3 Positive Organizational Development Best-Practices [+Interview]

Update Nov 2019: In this article, Birgit Ohlin shares her experience with and insights gained from attending Kim Cameron’s workshop on positive organizational development

Kim Cameron is a gentle and charismatic man. who initially studied the effects of downsizing. He noticed that the majority of businesses deteriorated in this process; however, some flourished amidst the pain and drama. This is how Cameron got into Positive Psychology and began studying the effects of forgiveness.

He has also written numerous books and journal articles (see reference list below) about the benefits of positive psychology in the workplace. Cameron began this workshop by recapping success stories of companies that have used Positive Psychology to transform seemingly negative situations.

His recommendations are based on empirical evidence and have been proven to work by Cameron himself. Every workplace could benefit from the positive organizational development insights below, where we summarize his profound workshop.


Cameron’s 3 Recommended Positive Psychology Tools

Positive psychology is a broad field with many techniques and interventions for helping people and organizations increase their well-being.

Cameron’s three techniques include keeping a gratitude journal, having a practice of contribution, and celebrating strength-based behaviors in any workplace.


1) Gratitude Journal

Keep a gratitude journal in which you write down three good things every day. Or write a gratitude letter to someone, telling them how much you appreciate their support.

Gratitude exercises have been found to improve well-being through the development of a greater sense of appreciation (Lyubomirsky, 2008; Seligman, 2002).

The exercises work to broaden mental flexibility, improve memory, and help solve problems which require more complex cognitive processes (Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002; Fredrickson & Losada, 2005).


Applying Gratitude in the Workplace

The CEO of a Mexican university had cards printed with the company’s values printed on one side (one value per card) and the other side left blank. Whenever an employee exhibited one of the company’s values during work, he would use the card with the appropriate value and write a short note for the staff member, recognizing their behavior.

This is just one way of showing gratitude in the workplace.


More Ideas for Using Gratitude in Organizations

Here are other ways organizations can shift their work culture towards one of expressing thanks. It goes a long way, as staff recognize their inherent worth and strive to meet expectations.

  • Start team meetings with the question “What has inspired you this week?”
  • Celebrate successes with your team;
  • Design a wall for positive milestones and provide an ideas box so that leaders and staff alike can use it to pin anything they are grateful for or proud of;
  • Hand a booklet to each of your staff and invite them to keep a gratitude journal;
  • At the end of the year, send a gratitude letter to your employees’ families and praise the employee. Tell the family how much you appreciate the effort their family member puts in at work and thank them.


2) Contribution

By contributing to other people’s happiness we improve our own well-being. Therefore, rather than simply rewarding employees who do well, companies need to put rewards in place which include actively contributing to the benefit of others. Rewards should be based on general knowledge of what staff would appreciate.

Research indicates that giving increases well-being more than receiving. Altruistic behavior makes us happy (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008; Warneken & Tomasello, 2006).


Applying Contribution Principles in the Workplace:

Delta Airlines handed out reward certificates to their frequent flyer guests that could be given to Delta staff as one way to recognize exceptional behavior or performance.

Delta Airlines Incorporating Staff Rewards.
Delta Airlines Staff Rewards Program. Imagine by Skeeze on Pixaby.

For guests, this had a positive effect due to the benefit experienced through contribution discussed above.

For the airline, the impact was twofold: staff received more praise and recognition, and guests would search for employee excellence, which had a similar effect as writing a gratitude diary.

This small change helped create a culture of expressing thanks, which can alleviate the monotony and stress of any workplace.


More Ideas for More Contribution in Organizations:

  • Get someone who did well to mentor and coach others rather than just complimenting them
  • Reward great performance with 1 + 1. The person receives two pieces of recognition, one for themselves and one they can hand to someone who has supported them in the process.


3) Strengths-Based Organizational Behaviour

Rather than focusing on “what is wrong” with methods like gap analysis, organizations should engage in virtuous practices, practice open and honest communication, institutionalize forgiveness, and foster trust and integrity in order to build on the strengths and resources of the company.

A positive organizational culture has been found to have a positive impact on performance, staff engagement, and turnover. This may be due to the heliotropic effect, defined as “the tendency in all living systems towards positive energy and away from negative energy” (Cameron, 2008).


Applying Strengths-Based Behaviour in the Workplace:

Surrounded by sad stories due to its core business, Dutch Funeral Insurance Company Dela developed the campaign “Say something wonderful today.” This lead to growth in insured capital by 50% and the company captured a place in the top 10 best-known brands in Holland.

Watch this 2-minute video on how they did it:


More Ideas for Strengths-Based Behaviour in Organizations:

  • Instead of asking your unhappy customers what went wrong, ask your satisfied customers what went right and do more of that;
  • Ask your staff to select 20 people who know them well (co-workers, friends, neighbours) and get them to write a short paragraph answering questions such as “when have you seen me at my best?” Ask them to use the answers to create their own “best self-portrait” and think about how they can use their strengths even more;
  • When giving your staff feedback on their strengths, make use of the following two ideas: “Here is what I noticed in your leadership skills…” and “Here is what lead me to this conclusion…” The second is particularly important.


Answers from Kim Cameron

Here are highlights from an interview we conducted with Cameron. Check out our reference section below for his current research and initiatives.

B. Ohlin: Kim Cameron, how did you get into the area of Positive Organisational Development?

Kim Cameron: I was involved in a lot of downsizing, and one day I noticed that 80% of companies actually perform worse after staff had been laid off.

The majority end up suffering from problems which seem to arise as a result. I noticed consequences such as reduced information sharing, lack of shared values, trust and loyalty were damaged, and negative emotions dominated those workplaces. Only a few companies managed to turn the situation around and produce an environment in which people flourished. This is how I became interested in studying virtuous practices.


 B. Ohlin: Why is it so difficult to introduce Positive Leadership in organizations?

Kim Cameron: Routine and habits are the worst enemies. Especially in a professional environment, we are used to analyzing what is wrong and focusing on how to improve. Also, leaders are often selfish and worry about the impact PP practices may have on them. They are afraid of being perceived as weak and soft.



B. Ohlin: You talk a lot about how much companies benefit from positive leadership. So the question arises, how can leaders such as Steve Jobs who, according to his biography, possessed a rather authoritative leadership style, be more successful?

Kim Cameron: Many factors contribute to the success of organizations, and of course Steve Jobs had his qualities. Yes, Steve Jobs did well. But who knows how much further a strength-based approach would have taken him!


B. Ohlin: What books would you recommend on positive organizational development?

Kim Cameron: Have a look at the following:

  • The Positive Organization (Quinn, 2015);
  • Practising Positive Leadership (Cameron, 2013);
  • Positive Leadership (Cameron, 2012);
  • The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship (Cameron & Spreitzer, 2011).


Want to Know More?

For more information on Cameron’s work you can read our article on positive organizational scholarship or get started creating your one percentage change with help from Kim Cameron speaking live at TEDx:

Have you tried incorporating any of Kim Cameron’s techniques into your work or home environment? If so, please leave a comment below and share your insight with others.

Cameron, K. (2008). Paradox in Positive Organizational Change. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 44(7), 7-24.

Cameron, K. (2012). Positive Leadership. San Francisco,  USA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Cameron, K. (2013). Practising Positive Leadership. San Francisco, USA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Cameron, K., & Spreitzer, G. M. (2011). The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship (Vol. 8). Oxford: Oxford Library of Psychology.

Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness. Science 319, 1687.

Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive Emotions Trigger Upward Spirals Toward Emotional Well-Being. [Article]. Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 13(2), 172.

Fredrickson, B. L., & Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing. [Article]. American Psychologist, 60(7), 678-686. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.7.678

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want: Penguin Press.

Quinn, R. E. (2015). The Positive Organization: Breaking Free from Conventional Cultures, Constraints, and Beliefs. San Francisco, USA: Berrett-Koehler.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happines: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

Warneken, F., & Tomasello, M. (2006). Altruistic helping in human infants and young chimpanzees. Science, 311, 5765, 1301-1303.

About the Author

Birgit Ohlin, MA, BBA, is a passionate Life Coach and Leadership Consultant who believes in the flow of life. This former Marketing Manager came across Positive Psychology during her Master’s degree and it had a profound effect on her. She since studied Coaching and has turned her focus to innovation, transformation, and change.


  1. Ruti Salamon Goldberg

    Thank you its extremely engaging and exciting
    I’m keen to get some more information on the practices and tools (from Positive Psychology) implemented in the organizations in order to improve performance

  2. Pamela Silva

    Great post! Thanks Birgit!

  3. Alexander Hunziker

    This is a cool and very informative post. Thanks Birgit!

    • Birgit Ohlin

      Thanks for your kind words Alexander, I appreciate your feedback!


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