Positive Psychology of “Climate Management”
President, International Network on Personal Meaning
Coquitlam, B.C., Canada
Every organization wants to see
its members perform at an optimal level and enjoy a high level of
personal satisfaction and well-being. But how can they achieve this
Let’s consider two academic departments
in a prestigious University. Both departments share the high performance
culture of the University, and both are well known for their scientific
contributions. However, the similarity ends here.
Department “A” has the reputation
of being a high-pressure and ruthless place to study and work. The
chairman is a mean-spirited, demanding taskmaster. There is constant
intense competition within the department. Its graduate students
feel that they are working with a sword over their heads. In the
last five years, three graduate students have committed suicide.
The turnover rate of professors in the department is also high.
In contrast, Department “B” has
the reputation of being a very stimulating and pleasant place to
work. The chairman is a very caring mentor. Everyone in the department
is treated equally with dignity and respect and there is a real
sense of cooperation and community. The prevailing attitude is that
no external pressure is necessary because their graduate students
are a very selected group of very gifted and highly motivated individuals.
Both professors and graduate students enjoy the positive, supportive
climate in the department.
Similar comparisons can be made
between organizations and business firms. The observation is always
the same: optimal performance is more likely to happen in a positive,
meaningful work place than in a negative, oppressive work environment.
What makes the difference is the work climate!
The main thesis of this paper is
that competence in “climate management” is just as important as
competence in technological knowledge in improving productivity
and work satisfaction.
“Climate management” differs from
traditional ways of motivating workers, because it attempts to address
the basic human needs for personal significance and meaning from
a collectivistic, holistic perspective. According to this approach,
the most effective way to produce a highly motivated, dynamic and
enthusiastic work force is to create a positive, meaningful work
Work climate refers to the psychosocial
aspects of the work environment as perceived by the workers, reflecting
the “chemistry” of an ensemble of individuals working together.
Within the organization different departments may have a different
kind of work climate, but there is also an overall work climate.
The two arms of climate management
are: (a) creating a positive workplace and (b) creating a meaningful
workplace. The “positive” arm is concerned with how workers feel
about themselves, their co-workers, the administration and the organization,
and how well people work together. Its main focus is on the psychosocial
aspects of organizational life. A positive workplace means that
the organization is an enjoyable, pleasant place to work because
people get along well and treat each other with respect.
The “meaningful” arm is concerned
with the ethos, the leitmotif of the organization – what makes it
“tick” and what really drives it. Its main focus is on the existential,
motivational aspects of organizational life. A meaningful workplace
means that the decisions of the administration make sense and that
the work being done is meaningful. Together, these two arms of climate
management will enhance job satisfaction and productivity.
Climate management represents a
paradigm shift – from self-centeredness to considerations of others,
from self-interests to a higher purpose, and from individualist
to a collectivist orientation. Simply stated, climate management
aims at creating a positive, meaningful climate through humanizing
the work place.
The single greatest threat to business
success or organizational health is internal strife, whether it
is due to pretty jealousy, turf-fight or cultural conflict. Internal
strife drains emotional energy, reduces productivity, and makes
the workplace very unpleasant. Money, perks and rewards on the basis
of individual performance may have the undesirable side effect of
creating conflict among workers.
In contrast, climate management
emphasizes that creating a positive, meaningful climate is everyone’s
business. It requires the intentional, conscious efforts by all
workers. The overriding motive is that such a work climate is good
for everyone, from the management to part-time employees.
Management needs to set the tone
and introduce policies and practices that contribute to the creation
of a positive, meaningful climate. People need to be educated that
a positive group dynamic does not happen spontaneously; synergy
in a team does not occur spontaneously. It requires knowledge and
For example, treating people with
respect and dignity, and doing everything with complete honesty
and integrity are just some of the practices that will contribute
to a positive, meaningful work climate. But to implement such practices
on a daily basis throughout the whole organization requires a clear
vision and complete commitment from senior management and all employees.
The seven dimensions of a positive
A number of authorities on management
have emphasized the linkage between a company’s social climate and
its business success. They have presented a convincing case that
the quality of an organizations life is related to its ability to
achieve great things at work.
A positive work climate is not
a fun-filled place, a lot of warm fuzzy stuff or a place for relaxation;
it is a positive, supportive climate which is conducive to creative,
productive work; it is a cooperative, civil workplace that is relatively
free from bad mouthing, back-stabbing or petty bickering.
On the surface, work climate may
be characterized by several descriptors such as (a) Unfriendly –
Friendly, (b) Unhappy – Happy, (c) Cold – Warm and (d) Unsatisfied
– Satisfied. But these are superficial indicators, which do not
tap into the underlying dimensions of the work climate.
On the basis of available management
literature, I propose that there are at least seven underlying dimensions:
(a) Controlling – Empowering, (b) Oppressive – Supportive, (c) Secretive
– Open, (d) Suspicious -- Trusting, (e) Disrespectful – Respectful,
(f) Divisive – Unifying; and (g) Political – Professional.
The last dimension requires some
explanation. Being political means that decisions are made and actions
are taken on the basis of power, personality, and connections, whereas
being professional means that decisions and actions are guided by
principles, processes, reasons, and group interests.
When incompetent and insecure bosses repeatedly
make irrational, stupid decisions that hurt the company for no other
reason than flexing their own muscles, we can be assured of reduced
morale and productivity. When promoting is based on loyalty to the
boss, rather than competence and contribution, again, job satisfaction
and productivity will decline. That is why in many ways, a highly
political environment is a very unhealthy workplace, where everyone
is walking on eggshells, and no one wants to do anything that may
get them into trouble.
There are right and wrong ways of creating a
positive workplace. Some hierarchical organizations try to maintain
a positive climate by expelling anyone who dares to question the
management and silencing all those who have real grievances. The
message to the workers is, “Just do what you are told, and don’t
ask any questions; if you listen to us and do a good job, then we
will reward you. But if you question our decisions or policies,
then you better get a job elsewhere, and we don’t care how talented
and productive you are.”
This controlling and oppressive approach will
not succeed in creating a positive climate, no matter how many “spin
doctors” the management hires for the Human Resource Department,
no matter how many perks they offer to the workers. On the contrary,
this kind of heavy-handed, manipulative approach will only demoralize
the workers and create a climate of fear, distrust, and resentment.
The right way of creating a positive climate
is to reinforce practices and attitudes that demonstrate empowerment,
support, openness, trust, and respect for the individual, unity
and professionalism. There are specific actions to boost anyone
of these seven values. For example, if the administration is serious
about empowerment, it should stop trying to micro-manage everyone,
and give people the responsibility and power to make decisions in
their domain. To foster such a climate requires sustained, system-wide
commitment to these values, starting from the Senior Administration.
However, the payoff will be great, because nothing is more rewarding
to the gifted workers than a positive, supportive work climate that
allows them to develop their full creative potential. Furthermore,
an organization is more likely to become organic and synergic if
everyone practices the seven values.
Many organizations have been dysfunctional for
so long that the determination to embrace the seven positive values
may not be sufficient. Given the depth of injury and mistrust, senior
administration needs to begin with apologies and amends in order
to demonstrate their sincerity for reform. We cannot just conveniently
turn a new page and pretend that all the mistakes and injustices
committed by senior management never happened. Healing is needed
when there are so many workers who have been abused and wounded
psychologically by the management. Renewal is more likely to happen
when there is forgiveness and reconciliation.
The seven pathways to meaning
There is a meaning crisis in business as well
as in life. This meaning crisis is twofold: cognitive and existential.
With respect to cognitive meaning, the workers want to make sense
of what is happening around them, and what is being done to them.
Implementation of the seven values of positive workplace will take
care of the need for cognitive meaning. For example, when there
is complete “openness” in decision- making and communication all
workers will be able to know what is happening in the workplace,
and whether the decisions make good sense.
With respect to existential meaning, more and
more workers want to have a sense of meaning and purpose for what
they do. They will be more enthusiastic about their work when they
know that their work is meaningful
My research has shown seven pathways to meaning
that can be readily applied to management and leadership:
- Achievement – Challenge workers to achieve
and celebrate every small success.
- Acceptance -- Accept everyone’s limitations
and weaknesses with grace.
- Relationship -- Build a sense of bonding
- Intimacy -- Be sensitive to workers’ need
to develop intimacy and care for the family.
- Self-transcendence -- Model the practice
of transcending self-interests in order to serve others
- Religion/spirituality -- Recognize the legitimacy
and importance of religious and spiritual pursuit
- Fairness -- Treat workers with equality,
justice and fairness
These seven pathways appear to be universal,
because our current research with samples in India, Korea, Japan
and China has indicated that these sources of meaning are present
in all these Asian countries, even though each country also has
its own unique path to meaning.
The human need for personal meaning and significance
is pervasive and strong; therefore, meaning fulfillment can be a
powerful motivator. Organizations that meet these needs will have
a very motivated, enthusiastic work force.
I have presented the positive psychology of
climate management as a promising alternative to the traditional
ways of generating optimal performance. The appeal of climate management
is that it seeks to address the basic human need for personal significance
and meaning, which transcends culture and geography. Climate management
also favours a collectivist approach, emphasizing the importance
of working together and caring for each other. Therefore, management
competent in climate management seems to have an advantage in a
multicultural or cross-cultural context