I visited ReadyTalk back in July and had the opportunity to meet and learn about this flourishing organization. You can read about my experience here. Suffice it to say, I was impressed.
As I travel the country studying the happiest companies and how their employees benefit, I’m learning a few things. Intuitively, I knew what I meant by a “thriving organization,” but I never really had to operationalize that definition into something concrete. Although my definition isn’t entirely concrete now, I have managed to come up with a few principles that thriving organizations seem to share.
First, thriving organizations have a clearly defined vision and everything they do spirals around that vision. A vision is “a statement of what is possible, the picture of the future you want to create.” It isn’t a strategic plan. It isn’t your goals or methodology. Companies that I study collectively know who they are, what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. If employees in a company don’t share this vision, or, in the case of some companies, even have this vision, then they will likely experience an internal entropy. Further, vision statements are inculcated into policies, procedures, strategies, and recruitment. It touches everything in the organization in an authentic and animated way.
Second, these companies are fortunate to have humble, democratic, and demanding leadership. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some stellar CEOs, Dan King right here at ReadyTalk being one. Thriving companies share a common principle in the type of leaders they enlist and in the way that they are lead. Jim Collins explored Level 5 Leadership in his seminal book Good to Great and I have found his assessment to be true, with an addition. Great leaders are both humble and a bit ruthless, as Collins suggests, but the leaders I’m meeting along the way also ignite curiosity. They promote curiosity, and subsequent innovation, by getting out of the way of their team’s strengths. They position themselves at the helm of the moving ship, not to steer or enact change, but to set the vision and preempt disaster. Anything but laissez-faire, these leaders put exceptional people around them, judiciously mobilize moving parts, empower their people to dig deep creatively and inspirationally, and then get the hell out of the way!
Third, thriving organizations embrace PERMA. I’m cheating a bit here. This helpful mnemonic actually stands for five principles (and I would argue that all of them are necessary for a company to thrive). They are Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaningfulness, and Achievement. PERMA is a concept originated by Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, and serves to push our rather myopic understanding of happiness into something that is less about feeling good, i.e. pleasure à la cupcakes and rainbows, and more about living a purposeful life, i.e. meaning à la engagement and flow. The attributes of PERMA provide the empirical building blocks for happiness studies and can single-handedly change how an entire organization functions. The framework for how this can happen is the idea for Glad Lab (www.gladlab.com). Through our research, we’re learning what PERMA looks like in companies. We want to help every company we encounter to reach the status of a “Thriving Workplace” simply because they are attuned to the nuances of PERMA in their organization.
The assembly of these principles is the wellspring from which a thriving company emerges, but my hunch is that it still takes something more to make it flourish. The intangible “X factor” (as it’s often called) is not easily identified or measured.
But maybe the sweet spot isn’t that nebulous after all.
Maybe it simply comes down to achieving results and treating each other with dignity along the way.
Either way, I’ll keep you posted.
Dr. Shelley Prevost is the Director of Happiness and resident cultural engineer at the Lamp Post Group. With 15 years of experience in the field of psychology, she provides a necessary counter-balance to the more logic-based business practices. At Lamp Post, she mentors others to attend to interpersonal relationships at work, to communicate openly and directly, to identify guiding values, and to mediate conflict efficiently. When she’s not directing happiness at Lamp Post, she can be found researching and writing for Glad Lab, a blog committed to proliferating the principles of thriving organizations.