from our PhD studies, we’re exploring Psychological Capital or PsyCap, (which we really aren’t keen on as an abbreviation)  Psychological Capital is an umbrella term for the personal resources we have, specifically our self-efficacy, optimism, resilience and hope.

There’s a brilliant book about it which we’ve reviewed here.

These resources have been shown to help us engage with our work, develop a positive mind-set and deliver great performance.  Some have even gone as far as saying that it underpins the value in an organisation.  So making sure that we have each in abundance will make all the difference to our experience at work as well as our productivity.

So let’s take a look at those four factors individually:

Self-efficacy is a term that has been around in the academic literature for a while.  It’s about whether we believe that we are able to contribute and this has been shown to have a significant effect on our performance and the goals that we set ourselves.   It’s not about just telling ourselves we can do it – it’s about an honest evaluation and creating a plan to ensure that we are able to contribute.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Developing our self-efficacy is about listening to the conversations we have in our minds and the self-limiting beliefs we might hold, challenging them and taking action to ensure that they are eradicated.  So what are your personal limiting beliefs?  And how can they be challenged?

Optimism is another term that we’ve all come across.  As a part of our psychological capital, it represents our disposition and is not necessary linked to ability, but it has been linked to reduced stress and improved commitment and performance.  You can read more about Optimism here.

Hope – whilst optimism involves expecting a positive outcome, hope focuses on the actual execution of reaching goals, thus linking it performance and goal pursuit.  Individuals high in hope are likely to find a route to achieve their goals and adapt their route as it changes and challenges occur.  Three incredibly bright researchers named Luthans, Youssef and Avolio refer to two components of hope:

1) will-power (motivation) and

2) way-power (capacity to determine alternative methods to reach a goal).

Which is quite different from our day to day understanding of hope.  Without hope, the will to accept challenges is not present and the way to overcome those challenges will not be found.  Two more super clever researchers Peterson and Byron found that hopeful sales employees, mortgage brokers and management executives had higher job performances.

Totem Lollipops

Resilience – whilst the behaviour related to resilience could be described as persistence, resilience is a wider capacity found at a personal or emotional level.

Luthans described resilience as:

“a positive psychological capacity to rebound, to ‘bounce back’ from adversity, uncertainty, conflict, failure or even positive change, progress and increase responsibility”

This suggests that resilience produces a buffering effect whereby engagement is maintained despite burnout-inducing job demands.  It’s been demonstrated that there’s a link between resiliency and the performance of sales staff; finding a positive correlation with their adaptive selling behaviour.

And if you follow this link, we have a fair bit more to say on resilience!

Most importantly each of the components of Psychological Capital can be measured; can be developed over time and have a positive impact on performance.

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Getting The Full Picture

Totem-Picture-400x265What Our PhD Has Taught Us So Far

Part of the process of writing up my PhD has demanded a theoretical review of concepts such as ontology (the nature of reality) and epistemology (the nature of knowledge & meaning).

This has taken me through the world of philosophy, meta-physics and back to psychology. Have no doubt…. My brain hurts! But I’ve found that the result of the mulling has really helped in decision making at work, in planning and in challenging myself and others to think more creatively.

What if you are a part of a leadership team trying to evaluate options or strategies for the future?

I thought it might be interesting to share a couple of the big questions that were involved in that journey…. And how I now have become more comfortable on the fence!

So the two big questions, philosophers and theorists have asked that relate to how research is designed:

  • What is reality?
  • Where does meaning come from?

In terms of the first question about reality, theorists call this your ontological perspective. In simplest terms it’s a question of whether we are uncovering reality (i.e. it is pre-existing) or whether we are discovering reality as a product of engaging with the world (i.e. it is relative to experiences and frames of reference)1.

Totem Lollipops

If I think that facts need to be uncovered then my approach is going to be about measurement and numbers.   My experience as a business owner highlights that whilst I can get a whole lot of measures and numbers to describe the state of the business, the reality can sometimes be very different.

My profit and loss might say one thing but comparing that to the market, our vision, expectations and the experiences we have had along the way mean that I may draw very different conclusions than when I simply look at the numbers. It is the conclusions that we draw that inform what we do so the value of both viewpoints on reality is helpful.

If we are taking the view that reality is pre-existing, it is also helpful to challenge ourselves to consider the frame of reference that we are describing that in and consider other frames of reference – surely that gives a more considered view?   Equally if we are taking the view that reality is relative, it is helpful to challenge ourselves to consider what measures we have to describe that.

Acknowledging where our thoughts are on that question will help us to know where we need to focus our extra efforts – to get the fuller picture.  That fuller picture will involve numbers and words.

Jelly Bean Diversity

The second question is all about the nature of knowledge, how do we know what we know?  Theorists call this your epistemological perspective, this time there are three camps: the objective stance suggest that meaning exists independently; the constructionist stance takes the view that meaning is developed; and the subjectivist stance suggests that without the person there is no meaning1.

This actually completely informs the way that we make sense of our world.  If we are looking for the objective truth we are seeking a measure of success.  If we are looking for how that truth has been developed then we can get a sense of growth and change.  If we are looking for how each individual interprets their world, our search may be longer but certainly there will be many colours to the interpretation!

In my work as a psychologist, I cannot avoid the evidence that I have that people interpret things in different ways and change their views based on their interactions with people.  Does that actually mean there is no objective truth?  Some would say yes, I am not sure that the two statements are necessarily linked.

Totem Gummi Bears

What is more important is to acknowledge what we are wanting to get to and the limitations that will have: a statement of fact (that may be flawed in some contexts); clarity on development (that may be difficult to define); or a very personal clarity (that may not be clear to others).

So whilst my brain hurt as I read about the differing philosophical stances I had to conclude that whilst I may have a preferred camp, acknowledging that and looking at the differing views can only add to my experience and the value of the research that I will produce.  You might not be sitting on the fence like me but asking yourself these questions can only help you develop a fuller more meaningful picture of the context and world that you are operating in:

  • Do I think reality is relative or needs to be uncovered? How does that inform my conclusions?  What else can I do to get a fuller picture?
  • Do I think that meaning is personal, developed or objective? How does that inform what I do?  What else can I do to get a fuller picture?

1 Crotty, M. (1998) The Foundations of Social Research. London: Sage

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Our Research Journey

steppingstonesA 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…

Totem Lollipops

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

  • Developing
  • Challenging
  • Focusing
  • Passionate

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!


(*Addicott 2015)

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People at their Best

bestWhat do we really mean by People at their Best?

“When are you at your best?” It’s a question that often comes up in coaching.  So often it’s suspicious!

We find that the question helps to understand the behaviours and the feelings that individuals are experiencing and where the gaps might be in their current situation.

The goal of many of our development interventions is often stated as simply wanting to get the best from people.  But what does that mean?

Could a shared understanding of being at your best in work lead to faster identification of issues to resolve and more focused development interventions, whatever they may be?

As business psychologists, we like to keep up to date with the latest research and understand what can benefit our clients.   One of the areas that we have seen have great impact is the notion of working to strengths – first understanding them and then working out how to make the most of them.*

Jelly Bean Diversity

Certainly for Totem, understanding what each of us does well and gets a kick out of doing has really helped us allocate work more effectively and be more productive.  Yet there are still days when we’re not necessarily at our individual best – we all have those days, when we are distracted or just ‘not in the zone’.

Unpicking what we mean by being at our best will help us to quickly remedy distractions or other limitations.  This will be useful on an individual basis, in coaching or in designing development interventions for clients.

Our research* started with two questions – one that we ask our coaching clients quite regularly and one that is asked of us quite regularly:

When are you at your best?

How do I get the best from my people?

The consistency of the language and descriptions people use in describing best made us question if there is something underlying that – a shared meaning of what being at your best when at work encompasses.

If we can clarity and understand what we mean by being at your best – it becomes an accessible tool for management conversations and prioritising organisation’s development investments.

Keep checking back on our research, because we really feel this concept has got legs and we’re curious to see where it leads.


(*Addicott 2015)

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Jumping Through Academic Hoops

fire1 400x265The mullings of a procrastinating researcher!

Now that I am two thirds of my way through my PhD research and getting stuck into the lengthy writing up, I’ve found myself asking the question “why am I doing this?” (with a gasp of exasperation, at times!).  I have to remind myself of my purpose when I started:

Defining when we are at our best in work will help to structure self-reflection, performance management and coaching conversations and will help with the prioritisation of development.

Yup – that makes sense but “why am I doing it so academically?”  It is that question that has taken a lot more thought.  With my practitioner hat on, I want to speed things up and just get on with working with clients and seeing things change and improve.  My researcher hat seems to mean that things are slower and there are a lot of hoops to jump through.  But it is those hoops that form part of the reason why I’ve taken the academic approach:

Understanding where it adds to existing knowledge

The process of my literature review has been challenging but also wonderfully enriching.   I’ve purposefully reviewed literature that might relate to being at your best.  In doing that, I’ve gained new insights from things that I thought I already knew – like all the fascinating work around Flow from Csikszentmihalyi where he found that people were more engaged and ‘in flow’ when their activities have clear goals, immediate feedback and skills that are balanced to action opportunities.  How helpful is that when designing or planning development?!

Asking the big questions

The academic process of reviewing, before you get stuck into any research:  ontology (what is reality?) and epistemology (how can I know reality?) has been really fascinating and helped to direct how I structure the research.  My research question came about as a result of questions from clients and questions to coachees.  There was such consistency in their responses that I began to question if we had an undefined shared understanding of what it means to be at your best in work.

Jelly Bean Diversity

That falls into the view of knowledge and reality of Social Constructionsim – we use language and images to create meaning and is our lens for interpreting reality.   So I saw myself as a detective…. Someone trying to uncover what that shared meaning is – that meant I would need to investigate the words and images used when we are at our best.

Sound structure

With words being the basis of my research, I needed to understand what good qualitative research looks like.  With my background in psychometrics, I’ve been used to the quantitative approach where reliability and validity are shown statistically, with clear guidelines to demonstrate rigor.  I’d always assumed qualitative research was less robust somehow.  How wrong was I.

Creating a sound structure to the qualitative research, rooted in the social constructionist way of viewing the world has been a journey of discovery and a whole other article for me to write.

The key has been to develop a structure to the research that ensures it remains credible, transferable, dependable and authentic.  Those have been my principles for qualitative research.

Peer reviewed

This has been the scary bit!  Having spent hours mulling, interviewing, analysing and writing things up, it all gets read and pulled apart by others.  I’ve had one academic viva already (another one soon and one at the end of the process) – where I shared the findings so far with other academics.   Instead of a 45 minute meeting it turned out to be an hour and a half of great discussion and debate which I found really helpful.

Totem Lollipops

I also presented ‘my work so far’ at a colloquium (fancy word for academic conference where you share your findings) – I had ten minutes to share what I’d done followed by 20 minutes of challenges and questions.  Again, I actually found this invigorating and so helpful to be able to respond to the questions posed by experienced qualitative researchers.

More recently, I was selected to write a chapter in the ABP’s forthcoming book Partners in Progress.  The editorial process demanded quite a bit of labour but it was so valuable in honing my thoughts.  There is probably more editorial labour ahead with a couple of academic journal articles in the offing but no doubt at the end of that process I’ll be even more refined in how I explain being at your best in work.

So that is where I am at… I know why I am doing this research and why I am taking the academic approach…. I’d best get on and do it then!

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LMS Conference Speaking Session

speechWhen people say ‘we are at our best*’ do we have a notional understanding of what that means?

It’s certainly an easier term to use in discussions with non-academics than the more lofty concepts of engagement, potential, performance and commitment.  In fact, we recently had to qualify our research* in front of a panel of academics – what a fascinating challenge!

Here are some snippets from our day:

Do we have a shared meaning of what it means to be at your best or are we all thinking about different things?

Our research* uses an iterative process to explore whether we have a shared meaning of what it means to be at your best in work and this presentation provides the results from the initial stages of that research process.

The research takes a social constructionist approach where meaning comes into existence in and out of the interaction with the world and as such demanded a predominantly qualitative and interpretive design.  Starting with a literature review, an overlap in the definitions and descriptions of the concepts of engagement, performance (including high potential) and commitment were identified so the question arose – does being at your best reside in the overlap of these concepts?

To examine this further interviews and questionnaires with staff in three retail stores (within the same organisation) took place: the highest performing store; the store with the highest staff engagement survey results; and the store with the longest serving staff.

Totem Lollipops

Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) provided the framework for the analysis of results.  Using Nvivo software, themes within the interview transcripts were coded and interrogated to ensure each theme was distinct.  Results were compared with questionnaire data, other research evidence and were shared with participants to ensure they remained meaningful and appropriate. The themes formed the basis of a tentative framework to describe the shared meaning of being at one’s best.

The question remained as to whether findings were specific to the organisation or relevant to other contexts.  Further investigations have taken place to explore whether the findings are context bound or indeed relevant elsewhere.  Initial analysis suggests there are clear consistencies with the tentative framework of being at one’s best and will be subject for future presentations.

The consistency in the themes and descriptions of experiences within the three retail stores provided the basis of the tentative framework, involving: internal elements – the emotions we feel when we are at our best; and external elements – the behaviours we display when we are at our best.  This high level of consistency and the support from wider research provides some support for the notion that being at one’s best may reside in that overlap of concepts and a tentative framework describing the shared meaning of being at one’s best.

A clearer understanding of what it means to be at our best in work could have far reaching implications – for individuals aiming to develop and for organisations looking to provide an environment and support for those individuals.  The research* process may also have implications for future explorations of shared meanings.


(*Addicott 2015)

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