Archive for December, 2010

How happy are your employees?

How happy are your employees? The answer can make a difference in your bottom line. Really. While this revelation isn’t necessarily a shocker, the reality is that knowing your employees’ happiness is linked to organizational success isn’t enough to make the achievement happen, according to Happiness Advantage author, Shawn Achor. In fact, it’s critical that you embrace some very specific strategies to create a positive mindset in your team. The results are astounding and based on groundbreaking research within the last 10 years in positive psychology.

For those of you who read the Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale back in the dark ages, you might be thinking this is a fresh spin on an old idea. Put away your Doubting Thomas perceptions and prepare to be dazzled by what the field of positive psychology has confirmed. “Happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result. And that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement—giving us the competitive edge” that Achor calls “the Happiness Advantage.” Achor further states that “waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success, whereas cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive.” The following is an excerpt from our Page to Practice interview with Achor as well as a glimpse of one of his Happiness Advantage strategies:

CausePlanet: You make an important distinction between understanding that happiness drives success and the principles that form positive behaviors. In other words, “information is not transformation” as you say. Can you explain this quotation for our readers?

Achor: I heard a sleep researcher once who said if you sleep 8-9 hours a night, you age slower. I asked how long he slept, and he said he is a sleep researcher so he stays awake all night watching people sleep. We often know what we can do to become happier–none of that information is new. But doing it is another thing. Common sense is not common action. The reason is it takes activation energy to get over the inertia of our current habits. But once we do, then we can start making positive habits that literally change the brain.

CausePlanet: What is the most common mistake that leaders make when trying to apply your principles in the workplace?

Achor: They think happiness means putting on rose-colored glasses, not seeing problems, thinking our teams are perfect, and that there is nothing wrong with the world. That is irrational optimism. What we are searching for is “rational optimism,” which begins not with a Pollyannaish view of the world, but with as realistic an assessment of the world as possible, while retaining an optimistic belief that our behavior and mindset will help change the world to a better place. Happiness is NOT the belief that we do not need to change. That is being complacent. Happiness is the belief that we CAN change.

Principle #7: Social Investment – Why Social Support Is Your Single Greatest Asset

When we’re under pressure to succeed, some of us turn inward, turn off the cell and hunker down. Two things happen at this point—we either fail to finish the project or we push through and cross the finish line only to be rewarded with another deadline. Either way, our tank is empty. Achor says the most successful people take the exact opposite approach. Rather than turn inward, they actually hold tighter to their social support and invest rather than divest. “They know that their social relationships are the single greatest investment they can make in the Happiness Advantage.” In fact, a 70-year study of men at Harvard found that the single most important factor in happiness, career achievement, occupational success and income was social bonds. Similar studies, too many to list, came to the same conclusions.

So how do we invest in high performance through social support?

We don’t have to look very far in the professional arena for examples, and positive psychologists say that connections don’t have to be deeply rooted to be beneficial. For example, IBM did an internal study of their employees’ social connections and found that every email contact was worth an additional $948 in revenue. They now are piloting a program in Massachusetts to facilitate the introductions of employees who don’t yet know one another. Google keeps their company cafeterias open beyond office hours, making it easier for employees to dine together as much as possible, and their employees are encouraged to visit their children throughout the day at the on-site daycare center. Companies like Southwest Airlines and The Limited have set up funds for employees who have medical or financial emergencies, whereby colleagues can literally make social investments and donate to the funds, further connecting employees to each others’ livelihoods.

Not all social investment programs have to be large or formalized. Simply facilitating conversation is important, such as one company that after realizing its employees liked chatting in the stairwells, installed coffee machines there. However, coercing employees into awkward icebreakers and sharing personal information creates mistrust. Another dynamic that’s important in the social support network is the vertical relationship between employee and manager. The bond between employee and manger is a predictor for productivity and retainability in a position.

Watch Shawn Achor describe the Happiness Advantage or learn more about other titles we recommend by following our blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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Engaging hearts and minds

Yesterday I experienced the equivalent of a “runner’s high,” except that my legs weren’t moving and my arms weren’t pumping. In fact, I sat very still and engaged my…ears. This wasn’t a calorie burning adventure; instead, it was an adventure of the mind.

I sat between two very inspirational nonprofit organizations during a session led by Perla Ni, CEO of Great Nonprofits, about the importance of great storytelling. Perla said, “The nonprofit sector is very fortunate when it comes to storytelling. You don’t need million dollar commercial budgets to create stories that make burgers or cars feel exciting. You are nonprofit organizations and you have many noble and compelling stories about the people and the causes you serve.”

Perla asked each of us to tell our own story to one another during a table exercise. While my mind spins and my pulse quickens when I can help a nonprofit leader with a helpful book or best practice on my website, my story was merely the warm-up act for the organizations that were at my table. On my left were Micklina and Mike with Community of Sudanese & American Women/Men, an organization dedicated to helping survivors of the Sudanese genocide, and on my right were Emily and Lisa with CASA Child Advocates, a nonprofit that gives a voice to children in court when neglect and abuse is involved.

Though each one of us has a compelling story to tell, there are specific strategies you can act on that will help it spread and grow. Here are some take-away thoughts from speaker, Perla Ni:

How to get started with integrating good storytelling in your organization from Demonstrating Your Impact: Engaging Hearts and Minds:

A good story will include a protagonist, a problem and overcoming the problem (sometimes, not overcoming the challenge).

Consider the personal stories you have about your organization’s impact from the perspective of an individual client, staff member, volunteer or member in the community.

Who tells the story is important: 90 percent trust product recommendations from friends, 70 percent trust recommendations from online consumer recommendations, (Nielson, 2009) and only 6 percent believe in advertisement claims (Forrester, 2009).

Think about how you can back up this story with data you have that relates to the program or setting where your story takes place. If you don’t have the data, engage a local university student who is interested in a research project.

If you have multiple programs about which you can share stories, choose two or three that highlight your strongest program. Those stories will eventually shed light on the other programs.

Develop those two or three stories and circulate them at the board and staff levels so they are shared consistently. Don’t be afraid of telling and re-telling on many platforms such as annual reports, brochures, email campaigns, and social media in particular because of networks’ potential, such as Facebook and Twitter, to spread your story more quickly and efficiently. Include photos and video whenever possible.

Listeners will need to hear a story, on average, eight times before they sink in. In cases where direct quotes are involved, do not correct grammar. The idea is to maintain the authenticity of the storyteller’s voice.

Though funders may limit proposals (i.e. foundations) to specific Q &A or data, use the site visit as an opportunity to share stories.

In the case of public policy, bring the storyteller to the legislative session if possible. If you don’t have a good storytelling prospect within your organization, enlist a peer organization for help.

See also:

Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog for posts about storytelling

More information about Kivi’s book, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, which includes a chapter on storytelling

Download an executive summary of Kivi’s book to learn more about what’s inside The Nonprofit Marketing Guide

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Brandish your sword in the workplace

We’re always told that if we reach success we’ll be happy. Our currently featured book, The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor proves that this formula is broken. This firmly held belief that we can’t be happy until we’ve reached success limits our potential to succeed because we withhold the very positive mindset we need to fuel our workplace performance. According to Achor and groundbreaking positive psychology research within the last decade, happiness is a precursor to success. We can work smarter and faster as well as enjoy better bottom line results if we allow ourselves, first, to be happy.

Now you are thinking about the colleague who always enters the room and has something critical to say about work or a project. Whether you have someone in the office who is like this or you are this person (!), everyone can benefit from a more positive mindset that will help them rebound more easily from setbacks and help them reach those elusive goals. Achor has researched and isolated seven principles that help you transform negative behaviors into habit-forming actions, positively affecting everything and everyone around you. Enjoy an excerpt from our interview with Shawn Achor and visit

CausePlanet: Your book dethrones society’s fundamental assumption that met goals mean happiness. Given that this broken formula has been reinforced for decades, what is the probability, in your opinion, that the reverse will be widely accepted in the near future?

Achor: I think that society is nearing a breaking point, which is usually when revolutions occur. We are seeing the highest rates of job dissatisfaction in the history of polling, and depression rates have doubled over the past decade. The companies, banks and schools that I have been working with are often the ones that were considered the bastions of the old guard of the success formula. And they have been the fastest to adopt these strategies, both because they realize the old formula doesn’t work, and because they want a formula that scientifically will help them move forward.

CausePlanet: The current pressure on the nonprofit sector to perform and fundraise despite the economic climate makes your principles especially timely. Which of the seven principles do you believe has the most immediate impact?

Achor: The Zorro Circle. The “Happiness Advantage” is the discovery that nearly every business outcome improves when our brain is positive, as opposed to stressed or neutral. When we think about all the tasks we have and the enormity of the goals we have set, it is easy for our brains to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, burnt-out and discouraged. That is the limbic centers of the brain “emotionally hijacking” us right when we need our brains performing at our best. The Zorro Circle is a strategy where you set aspirational goals, but then focus your brain down to the smallest circle of action you know you can be successful in. Once you have succeeded fighting within that small circle, maybe a single donor or a mailing, then your brain sees a “win” which activates it to take another step, then another, eventually expanding that sphere of action outward in concentric circles. This is what I call in my research the “cascade of success.” Only by setting small, manageable, concrete goals can we help our brains avoid paralysis in the face of our challenges.

Watch Shawn Achor describe the Happiness Advantage or learn more about other great titles we recommend by following our blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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