Performance and Positivity – Hope in our lives, our work and our organisations – an OD perspective

In my writing last month, I raised a question about the gaps and edges which OD practitioners might need to consider if we are to fully contribute in the 21st century.  As we enter February and in the northern hemisphere we head towards longer days, lighter and we leave the dark behind, I return to a theme I have been considering over the winter – HOPE and its role in our lives and the intersection of organisational life.

I want to focus on our inner work of hope in our lives AND the importance of leaders creating the conditions for hope to flourish, in our places and our organisations.

There are many definitions of hope and I love this one by Dufalt and Martocchio (1985) whose work sits in the field of the cancer care; they state that hope is …

“a multidimensional life force characterized by a confident yet uncertain expectation of achieving a future good”

This resonates for me HOPE AS A LIFE FORCE.

For many people hope is linked to optimism and one view offered is that it is a fixed trait, however recent work points us towards being able to build practices of optimism and a hopeful future (Seligman 2018). By focusing on routines and practices perhaps we can hold a more hopeful outlook.  Interestingly this seems to be supported by the ideas of a positivity bias cited as the ‘Pollyanna Principle’, perhaps we are wired for positivity?  (Ackerman 2020,

Whether it is neurophysiology or not it seems that our own agency is important in living hopefully. The role of agency is a key part of the classic work by Snyder (2000). Snyder proposes three critical factors of:

  • Using a goal-based way of thinking
  • Creating pathways to achieve the goals and to change the pathway when a barrier is encountered
  • Having personal agency to be able to activate goal and pathway thinking and then contend with the emotional responses which will occur as one moves forward.

This work firmly places ourselves at the centre of the debate on living with hope. But what of the role of leaders and organisations?

Research points us toward the positive outcomes of being, living and working hopefully (Yotsidi et al 2018). The growing body of work around the role hope plays in individual and team-based performance is something I believe we need to pay greater attention to.  From an OD perspective this emerging focus of hope in our organisational life raises a series of questions about HOW we support hope within our organisations and if leaders have a part to play.  


If we are going to think about moving from hope as primarily focused on the individual to a position of creating hopeful teams and organisations then we do need to think about the role that leaders might play.  Topical to our current times is the McKinsey article (2020) that focuses upon the role of leaders and hope. As we move forward through the pandemic, we might need to consider what are high hope leadership behaviours? As leaders we might start gently, by thinking about our own role modelling, the stories we tell and the conversations we host. We might ask ourselves:

  • Do I stand for hope?
  • How do I support team members to hold goal-based ways of thinking and create pathways to achievement?
  • How do I support each person to contend with the emotional reality of their hope and their goals?
  • Is my leadership style observably full of hope or without hope?

Law and Lacey (2019) point to the vital role played by leaders who embrace realistic positivity and have an encouraging and supportive presence. None of this is new, we know compassionate leadership matters however maybe it is a time to focus not only on compassion but also on role modelling high hope behaviours.


And what of hope within organisations? If culture is ‘how we do things around here’ then we might need to ask ourselves how to nudge our organisations to focus upon making hope a cultural golden thread?

The business benefits of being a high hope organisation are compelling; improved productivity, increased employee satisfaction, higher levels of employee retention, increase in the reported levels of staff well-being (see the papers cited by Law and Lacey for a good insight and a starting point).

Our challenge, if we want to lever the gains of living and working with hope, is how we bring together the individual work on living hopefully, alongside team and organisational level interventions. I have been asking myself what these interventions would look like and where is this already happening? I have several ideas but would love to debate with others.

As I think about the role of hope, if we are going to purposefully bring hope, performance and well- being together, my mind, as always, turns to measurement. Hope is a complex construct but we do need to be able to explore it robustly. The research of Snyder et al (1991) provides us with scale for measurement. At the individual level the VIA Institute on Character offers a free tool which measures hope as one of 24 character strengthens. This might be an interesting starting point for any leader or leadership team that wishes to think more deeply about hope and its role in well-being and business performance ( At an individual level the well-researched and validated 16-PF instrument measures hope ( Therefore, we do have a starting point and I am sure there are many more instruments available. 

This blog has been written to prompt our thinking about hope as an individual and OD intervention, and it may be argued that we have never needed such interventions more greatly. I leave all these ideas to stir in your thinking and sum up with a final quote  

“Hope not only helps us live with a difficult present but also with an uncertain future”

(Houston 2020)


Houston E, 2020, What is Hope in Psychology? – 7 exercises and worksheets: (accessed 28.1.21)

Law C., Lacey M.Y, 2019, “How Entrepreneurs Create High-Hope Environments: Six Themes for Leadership Behavior”, Graziadio Business Review : How Entrepreneurs Create High-Hope Environments – A Peer-Reviewed Academic Articles | GBR (  (accessed 27.1.2021)

McKinsey and Company , July 2020 , From a room called fear to a room called hope : A leadership agenda for troubled times (accessed 12.12.20)

Seligman M, 2018, Learned Optimism, London, Nicholas Brearley Publishing

Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., Holleran, S. A., Irving, L. M., Sigmon, S. T., et al. (1991). “The will and the ways: Development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 570-585. : (accessed 1.2.21)

Snyder C.R., 2000, Handbook of Hope Theory, Measures and Applications, San Diego, Academic Press

Yotsidi V, Pagoulatou A., Kyriazos T., Stalikas A., 2018, “The Role of Hope in Academic and Work Environments: An Integrative Literature Review”, Psychology, 9, 385 – 402

This is an interesting case study which points to both the benefits and practicalities of focusing on hope in a leadership role

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