Using the Positive to Bring Out the Best in Employees


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Last weekend, I had the chance to attend the 4th World Congress on Positive Psychology, a conference hosted by the International Positive Psychology Association, attended by both researchers and practitioners. In case you aren’t familiar with positive psychology, here’s a definition from the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania:

“The scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.”

My colleagues and I chose this conference because we believed that a number of the underlying principles of positive psychology would apply to our work on customer experience (CX). Our belief was confirmed and we’ve summarized the implications of a few key themes across the four CX core competencies. You can read more about the event and the connection to CX in this summary.


I was particularly interested in learning how positive psychology can be applied to within organizations, and how these techniques can lead to success in raising employee engagement and driving change. Here are just a few highlights from the sessions I attended:

Seek out and share positive examples to bring out the best in everyone. Positive psychology is grounded in looking for examples of positive deviance—simply stated, where performance is better than the norm—and using those examples to address improvement opportunities or drive change in an individual or an organization. Organizations need to surface and feature employee success stories so that they can be celebrated and used to inspire the desired behaviors in others.

“Organizations are the soil in which employees grow.” The environment inside an organization either helps employees flourish or founder. When employees flourish and bring their best to the workplace, the organization benefits and grows as well. This starts with establishing the right set of values and beliefs, then ensuring those are infused into leaders’ actions and supporting practices like hiring, daily routines (e.g., morning huddles), role definitions, and reward programs.

Employees thrive on purpose and meaning. Meaning can come from many different things in the workplace—from having learning opportunities to experiencing high quality interactions with others. One powerful tactic to align this to CX is to connect employees to the company’s customers or end-users. Two ways companies can do this are by creating ways for employees to meet and hear from customers directly or by providing employees the opportunity to experience the company’s product themselves, as Four Seasons Hotels does by giving employees free overnight stays.

If leaders want to accelerate change, then they need to change what people see as possible. When leaders are able to get people to see that things don’t have to be the way they are, and then actively model the positive behaviors to that will make the change successful, they create opportunities for their people to follow their lead. By painting a picture of what’s possible, leaders actually generate more willpower in employees to go after that vision.

What happens when elements of positive psychology become part of an organization’s fabric? Research shows that individuals are more resilient, able to think more broadly, learn more, become better corporate citizens, are more satisfied and engaged in their work, and have improved health and well-being. Teams become more collaborative and creative, and organizations benefit from enhanced cooperation and strong employee and customer engagement. Collectively, this creates a self-reinforcing cycle that enables individuals and organizations to excel together.

Aimee Lucas
I am a customer experience and employee engagement researcher, advisor, speaker, and trainer. I focus my work on guiding clients on how to optimize their employee and customer experience management programs, identifying and publishing EX and CX best practices, and shaping the future of experience management (XM). I have over 16 years of experience improving service delivery and transforming the customer experience through people development and process improvement initiatives.


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