What if we were all nice people?

Professor Adam Grant, is an organisational scholar who undertakes research into pro social behaviour and is one of my favourite reads.

In his book ‘Give and Take’, he defines people in one of three ways. Mostly people are ‘givers…people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.’ Some others are ‘matchers… (who) aim to trade evenly’. And, thankfully, far fewer of us are ‘takers – those who strive to get as much as possible from others’.

And yet many of our organisational policies and processes are about regulating and monitoring the worst of individual behaviour, perhaps assuming there are many more ‘takers’ in our employ than is actually the case.

As a positive psychologist I am often wondering what a positive organisation would look like, based on an assumption that most people want to do the right thing by their employers. Granted, there will always be ‘matchers’ and ‘takers’, but what if we assume that people are generally good, not bad, what might the organisation processes look like?

Work design would be flexible and play to people’s strengths

When people want to give their time willingly, jobs are designed with high levels of autonomy, flexibility and team co-operation. They are structured around an individual’s strengths and each individual would feel able to build and mould their work and, because they want to help others, they would be doing so with the greater good in mind.

Recruitment and selection would be overhauled

Selection is such a competitive process. Take assessment centres: currently individuals are placed in highly stressful, competitive environments and asked to role play often very alien situations. Rarely are they asked to act in a benevolent, team based manner. Individuals who are powerfully confident and competitive respond to the assessment centre environment. This may not necessarily be the case for givers. Recruitment and selection therefore needs a radical rethink. In the very least it needs to give the ‘givers’ better opportunity to demonstrate their value.

Performance management would be positive, future focused and exploit strengths, not weaknesses

Forced performance rankings are meaningless and counter cultural in an environment where everyone helps others. Individuals are recognised via peer review for the support, coaching and mentoring they provide others. Performance discussions are based on an individual’s strengths, building on the successes of the current year with exploration into how to apply strengths in new ways for the good of the business.

As fMRI scanning suggests any mention of numbers and rational data is a distinct turnoff to a learning centred brain, performance ratings (if they MUST happen) would be treated separately to a performance coaching discussion which is ongoing, positive and strengths based.

I don’t know of any organisations that demonstrate these processes in action, do you?