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Cultivating Your Organization's Humanity: How to Cultivate Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride



Many leaders strive to build high-performing teams that are efficient and results-driven. However, fostering solely performance-focused cultures can inadvertently undermine humanity in the workplace. Research shows that cultivating gratitude, compassion, and pride among team members leads to greater well-being, engagement, and performance (Dutton et al., 2014).


Today we will explore how leaders can intentionally develop these "softer" qualities on their teams through specific practices grounded in positive psychology and organizational behavior research.


Cultivating Gratitude


Research shows gratitude has wide-ranging psychological, social, and physical health benefits (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). At work, gratitude promotes resilience during challenges, strengthens relationships, and enhances job satisfaction (Kraus et al., 2019). As such, fostering gratitude on teams can reap dividends for individual well-being and organizational performance.


Express Gratitude Through Rituals


Implementing regular rituals where team members express gratitude to one another has been shown to increase feelings of gratitude over time (Bartlett et al., 2012). Some examples include:

  • Weekly "gratitude circles" where each person shares something they are thankful for about a teammate or their work

  • Monthly appreciation emails where team members are encouraged to thank others for their contributions

  • Peer recognition programs where accomplishments are acknowledged both formally and informally

For instance, a software development firm implements weekly team stand-ups where, in addition to status updates, each person shares something they are grateful for from the prior week's work. These gratitude rituals foster community and appreciation.


Profile Acts of Service


Highlighting specific acts of service that teammates provide one another reinforces gratitude norms on the team. Some methods include:

  • Creating a monthly "kudos board" where kind gestures or behind-the-scenes support is showcased

  • Sharing “success stories” about how teammates helped each other overcome challenges

  • Recognizing “service superstars” at quarterly all-hands meetings who go above and beyond

For example, a hospital system profiles "patient champions" each month - nursing assistants who graciously aid patients and colleagues alike. Showcasing service cultivates communal pride and spreads gratitude across departments.


Cultivating Compassion


Compassion involves recognizing suffering in others and desiring to alleviate it (Goetz et al., 2010). At work, compassion promotes cooperation, reduces conflict, and boosts well-being (Lilius et al., 2011). By developing compassion within teams, leaders can humanize cultures and optimize performance.


Practice Empathetic Listening


Research shows empathy - understanding others' perspectives - lies at the core of compassion (Decety & Cowell, 2014). Leaders can foster empathy through active listening exercises where teammates:

  • Partner up monthly and take turns sharing work challenges without offering advice, simply listening non-judgmentally

  • Participate in role plays where they step into others' shoes to understand diverse viewpoints

  • Conduct interviews to gain a deeper understanding of teammates' experiences and lives outside of work

For example, an accounting firm designates the last Friday of every month as "Empathy Friday" - encouraging partners and associates to have candid, judgement-free conversations to build empathy across divisions.


Coach Around "Small acts of caring"


Modeling and encouraging small acts of caring, like offering help or words of encouragement, spreads compassion through everyday interactions (Dutton et al., 2014). Leaders can:

  • Request teammates suggest ways they can support each other's well-being and work-life balance

  • Highlight compassionate gestures in team meetings to inspire others

  • Initiate casual check-ins to demonstrate care for individuals' whole selves

For instance, a manufacturing plant leaders rotate walking the production floor daily, checking in with various employees and demonstrating care for their lives outside of work. These human interactions breed an empathetic, compassionate culture.


Cultivating Pride


Organizational pride stems from feeling valued, respected, and meaningfully identifying with one's workplace (Carmeli et al., 2013). Research shows pride boosts effort, performance, and retention (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). By cultivating team pride, leaders foster loyalty, engagement and organizational citizenship.


Communicate the "Why" Behind the Work


Sharing the deeper purpose and societal impact of teammates' contributions fuels meaningful pride (Pratt et al., 2006). Leaders should:

  • Conduct quarterly town halls explaining how each division's work achieves the mission

  • Profile customer success stories to underscore the work's real-world effects

  • Publish case studies highlighting projects' broader significance

For example, a technology nonprofit holds monthly "Impact Sessions" where project teams present their work's community benefits. Clarifying purpose inspires pride in critical but behind-the-scenes roles.


Foster a Sense of Ownership


When teammates feel invested in decision-making and innovative solutions, they derive greater pride and satisfaction from their work (Britt et al., 2012). Leaders can:

  • Rotate facilitation of team meetings to give all voices a platform

  • Launch idea contests where employees propose process improvements

  • Constitute advisory councils for input on strategic plans

For instance, a film studio establishes an "Innovation Incubator" allowing staff to pitch new creative content ideas and pilot promising concepts. Empowerment breeds communal pride in shared successes.


Conclusion


In focusing excessively on results and efficiencies, leaders risk diminishing the humanity in their organizations. However, intentionally cultivating gratitude, compassion and pride among teams through research-backed strategies can optimize both individual well-being and organizational performance over the long run. When leaders foster rituals recognizing teammates' contributions, develop empathy through active listening, and communicate work's deeper purpose and employees' autonomy, they nourish their culture's humanity. Overall, proactively nurturing gratitude, compassion and pride may be among the most impactful "soft skills" a leader can develop to create thriving, engaged and high-performing teams.


References

  • Bartlett, M. Y., Condon, P., Cruz, J., Baumann, J., & Desteno, D. (2012). Gratitude: Prompting behaviours that build relationships. Cognition and Emotion, 26(1), 2–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2011.561297

  • Britt, T. W., McKibben, E. S., Greene-Shortridge, T. M., Herleman, H. A., Barnes-Farrell, J. L., Rabe-Hesketh, S., & Knudson, K. H. (2012). Self-engagement moderates the mediated relationship between organizational constraints and organizational citizenship behaviors. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 42(7), 1748–1772. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2012.00916.x

  • Carmeli, A., Reiter-Palmon, R., & Ziv, E. (2013). Inclusive leadership and employee involvement in creative tasks in the workplace: The mediating role of psychological safety. Creativity Research Journal, 24(3), 250–260. https://doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2010.541546

  • Decety, J., & Cowell, J. M. (2014). The complex relation between morality and empathy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18(7), 337–339. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2014.04.008

  • Dutton, J. E., Workman, K. M., & Hardin, A. E. (2014). Compassion at work. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 1(1), 277–304. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091221

  • Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.377

  • Goetz, J. L., Keltner, D., & Simon-Thomas, E. (2010). Compassion: An evolutionary analysis and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(3), 351–374. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018807

  • Kraus, S., Van Cappellen, P., & Sarinopoulos, I. (2019). Your place matters: Gratitude and well-being are heightened in natural environments. Journal of Positive Psychology, 15(5), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2019.1639717

  • Lilius, J. M., Worline, M. C., Dutton, J. E., Kanov, J. M., & Maitlis, S. (2011). Understanding compassion capability. Human Relations, 64(7), 873–899. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726710396250

  • Pratt, M. G., Rockmann, K. W., & Kaufmann, J. B. (2006). Constructing professional identity: The role of work and identity learning cycles in the customization of identity among medical residents. Academy of Management Journal, 49(2), 235–262. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2006.20786060

  • Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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