Positive Organizational Behaviour
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Positive Organizational Behaviour

A Reflective Approach

Miguel Pina e Cunha, Arménio Rego, Ace Simpson, Stewart Clegg

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eBook - ePub

Positive Organizational Behaviour

A Reflective Approach

Miguel Pina e Cunha, Arménio Rego, Ace Simpson, Stewart Clegg

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About This Book

Positive Organizational Behaviour: A Reflective Approach introduces the most recent theoretical and empirical insights on positive organizational practices, addressing emerging topics such as resilience, job crafting, responsible leadership and mindfulness. Other books on positive approaches tend to gloss over the limitations of the positive agenda, but this textbook is unique in taking a reflective approach, focussing on the positive while also accommodating critical perspectives relating to power and control.

Positive Organizational Behaviour provides an integrated conceptual framework, evidence-based findings and practical tools to gain an understanding of the potential of positive organizational practices.

This innovative new textbook will provide advanced management and psychology students with a grounding in the area, and help them develop strategies for building effective and responsible organizations.

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Part I


In the past, the authors of this book have written about evil organizations at length.1 Our interests in the ‘banality of evil’, to quote Hannah Arendt’s telling phrase,2 is not due to a fascination with the dark side per se; instead, the fascination we have is, from our perspective, a necessary antidote to the often panglossic tendencies of management and organization studies to always look on the bright side of life. To focus on exemplars of evil organization is to throw the characteristics of negative organization into sharp relief. Many contemporary organizations might not be out-and-out evil but they are extremely bad. From four management professors such a verdict may seem surprising; management is more often associated with a Whiggish enthusiasm that one must admit that things are getting better, all the time, a belief in the perfectibility of things worthy of Pollyanna. That such enthusiasm might be overstated is warranted by Jeffrey Pfeffer, a management professor at Stanford University, who recently noted ‘only four companies made both Fortune’s most admired and best places to work lists in 2015’.3 The small number indicates the difficulty of being both admired and positive. More often than not, as the Financial Times’ William Skidelsky described them:
Offices are often spirit-sapping places, incompatible, for many, with a sense of agency and self-respect. People also dislike having bosses: the prospect of not having one, surveys have shown, is a major motivation for going freelance. Having the freedom to work where you want, in your own time, rather than among people and in a place not of your choosing, are things that people increasingly value, and not only those at the top end of the pay-scale.4
Pfeffer’s observation is consistent with much negative portrayal of managers and organizations in popular culture and the media.5 It is also consistent with evidence suggesting that organizations and leaders can sometimes be a source of toxicity damaging to individuals’ health and life.6 Several factors explain the lack of positivity in popular representations of management and organizations.
First, there is a fundamental opposition at the very core of organization between (a) humanistic approaches to management and organization, emphasizing intrinsic, non-instrumental approaches to motivation and efficiency and (b), managerial approaches narrowly focussed on productivity with an instrumental view of motivation. These two views can be represented as antithetical7 and this opposition may ultimately be unresolvable. Debate hinges on opposing notions about humans: as people or as resources. Because of the importance of the ‘resource’ paradigm, people are often treated as just another factor of production, without giving serious consideration even to the most basic human rights such as respect, dignity and health.8 The result can be extreme, as some waves of recent workplace-related suicides signify.9
Second, the importance of a positive perspective may be discounted in its own right. So-called ‘soft skills’ can be viewed as nice to have rather than must have competences or, more formally, as preferential rather than constitutive attributes of managing and organizing.
Third, even organizations that aim to develop ‘soft’ attributes may discover that such development can represent ‘the hardest work of all’.10 As a result, given that talk is cheap, what distinguishes truly positive organizations is the fact that they practice what they preach: ‘At other places, managers say that people are their most importance resource, but nobody acts on it. At Southwest, they have never lost sight of the fact’, an observer of the airline industry exclaimed.11
Fourth, good management is much rarer than usually assumed. As revealed in a Gallup report on the quality of workplaces, managers account for a significant percentage of variance in worker engagement, as much as 70 per cent according to some authors (see Box I.1 on what good managers do). Furthermore, only 15 per cent of the global workforce is actively engaged12 (18 per cent is actively disengaged). The lack of quality and consistency in how people are managed complicates the creation of positive organizations.
Box I.1 What do great managers do?13
The Gallup organization defines five qualities of great managers. They:
  • Motivate employees and engage them with a valuable organizational mission.
  • Express the levels of assertiveness and grit necessary to get things done and overcome adversity.
  • Create cultures of accountability.
  • Build positive relationships.
  • Make decisions oriented to productivity, not politics.
This book contrasts with most other organizational behaviour textbooks, which tend to be embedded in managerialist assumptions. Managerialism holds efficiency, productivity and profit maximization as the ultimate objectives of good management.14 It further sees the manager as the main legitimate source of decision-making authority. It is these assumptions, we hold, that make work in so many organizations painful, with destructive effects on people’s lives in the broader society and the environment. Unfortunately, toxic managers and toxic organizations are often admired – since ruthless exploitation makes them appear to be efficient and to become rich (Box I.2).
The research on which this book is founded has been conducted by scholars engaged in what has come to be known as Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), a movement within academia that emerged at the turn of the millennium (discussed in Chapter 1).15 In adopting a positive focus, this textbook follows Kim Cameron, Jane Dutton and Robert Quinn, founders of the POS movement, in inviting you to imagine alternative possibilities for how we organize:
Imagine another world in which almost all organizations are typified by appreciation, collaboration, virtuousness, vitality and meaningfulness. Creating abundance and human well-being are key indicators of success. Imagine that members of such organizations are characterized by trustworthiness, resilience, wisdom, humanity, and high levels of positive energy. Social relationships and interpretations are characterized by compassion, loyalty, honesty, respect, and forgiveness. Significant attention is given to what makes life worth living.16
This textbook makes such positive imagining possible, as it is based on scholarly research, supplemented with copious real-life examples from exemplary organizations. Although we classify the research that is the basis for this textbook as positive organizational scholarship, not all of the academics who published these studies self-identify as POS scholars. Indeed, there is much research into extraordinary organizational practices that has been conducted outside of the POS movement. Some of this work, in fact, preceded the POS movement by decades. We nonetheless see this work as contributing to the objectives of POS, which informs the development of positive organizational behaviour. Accordingly, we hold that it is important to include this body of research within our textbook on positive organizational behaviour.
The scholarship presented in this textbook clarifies why being positive and admired, humane and lucrative, must not be opposite goals. Our defence of the idea may appear deceptively simple but a plethora of evidence suggests otherwise: being positive takes work. As we will discuss throughout the book, the positive and the negative interact (Box I.2). For example, seemingly positive processes of market growth may produce the sort of collective euphoria that has been associated with asset bubbles.17 Conversely, being optimistic may not be a recommendable trait for leaders responsible for running a nuclear power plant.
Box I.2 Should we deplore some admired entities?
On August 16, 2016, Amazon.com was depicted by The New York Times as a ‘bruising workplace’.18 Jeffrey Pfeffer commented on the article in Fortune magazine as follows:19
The recent New York Times profile of Amazon.com describing its relentless, high-pressure, measurement-obsessed culture is scarcely the first to depict what it is like to work there, either in its warehouses or its offices. While CEO Jeff Bezos has denied (no surprise) the accuracy of the reporting, a quick Web search reveals numerous articles painting a pict...

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