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Strive to Thrive Creating a culture that works for people and the bottom line With Gretchen Spreitzer, Professor of Management and Organizations, University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Happy employees are more productive than unhappy or ambivalent employees. But what does it take to promote happiness in your organization? In a high-performing workforce, Gretchen Spreitzer, professor of management and organizations at Ross, says workers need to thrive. And to thrive, she says their workers need two key ingredients: vitality and learning. Her recent research shows that employees with vitality and opportunities for learning perform better, are more committed to their jobs, have less burnout, and miss less work. In other words, engaged and thriving employees deliver more sustainable individual and organizational performance. “A thriving workforce is one in which employees are not just satisfied and productive, but also engaged in creating the future— the company’s and their own,” she says. “Thriving employees have a bit of an edge— they are highly energized—but they know how to avoid burnout.” Over seven years, Spreitzer and Christine Porath, assistant professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, researched the benefits of having a thriving work force and the factors that enhance or inhibit it. They, along with colleagues Cristina Gibson of the University of Western Australia and Flannery Garnett of the University of Utah, surveyed more than 1,200 workers in various industries about learning, growth, personal energy, retention rates, health, overall job performance, and organizational citizenship behaviors. The team found that people who fit their description of thriving demonstrated 16 per cent better overall job performance and 125 percent less burnout than their peers. They were 32 per cent more committed to their organization and 46 per cent more satisfied with their jobs. They also missed much less work and reported significantly fewer doctor visits, which meant health care savings and less lost time for the company. “Vitality is the sense of being alive, passionate, and excited,” Spreitzer says. “Employees who experience vitality spark energy in themselves and others. Companies generate vitality by giving people the sense that what they do on a daily basis makes a difference. “Learning is the growth that comes from gaining new knowledge and skills. People who are developing their abilities are likely to believe in their potential for further growth,” she says. Spreitzer and Porath say that vitality and learning work in concert—one without the other is unlikely to be sustainable and may even damage performance. For example, people with high energy and high learning were 21 per cent more effective as leaders than those with only high energy. Those with high energy and low learning were 54 per cent worse when it came to health than those who were high in both. “The combination of vitality and learning leads to employees who deliver results and find ways to grow,” Spreitzer says. “Their work is rewarding not just because they successfully perform what’s expected of them today, but also because they have a sense of how they contribute in a more significant way tomorrow. In short, they are thriving, and the energy they create is contagious.” So what does it take to create a thriving work force? Spreitzer and her colleagues say managers can employ four measures—each reinforcing the other—to promote a culture of vitality and learning in their workplaces: 1. Provide decision-making discretion — Let people rise to the occasion. Micromanagement doesn’t work. Empowering workers at every level to make decisions makes them more engaged and committed to what they’re doing, more responsible for it, and provides more opportunities for learning. 2. Share information about the organization and its strategy — Doing your job in a vacuum is tedious and uninspiring. People contribute more effectively when they understand how their work fits into the big picture; there’s no reason to look for innovative solutions if you can’t see the larger impact. Take time to ensure everyone gets the overall plan. 3. Minimize incivility — Incivility has many negative impacts to a work culture. Employees are likely to narrow their focus, avoid risks, and lose opportunities to learn in the process. Corporate culture is inherently contagious. Promote civility, hire for it, and breed it into your culture. 4. Offer performance feedback — Feelings of uncertainty are counterproductive. Feedback enables people to know they are on the right track and keeps people’s work focused on personal and organizational goals. The quicker and more direct the feedback, the more useful it is. Organizations such as Alaska Airlines, Zingerman’s, Quicken Loans, and Caiman Consulting have implemented these practices to boost performance. LE With Gretchen Spreitzer, Professor of Management and Organizations, University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Visit www.execed.bus.umich.edu 33 leadership excellence essentials presented by HR.com | 04.2014


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