Many business people would be skeptical of hiring a management consultant who talked of the importance of developing a culture that encourages employees to be kind, forgiving and caring.
Kim Cameron spoke at the Partners In Business Human Resources and Ethical Leadership Seminar in spring 2008 about his research in a new field of study called “positive organizational scholarship.” The Michigan Ross School of Business has, in fact, established the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship.
Cameron, a professor of management and organizations and higher education at the University of Michigan, told the group that corporations are now dealing with change at an accelerating rate. He maintained that companies need to go beyond promoting high ethical standards to create a culture where genuine virtuous behavior is the norm if they are to succeed.
“You are not going to manage change unless you can find something that doesn’t change,” he said. “Ethics are crucial but they tend to change, especially over decades, over generations.”
Cameron, who previously served as associate dean of business at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University and the dean of business at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, said his research has focused on the effects of “positivity and virtuousness.”
He said medical science tends to focus on how to help people who are ill, but hasn’t done much to study what makes people happy and what helps them excel beyond normal standards.
Kim Cameron talks with Huntsman faculty members about his research.
“No one walks into a therapist’s office and says, ‘My kids are doing well, I’m happy, things are well, give me something to make me spectacular, doc,” he said.
Instead of focusing on how to fix organizations in trouble, Cameron has led research on finding out what high-performing companies do to become successful. For example, he learned that the ratio of positive to negative feedback managers offer in the high-performing companies he studied was five to one. Low-performing companies he studied, however, offered three times as much negative feedback to employees as they did positive feedback.
He cited a number of studies that have explored how attitudes have impacted performance and health. He said researchers looking to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease did a study involving some Catholic nuns at a convent. When the researchers looked at the sister’s journals and what they wrote in them when they joined the convent, they discovered some interesting things.
The nuns were divided into two groups. The first group had written of their anticipated life in glowing terms, saying that the work they were about to do was a culmination of their dreams and would prove a great blessing to them. The second group, while very committed to their decision, anticipated their life as a nun would prove difficult and a sacrifice.
Researchers discovered that significant differences occurred in the mortality rates of nuns who held an optimistic view of their upcoming life compared to nuns who viewed their service as difficult and as a sacrifice. Optimism and gratitude was a significant predictor of longevity, Cameron said.
Another study showed that people who were asked to keep a journal and keep a list of three things for which they were grateful every day experienced health benefits not experienced by another group expected to list the three worst things that had happened to them each day.
“When you focus on virtuousness, you get not only a way to manage change but you get a bonus,” Cameron said. “You get higher performance. People flourish.”
Cameron earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Brigham Young University and a master’s and doctorate from Yale University.