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)