Organizational culture can be defined as the “basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members (…) operate unconsciously, and that define (…) an organization’s view of itself and its environment” (Schein 1986). Organizational culture is a “learned response” to an organization’s problems rather than an innate characteristic of it; an end and a means to dealing with survival and integration; is “highly ‘visible’ and ‘feelable’”; and affects both individual and organizational performance (ibid). A study on “growth outliers” investigates companies - across industries, geographies and size - that have prospered over long time periods (McGrath 2012). The seemingly contradicting traits of stability and innovation are what distinguish them. Without significant investment in establishing corporate values and a supportive culture, these high levels of stability and innovation would not have been possible (ibid).
The tools by which organizational culture can be managed can be formal or informal, implicit or explicit. Perhaps of more importance is identifying where the responsibility for and power behind such efforts reside. Given the benefits to organizational performance, it serves all of management to actively create an appropriate culture. The most vital role of leaders is to “embed” culture as necessary, and that what distinguishes great leadership from mere management lies in the ability to create, manage and destroy culture rather than act within in it (Schein 1986).
While seeking happiness may seem like a natural notion today, it is surprisingly modern and dates back merely to the Enlightenment (Stearns 2012). The surge of ‘happiness culture’ coincided with the birth of psychoanalysis in the late nineteenth century, and by the 1920s, it inspired new corporate directions from Disney’s “’make people happy’” motto to McDonald’s “’happy meals’”
(Paul 2011; Curtis 2002). This association of products with happiness stimulated sales and explains much of the persistence of ‘happiness culture’.
It gained further momentum with the advent of positive psychology in the 1990s which focused on nurturing wellbeing rather than solely treating mental illnesses. Its founder, Seligman, identified
“learned optimism” as the means by which a person could attain optimal functioning (Sanzotta
1979; Paul 2011). However, deeming all optimism as good and pessimism as bad is oversimplified and inappropriate. Praising employee’s good work goes a long way to providing them with job satisfaction. Conversely, praising an employee when it is not deserved prevents improvement in performance, cheapens words of praise to those who do deserve it, and causes unhappiness
(Sims and Lorenzi 1992). Positive reinforcement theory defines positive management as the
“process of creating positive consequences for employees who perform well” (ibid). Reinforcement 1
refers to the increased probability of continued behavior, and whether it is positive or negative depends on the nature of the consequence. Thus, contingent and effective reinforcement is key.
(Sims and Lorenzi 1992)
Today, positive psychology has developed into pursuing “’a life of well-being’” rather than
“happiness” per se (Paul 2011). Espousing positive emotion is now only one of Seligman’s four tenets towards achieving this goal. The remaining are: engaging with one’s profession, attaining a sense of accomplishment, and establishing good relationships (ibid). Sanzotta defines personality as the continual interaction of cognitive, emotional and behavioral processes. Both optimism and pessimism are powerful motivators, and although managers often underestimate the effect, it is the emotional component that makes them so (Sanzotta 1979; Paul 2011). Positive feelings stimulate employee action and creativity more powerfully than rational motivators. It also supports their persistence during uncertainty, and encourages