Strive to thrive! The 4 conditions your employees need to be at their best

A recent HBR article, “Creating Sustainable Performance” shared some interesting insights into what makes for a consistently high-performing workforce. At the core of the team’s research findings was the idea of “thriving”. This goes beyond a simple equation of happy employees = more productive employees, to seeing the role of a thriving workforce as one that is engaged and energised in creating the future for themselves and for their company.

I’ve always loved the word ‘thrive’. Years ago, I worked on a household brand whose essence was ‘freedom to thrive’. The associations with this were incredibly rich – energy, fulfilment, growth, being the best you can be. The brand promise was big and consumers passionately identified themselves with it.

Reflecting on the distinction which the article draws between ‘thriving’ and more passive words like ‘contentment’, it seems to me that, too often as employers, we limit the potential of what we and our employees can achieve. But I also think there are parallel learnings for engagement and change programmes, with all 4 of the ‘mechanisms’ the article identified as creating the conditions for thriving employees having relevance in these areas as well:

1. Providing decision-making discretion

Or, more simply, empowering. By giving employees more control and a say in how things are done, you create more energy and engagement. For brand builders, that means engaging customers with the brand’s development in new and powerful ways; for change programmes, like the  capability programmes we create with our clients, it means helping people to take a stake in the programme and encouraging a culture of self-learning.

2. Sharing information

Employees contribute more effectively when they understand how their work fits with an organisation’s mission and strategy. Likewise capability programme leaders also need to work alongside other functions through collaboration and co-creation, so that everyone can play their unique role in delivering the vision.

3. Minimising incivility

The article’s jaw-dropping examples of behaviours which undermine efforts may seem exceptional. But they highlight how so many great initiatives can be spoiled by employees feeling duped or unvalued. Again, the parallels for engagement and change programmes are clear, with the critical need for leaders to walk the talk and for participants to be respected at every touchpoint.

4. Offering performance feedback

Feedback keeps people’s work-related activities focused on personal and organisational goals. In the same way, for brand builders, the opportunity to create new sources of customer value needs to draw on an understanding of where they are delivering this for customers and where they are not. Reviewing performance is also critical to any change programme, where on-going feedback should help embed the desired ways of working, attitudes and behaviours.

Just like achieving a “BHAG” (another word I like), creating a thriving workforce or brand is much harder to pull off than delivering more passive levels of contentment. It demands more imagination, effort and engagement. But the energy it creates can deliver results way beyond the artificial limits we set. I reckon that’s worth striving for.


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