Unhealthy Work Culture: Focus on Strength to Turn the Tide

(Quantum Nudge Series, Part 2, Originally Published 2015; Read Part 1 in the Series)

Consciousness of our strength increases it.
— Marquis de Vauvenargues

In 2014 there were over 5,100 businesses selling corporate wellness solutions. These businesses are increasingly using strengths-based programs with a positive focus, and avoiding health RISK assessments as THE intro to wellness. People don’t like being told just what’s wrong. Risks are important to know, but clients respond better when we appeal more to their strengths. We also nudge most effectively when we emphasize positive factors not only in the individual, but also the work culture. The previous blog in this series defined the Quantum Nudge, focusing on heart  as a main quality. Here we describe the quality of strength, with nine practical tips for its development.

To help foster greater well-being, a quantum nudge is defined by both its heart-filled and strength-inspiring nature. To facilitate a healthy culture, change agents use both encouragement and strategy. We must find and appeal to client’s operational and human capital strengths, even when they are unaware such strengths exist. More importantly, we need to increase consciousness of our own strengths. Fortunately, we don’t have far to look. AMAZON.COM carries over 5,000 titles on resilience, and OWLS’ own resilience strategies have been shown to reduce employee stress. There is also growing interest in phenomena like thriving, flourishing, and the brain’s inner strength (also see Gallup Strengths, Energy Project).

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In the workplace, it is important to distinguish such psychological  resilience from operational resilience.  Every industry must build core workforce capacities to address challenges associated with that industry. Restaurants address turnover by maintaining a “core” staffing element, financial businesses continually monitor and update security protocols, transportation has back-up plans for schedule delays, call-centers have technical routines for communication hiccups, and construction as well as retail have alternatives for supply-chain problems.  Managers who have worked in these industries for any length of time know that success requires some redundancy, adaptability, as well as reward systems to reinforce these strengths and to keep learning as well.

So back to the quantum nudge: Isn’t it better to coach with the assumption that our client has many strengths, both operational and human capital? Don’t we create more value when we treat them as though their glass is more half full than half empty? Research suggests that when we expect better, we get better. For examples see the self-fulfilling prophecy, the placebo effect, or Pygmalion effect. There are limits on this what I dub “strategic optimism”(see here). However defined, these are all good things when they set in motion the positive growth cycle of the quantum nudge. And it all starts with knowing your own strength.

NINE WAYS TO INCREASE STRENGTHStrength mountain climbers

Below are a nine reminders that can increase consciousness of your own strengths and help you stay strengths-focused with clients.

  1. Tap into your own personal raw coping power. I put this first because it is most important. What is your resilience story? What is your daily mind-body practice? What is your routine for monitoring early stress symptoms? (Use these and other tools in Raw Coping Power.)

  2. Know that research supports a focus on strengths. Community-based prevention science shows that the more successful programs give at least as much emphasis to strengths as to risks. This is often referred to the “protective factors model” (Google it).

  3. Beware the “expert” mind-trap. Your training can get in your own way if you act as if you have all the answers. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. A caring nudge can be more effective than a string of well-informed suggestions. (cf. learner as co-creator, Paulo Freire; process consultation Edgar Schein).

  4. Explicitly train on resilience competencies. Our research suggests these Five Cs improve resilience: community (build teamwork, trust, and cohesion), confidence (self-efficacy, self-leadership), commitment (planfulness and perseverance), centering (mind-body practice, yoga, mindfulness) and compassion (support and de-stigmatization of help-seeking)

  5. Hunt the abundance of operational, psychosocial, and other strengths. Leave no stone unturned! Nudge in a way that allows the client to realize how strengths on the “business” side reinforce the “human” side (and that is a false dichotomy).

  6. Act ‘as if.’ Show passionate yet genuine confidence that your client is already on their way to success, even if progress is slow (remember “baby steps” in the movies What About Bob?)

  7. Articulate resilience, thriving, and flourishing. These are not all the same and it is important to know the differences between (a) bouncing back, (b) learning and growing from the bounce-back, and (c) adapting a continuous cycle of growth and prosperity. (see Raw Coping Power)

  8. Beware resilience as over-rated. This follows directly from the previous point but I think it needs emphasis. Keep setting your sights higher! Some clients, especially those in toxic situations or with severe trauma, really need resilience and reinforcement of the Five Cs…AND…I have seen amazing things happen when we compassionately set a higher bar.

  9. Talk about your own heroes and strength archetypes. I saved the best for last. Who is your favorite fictional character, spiritual figure, historical leader, sports hero, childhood hero, super-hero? Why? What do you resonate with in that person? Write about that and use that inspiration in your own work.

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