Positive Organizing in a Global Society
Editors: Laura Morgan Roberts, Lynn Perry Wooten, and Martin N. Davidson
Book Review by: Lisa Sansom
As a positive psychology practitioner who works in the field of Organizational Development, I have followed with some interest the slow pendulum of positive psychology since I attended the first IPPA World Congress in 2009. Following Martin Seligman’s ambitious call to raise world flourishing to 51% by 2051 at the congress, I entered the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. At the time, positive organizations were a very small component of the bigger field of positive psychology. Some were even debating if it would be possible to apply positive psychology research into the organizational context.
Fast forward several years to Positive Organizing in a Global Society. The workplace has only gotten more complex with multi-nationals, diversity, and increased disengagement – consulting firms like Gallup and Aon Hewitt both report that employee engagement is surprisingly low across most American organizations, and globally as well. There are a few positive outliers – and we can learn a lot from them – but for the average employee, engagement is a pipe dream and positive experiences at work are rare.
Bravo then to editors Laura Morgan Roberts, Lynn Perry Wooten and Martin N Davidson, and their formidable contributors, for this foray into the complexity. Through a series of short chapters (most are 3-4 pages long), the authors tackle important workplace topics such as multiple identities, relating across differences, inclusive and equitable systems, and innovative thinking. Some of my personal favourites were in the sections on authenticity and resilience.
Yet, these authors go further than simply bridging a gap between positive psychology and organizational research, they push the field to also contemplate the role of Diversity and Inclusion scholarship. These authors manage to provide a lens to explore issues of diversity, innovation, and belongingness in Positive Organizational Scholarship. They do this, remarkably, by creating a book that is in itself inclusive and accessible to multiple audiences by providing clear, empirical, and actionable insights. With a variety of diverse authors contributing to each topic, this book manages to address researchers, practitioners, novices, and experts alike.
As you might expect, the usual positive organizational scholarship suspects are featured prominently – Jane Dutton’s high quality connections shows up in more than one chapter, as do many recognized positive psychology topics such as strengths, you at your best, meaning, and self-determination. However, there are many new topics and interventions as well – practitioners working in diverse global organizations will find some of these chapters to be of important interest. The book is relatively niche in that it has a distinct focus on diversity and inclusion and there are many thought-provoking gems by each author.
As a practitioner, my favourite part of the book was the “For Practitioners” box at the end of every chapter. In this box, practitioners will find tips and ideas for applying the research discussed in the previous chapter. Some of these tips may feel familiar to those of us deeply engrained in the field (we know that mentoring is best, for example, when it provides for growth and development on both sides), yet there are also some truly innovative ideas presented with high potential to enhance workplace dynamics. I think my favourite chapter title might be “How Weird People Thrive in Organizations” – and that isn’t Jon Haidt’s WEIRD (western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic) either – it’s really the odd and unusual people that exist in most workplaces. Practitioners are encouraged to put aside their natural bias and potential aversion to adopt a learning orientation to “weird people” and encourage “mission-driven weirdness.” I’m excited and curious to see what that would look like and in principle, I love the idea!
Organizations are indeed messy places – it seems like you could take the best individuals and throw them together in an organization and they’d still get bogged down in bureaucratic red tape and rumour mills would erupt due to lack of communication. I’m not sure that we’ll ever figure that out. However, there is no reason for organizations to be continuously deficit-focused, and to forget that each employee is a person, deserving of empathy, recognition and strengths-enhancement. To quote from the chapter on Authentic Affirmation, “To facilitate the process of strengths-base development, we must develop inclusive, nuanced frameworks that are accessible to a broad range of cultural perspectives. Further, our POS-based tools and frameworks must be employed with cultural consciousness that will truly bring out the best in globally diverse individuals and groups.” Are we perhaps positive organizational dreamers? Maybe – but I bet that those who contributed to this book are not the only ones. Working together, using the ideas from Positive Organizing and other such resources, I do believe that we can help the world achieve greater flourishing, and create a home for positive psychology application in workplaces. This book is an important step in that direction.
About the Editors:
Dr.Lynn Perry Wooten is Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and Clinical Associate Professor of Strategy, Management, and Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, USA.
About the Reviewer:
Lisa Sansom is an Organizational Development Consultant at Queen’s University and is the owner of LVS Consulting, a boutique consulting firm that helps to build positive organizations. Lisa is an active Board member of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association. She is also the Past-President of the University of Pennsylvania MAPP Alumni Association.