Thriving: What It Is and What It Takes

March 7, 2013

By: Shawn Quinn

Originally posted on the LIFT Blog

“Employees are not just satisfied and productive but also engaged in creating the future—the company’s and their own.”

“Employees have a bit of an edge—they are highly energized—but they know how to avoid burnout.”

Do these two sentences resonate when you think about your employees and your organization? As managers and leaders, no doubt all of us would answer yes—even if a bit of wishful thinking is involved.

Thriving—truly thriving—is possible and even likely when you factor in the latest research on what you can do to move your organization more in this direction, and what happens when you do.

Those two descriptive statements are what Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath use in their research on organizations and employees that thrive. How do they define thriving?

Vitality: “The sense of being alive, passionate and excited” (which sparks energy for themselves and others around them)

Learning: “The growth that comes from gaining new knowledge and skills”

So that’s the culture of thriving. What’s the result? What is the difference between “thrivers” and employees?

  • ·         16% better overall performance
  • ·         32% more committed to their organization
  • ·         125% less burnout
  • ·         46% more satisfied with their jobs

The duo’s research clarifies that one component—vitality—without the other—learning–doesn’t lead to the desired effect—and the truly phenomenal statistics that result.

That makes sense. You may be able to see how what you do makes a difference, you can know that you are leveraging strengths, and you can care deeply about the outcomes of the work you are doing—and yet, if you don’t feel challenged, if you are not expanding your capabilities and gaining new knowledge, you will get bored. And it’s obvious that learning without vitality often lead to burnout: If you’re not receiving energy in the learning process, you find you are expending a great deal of work without a payoff, let alone satisfaction and even joy of taking on and meeting new challenges.

Even greater vitality and learning in your organization are possible when four particular mechanisms are in play, Spreitzer and Porath found. Again, the results are improving performance, reducing burnout and turnover, and sustaining the improved performance.

1. “Provide decision-making discretion.” The real test on this one is when people make mistakes or things go wrong. A real opportunity for learning and growth and greater confidence exists, but many managers try to control more and don’t really want to give their people decision-making discretion.

2. “Sharing information.” Do people all levels in the organization get chances to understand and discuss the strategy and how it connects to their job? Do they get to see they real numbers, and are they taught how to interpret the numbers? Are they asked to set their own goals and come up with solutions when they are not on track with the key aspects that impact those numbers? Have the senior people really experimented and worked enough with the organization and customers to understand what truly impacts numbers and goals?

3. “Minimizing Incivility.” The hundreds of subtle ways that employees are demeaned on a daily basis can be shocking. Do you give as much weight to and spend as much time as necessary to find out what kind of person you are higher in and how they treat others? If someone has many years of technical experience and has delivered good numbers in past jobs, but people hated working for them, would you hire that person? If that person already works for you, are you aware of it, and have you done anything about it? What do you do to reinforce civility every day on your team or in your organization?

4. “Offering Performance Feedback.” Do people receive feedback only at their annual or biannual reviews? Do you regularly watch for what people are doing right and how they can improve on a daily basis and finding opportunities to share specific examples with them? Are you creating a culture where feedback is learning and doesn’t end even if things are not going well—in which it doesn’t mean people are bad?

If you are willing to experiment with these mechanisms until you get them right for your team or organization, you will learn to create greater performance that is not only sustainable, but has the potential to grow exponentially—performance, commitment, an absence of burnout and turnover, and true job satisfaction.

*To read the study, see Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath, “Creating Sustainable Performance, Harvard Business Review, January-February 2012.