The theme for the Western States Communication Association (WSCA) Conference 2015 was Accentuate the Positive. I shared my use of the Positive Observation Forum in the Communication Classroom in tandem with Dr. Jensen Chung on a panel with other communication scholars. Although our use of the Positive Observation Forum (POF) is specifically designed for the university classroom, the rationale behind it and its success factors can be applied to business.
Strengths-based psychology and research on the benefits of focusing on strengths has gone mainstream in the last decade. Work by Gallup StrengthsFinder, Values in Action Institute on Character, and Center for Applied Positive Psychology has shown that discovering and fostering strengths is more effective than focusing on weaknesses or areas of needed improvement. Teams are better off playing to each contributor’s strength rather than fixing the perceived weaknesses.
To this end, having people aware of and improving their strengths is a good idea in the communication classroom and in business. In the communication classroom, the Positive Observation Forum is a tool used to this end. Students observe others’ strengths in communication and leadership during class activities and then share their observations through an online forum. The same technique can be used in business. Most companies have a shared communication forum for various business functions from scheduling to sharing documents to meeting remotely. Incorporating a place on this forum to commend others’ work is a great addition. It shifts the culture to a focus on strengths and jobs well done. It reminds those who are doing a good job that they are appreciated and it encourages others to emulate the good work based on their own strengths.
The pitfalls of implementing a successful POF are lack of participation and poor quality contributions. The way around both of these pitfalls is communication and motivation. In terms of communication, potential POF participants need to be told the benefits of being involved and what is expected of them. The leaders of the organization can communicate benefits of a positive-focused work environment and learning from colleagues on the actual forum, through emails, and in face-to-face meetings. Motivation can be as simple as acknowledging participation during company meetings and as creative as giving rewards or tying participation to employee evaluations and bonuses.
Of course, having leaders participate with high quality contributions on the POF will set an example for others to follow. To boost quality, I suggest requiring not only the listing of the strength observed, but also illustrative examples of the strength. For example, instead of just “Sue is a good presenter,” the POF entry would be “Sue is a good presenter because her PowerPoint during Tuesday’s meeting had only 10 slides with interesting graphics and no bullet points and she stayed within the time limit so the meeting was productive.”
In summary, a POF is one way to implement a strengths-based focused that research has shown to be effective. Active POF participation with high quality within an organization will most definitely ‘Accentuate the Positive.’