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Perspectives on Positive Organizations: An Interview with Joyce Washington

I’m a devotee of Positive Organizational Scholarship and all the data-driven positive practices that arise from it. Beyond my work in this field, many of my classes for my Decision and Cognition major deal with making sense of behavior and decision-making, especially when it comes to strategies for behavior change. So with all this background under my belt, why have I felt so anxious lately at the prospect of introducing some positive practices to my team in my marketing class? I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Riverbank Consultant Joyce Washington. With her extensive experience in managing major organizational responses to provide aid for insurance customers and dedication to furthering racial and social justice, Joyce gave a lot of encouragement and wise insights on how to approach introducing positive change. I confided in Joyce about how nervous I was to ask my team to try out Keeps and Adjusts to reflect after our first couple meetings and assignments. When we first formed our team, I told them about my work with the Center for Positive Organizations and how I had lots of potential positive practices we could infuse into our work, and everyone seemed very open and receptive. But when it came time to try one out, I worried about someone shooting down the idea or it seeming like I was assigning an extra task or it backfiring if we didn’t handle critiques well. Joyce listened empathetically and shared her mindset on approaching change: “I think it’s clear that in any group, there’s going to be people who are open and receptive to change and new ideas, and there’s a certain percentage of people who are open and not quite sure, and there’s a certain percentage of people who can’t hear at all, for whatever their reasons. My approach has always been to remain authentic and inclusive.” Joyce emphasized that at the end of the day, everyone in a team or in an organization is working toward the same goal together. There’s common ground in what you’re all striving towards. By incorporating positive practices, we can try to make the journey more enjoyable. Oftentimes that will get us to the destination more efficiently at the same time, which is a worthwhile goal for any leader: “I think it’s important to understand that and to be okay that everybody won’t be able to see the world from your positive interaction. But as a leader, you have to continue to be inclusive of them and respect whatever their opinions might be. As the leader, you are responsible for getting the team to the goal.” Joyce granted that over the course of your career, sometimes you’ll run into people who don’t share your desire for positivity and may be negative for negativity’s sake, “but you can’t let that one or two people take you off track.” But of course, we have to be clear what we mean when we say negative: “Now, having differences of opinion isn’t necessarily a negative. You don’t want a bunch of yes-people because a bunch of yes-people will get you nothing. There’s no growth in that. There’s not a good return on your investment with a bunch of yes-people in the long term.” My team agreed to do Keeps and Adjusts, and we spoke openly and kindly about what we thought we were doing well and about our concerns for the project. As any new practice, it felt a bit strange, but that’s how it feels when you’re growing together and fostering open communication. I mentioned to Joyce how I was thinking of introducing another positive practice, this time in my team’s meetings with our client, but the nerves were springing up again. She suggested how I might present the idea of check-ins to our client, being clear and concise about what check-ins look like and the benefits from doing them. But what I found most helpful was Joyce’s encouragement and how she told me that, so long as they don’t become overwhelming, nerves are a good thing in this area: “Know that feeling anxious or nervous is a good thing because it helps you avoid being overconfident and arrogant. That’s a good thing. It’s a way of staying humble, and that’s a good thing in a leader. It’s okay to feel anxious and nervous.” My team’s next client meeting started with a round of check-ins, and later on, our client mentioned how she felt that we really understood her and how much she trusted us with her brand. Trying something new, even when it’s data-driven and pretty much a win-win like so many positive practices, can be intimidating. But that’s okay. Being nervous means that you care and that you’re engaged. And when your goal is to make life a little bit better for yourself and those around you, taking that leap is sure to be worthwhile. Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing.


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