Three Characteristics of A Thriving Organization

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When we look at commonalities within organizations that are thriving we are able to see themes emerge. This post takes you through the three key themes Dr. Shelley Prevost has seen including having defined values, democratic leaders, who embrace PERMA.

Key Take Aways:

- Core values are an important way to help create the future an organization wants to create.

- Great leaders are humble, a bit ruthless, and ignite curiosity

- Understanding of how PERMA helps add meat to the term Happiness


As a Director of Happiness, I am charged with building a thriving organization, where employees are happy and emotionally healthy. Intuitively, I have known what I meant by a “thriving organization,” but I’ve never had to operationalize the definition into something concrete. Although my definition is still a work in progress, I’ve come up with three characteristics that thriving organizations seem to share.

They have clearly defined values and everything they do spirals around these values. A vision is a statement of what is possible, the picture of the future you want to create. It isn’t a strategic plan. It isn’t your goals or methodology. Thriving companies that I work with know who they are, what they’re doing, and, most importantly, why they’re doing it. If employees in a company don’t share this vision, or, in the case of many companies, even have this vision, then they will likely experience internal entropy. Further, thriving companies translate their vision statements into operating core values. Then they inculcate their values into policies, procedures, strategies, and recruitment. Their core values touch everything in the organization in an authentic and animated way.

Second, these companies are fortunate to have humble, democratic, and demanding leadership. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with some stellar executives. Thriving companies share a common principle in the type of leaders they enlist and in the way that they are led. Jim Collins explored Level 5 Leadership in his seminal book Good to Great and I have found his assessment to be true, with an addition. Great leaders are both humble and a bit ruthless, as Collins suggests, but the leaders I’ve met along the way also ignite curiosity. They promote curiosity and innovation by getting out of the way of their team’s strengths. They position themselves at the helm of the moving ship, not to steer or enact change, but to set the vision and preempt disaster. Anything but laissez-faire, these leaders put exceptional people around them, assemble all the moving parts, inspire their people to dig deep creatively, and then get out of the way!

Thriving organizations embrace PERMA. I’m cheating a bit here. This helpful mnemonic actually stands for five principles (and I would argue that all of them are necessary for a company to thrive). They are Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaningfulness, and Achievement. PERMA is a concept originated by Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, and serves to push our rather shallow understanding of happiness into something a bit meatier. Happiness is not just about feeling good, although positive emotions and pleasure are a part of the equation. Happiness is also about finding meaning and purpose, and being deeply engaged in one’s work. PERMA represents the crucible where happy employees can thrive. Adopting PERMA can single-handedly change how your entire organization functions.

If you want to ramp up genuine happiness in your organization, start here— with PERMA. It takes almost nothing to start your weekly team meeting with a couple “thank-yous” to your employees (positive emotion). Recognize their accomplishments—both professional and personal (achievement). Measure their strengths with any number of assessments available and then empower them to spend at least 70% of their time playing to those strengths (engagement). You get the picture.

If your organization is thriving, we’d love to hear what you’re doing. Tell us what’s working. Share your ideas.

Photo Credit: Flickr, Angus Stewart  


Dr. Shelley Prevost is the Director of Happiness and resident cultural engineer at Lamp Post Group, a Venture Capital Incubator. There she guides founders to infuse values, meaning, and positive relationships into their company culture from the very beginning. When she’s not directing happiness at Lamp Post, she can be found writing about happiness for, hanging with friends, and drinking wine—lots of it. Shelley lives in Chattanooga, TN with her husband, Chad, and three children—Eliah, Lucas, and Lennyn. Follow her on Twitter @thegladlab.



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Marisa Keegan


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