What are you doing to increase your employees’ psychological capital?
by Brandon Hall
January 9, 2015
Let's say you’re leading an organizationwide initiative. Or you’re looking for better ways to engage your learners. Or you personally want to be more productive and more satisfied. If any of these statements is true, you may be interested in this theory I came across about motivation.
We all know the most basic and widely applied theory of motivation around behavior management: Using feedback and positive reinforcement produces more output. However, motivation at work has prompted more research from universities like the University of Nebraska, University of Michigan and Claremont (California) Graduate University.
One particularly relevant area of study is around psychological capital. The term may sound contrived at first, but it provides a comparison to other, more recognized sources of capital. Fred Luthans, a leading writer andresearcher in this field and professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, compared the types of capital available to organizations in various publications, as well as in the second edition of his book “Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Competitive Edge,” which will be published by Oxford University Press this year.
Luthans and co-authors Carolyn Youssef and Bruce Avolio identify four types of capital. The first is financial capital — or what we have — which includes tangible assets like money, equipment, patents and data. Second, human capital is what we know, and it includes our skills, knowledge and experience. Third, social capital is whom we know, including our network of colleagues. Finally, psychological capital is who we are, the motivation and perseverance we demonstrate at work.
Each can be enhanced by investing resources to benefit from a future return, including competitive advantage and the ability to better meet customer needs.
Psychological capital is also the name of one of the most promising theories about workplace motivation. It states that four specific factors — confidence, optimism, hope and resilience — work together and contribute to higher performance and job satisfaction. As you enhance these, you enhance performance and satisfaction.
This concept opens the door for leaders of learning and organizational change to explore new ways tomotivate and engage. You even can measure psychological capital. An assessment, such as the 24-item Psychological Capital Questionnaire published by assessment company Mind Garden, is one option.
Sam Spurlin, founder of “The Workologist,” a blog on the study of work and motivation, coaches individuals and companies to be more productive. “People want to do their best work,” he said. “Psychological capital suggests better ways to engage employees at a fundamental level that improves both productivity and satisfaction.”
Luthans’ aforementioned book also describes amethod to build psychological capital among employees. It involves delivery of two one-hour interactive Web sessions that teach workers how to apply confidence, optimism, hope and resilience on their jobs. The first session includes a definition of each factor, followed by examples from a variety of work settings. After each factor is introduced, participants are asked to fill out a worksheet to apply the concept to their jobs. The follow-up session reviews confidence, optimism, hope and resilience and initiates a discussion with participants about the application of the different factors in their own work.
Skillsoft, a learning content company, offers courses specifically on perseverance and resiliency as well as options related to professional productivity and personal development. Cindy Simms, the company’s senior product marketing manager, said these types of courses, video clips and books are consistently among the most popular of all their offerings.
As learning leaders, we can use ideas like these to tap into deeper levels of motivation and engagement. After all, our job is to get people to do tough things, to risk trying new skills and to persevere during challenging organizational change efforts. We need to be masters of all the motivational levers, including teaching employees how to be in charge of theseimportant productivity drivers.
Motivation has a bad reputation because of the short-term value of motivational talks. However, there is value when we elevate motivation and psychological capital to the same level as other sources of capital in our organizations.