Positive Structure in the Work Environment

Organizational structure – the system of rules, roles, and goals for an organization – should be implemented not just in a depersonalized manner, but also with a positive approach.  Positive structure helps people meet their job requirements and improves productivity while simultaneously creating a supportive culture.

Positive structure is about building a framework that encourages employees to succeed.  The first component of positive structure is clarity about job roles and responsibilities.  This is an ongoing process between manager and employee.  It is very specific about the outcomes needed for the company and more general about the processes to achieve those outcomes.

The most common form of positive structure is that universal reward called a paycheck. People work for it and appreciate it.  A related form of positive structure is the bonus.  A bonus orients the employee to the outcome and motivates them to achieve it.  Bonuses also signify that the employee can actually achieve the desired results and hence, then convey a confidence in the worker.

Positive structure though is much more than the payment or reward system.  It is essentially about the culture of management; that management sees employees as participants in running the organization and managing their own roles. Management sees workers as part of a team in making the organization succeed. All too often management utilizes structure and accountability processes that are negative and punitive.  It is a mindset that people “should” do what they are supposed to do and need to be corrected when they don’t.  It is a mindset that is parental rather than adult to adult and collaborative.

Management that is controlling will not get the best out of their employees.  People react to controlling or punitive management with resistance and a lack of engagement.  The resentment and anger generated often leads the best employees to look elsewhere.

Finally, you just can’t overestimate the value of positive structure through personal affirmation.  People respond very powerfully when someone important compliments their work or shows an interest.  When you implement rules and expectations in a positive fashion, people respond favorably.  It is easier for them to internalize the structure and to make it their own.  It is critical that managers praise people for their good work, rather than criticize them when they fall short.  This idea is particularly important for male leaders, who are often less nurturing and prone to negative feedback and micromanaging.

Tom DeMaio, PhD


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