Hope -- the belief that things could be better and that you can make them better -- can help companies prosper, says Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Kansas School of Business, Gallup senior scientist, and a leading researcher on hope. But first, leaders must understand what hope is and how to unleash its power in the workplace.
It's hard to be successful without being hopeful.
Hope is an active stance, says Lopez, author of the forthcoming book Making Hope Happen. It helps people launch new businesses that thrive and dream up new products that sell. Hope also pushes people to be ambitious and become successful. And it accounts for 14% of productivity in the workplace. To take advantage of hope in the business world, leaders must make goals meaningful, strategize hope and plan for "what ifs," and help employees understand that they can use hope to make the workplace better.
Make goals meaningful. Things that excite us create meaning. "We're most inspired by meaningful goals," Lopez says. He recommends asking employees what makes them most excited about their work, then tying that enthusiasm to bigger goals.
"Hope taps into a human desire to be part of something bigger," he says. "Then excitement brews, so we work harder and get more engaged." That's why leaders and companies should explain to customers as well as employees how their products or services make life better for others.
Strategize hope and plan for "what ifs." Leaders must teach employees how to strategize hope by turning excitement into practice and thoughts into plans. They can start this process by getting rid of all the obstacles and clumsy processes that get in the way of productivity, Lopez says. He also says to expect some bumps: "Great leaders help people plan for 'what ifs,' such as good and bad economic fluctuations, changes in personnel, or losing a good boss or colleague."
One way leaders can teach employees to prepare for "what ifs" is to ask them to compare their future self to their current self. "Think about what your company will look like and how you will feel when you have accomplished your big goals at work. Then compare that to how you see the company and yourself today," Lopez says. "You will get better at anticipating obstacles to growth and feel compelled to take steps to prevent or overcome them."
Help employees understand how they can use hope to make the workplace better. Hope can be taught. People need to get in the habit of knowing they have the power to make the workplace better -- and taking the time to do it. But it might take some reminding. "So, with permission, give intrusive support," Lopez says.
Intrusive support is a kind of complementary partnership. If you are a manager and your goal is to spend more time with your best performing team this quarter, for example, give a fellow manager permission to badger you about it. That will ensure you're more likely to work on that goal rather than responding to everyday problems created by disengaged staff. That kind of support can help you and your colleague stay accountable, and it makes realizing your goals more probable.
And that's the power that comes from strategizing hope: The more you do it, the better it works and the more you can do it. "It's hard to be successful without being hopeful," Lopez says. "When you think the future will be better than the present, you start working harder today."