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The power of optimism at work

Is it a “glass half full” person expecting good results? Is this a person who, as Winston Churchill once said, “sees opportunity in every difficulty”? I think an optimist believes that tomorrow can be better than today and takes an active role in making that happen.

This commitment to actively working for a better future is a prerequisite for working in technology. In fact, technology is basically science and information put into practice to solve problems. Think of the various apps, software, and devices devoted to mental health, physical well-being, and workplace productivity. Most people who work in technology are optimistic and believe that technology has the power to improve people’s lives.

So how does optimism manifest in the tech workplace? On the one hand, optimistic employees are “all in” when it comes to effort. Research proves it: optimistic employees are 103% more inspired give the best of themselves at work. But hard work is only part of the optimism algorithm. Let’s take a closer look at what an optimistic workplace looks like, how you can nurture optimism at work, and the benefits of an optimistic workplace.

Make optimism part of your hiring criteria

Like negativity, optimism is contagious. That’s why it’s essential to hire people with an optimistic outlook. Look for early signs of enthusiasm, a sense of purpose, and an awareness of why they want to work at your company. Remember that most new hires come from another exciting, well-paying job. They should join your company to do more, transform more, and innovate more. This “more, more, more” feeling increases the abilities of other members of your team and increases the level of service you provide to customers (more on that in a moment). You want people who are multipliers, people who are working to find solutions rather than saying, “We can’t do this because nobody has done it before”.

“Multipliers invoke each person’s unique intelligence and create an atmosphere of genius – innovation, productive effort and collective intelligence.” I wholeheartedly agree with this statement by Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers: How Top Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. As multipliers, your employees must constantly go above and beyond what their job title requires. For example, our company’s employees transform organizations by helping them become more profitable, efficient and impactful. We don’t just do engineering work or sell widgets here; our job is to allow clients to be limited only by their imagination as to what they can implement and achieve. It’s optimism at work.

Optimists work to expand their circle of influence

A book that inspired me 20 years ago is Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People— and Covey’s concept of the “circle of influence”. Your Circle of Influence includes things you can do something about, while your Circle of Concern includes things you have no direct control over (economy, global pandemic). Optimists focus their time and energy on factors they can control. By focusing on what we can control, we can indirectly have a larger impact. For example, while I personally cannot stop or prevent a global pandemic, I can take steps in my own life (social distancing, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces) that will help me (and may influence the wider community) .

In addition to focusing on their own circle of influence, the optimist always seeks the silver lining in any given situation. If a developer encounters an unexpected bug while betaing a new product, their first question should be, “What can I learn from this?” They may have adhered to a strict product roadmap and done everything in their power to ensure a smooth release. Yet they still ran into a bug, something beyond their control. They should then ask, “How can I apply this learning across the organization and to future product releases?”

Think about solutions, not complaints

In the tech industry, change is a constant. I like to say that we always operate at the forefront of the sphere. IT services and cloud technology, in particular, are evolving faster than any other industry (including healthcare or financial services). How teams react to all these changes (most of which we can’t control) is what matters. You don’t want a complaining team (customers, other team members, or partners) to complain. Optimists still sometimes complain, but there is a high degree of “solution,” collaboration, and suggestion in the complaint. A team must work to isolate a problem with the goal of solving a problem rather than just venting it.

In the workplace, how does this solution play out? Let’s say a customer complains about something. Instead of reacting defensively, the optimist chooses to see it as a gift. Perhaps the client is operating under the wrong assumptions or has outdated information. Or maybe their complaint is an actual product issue. If you listen to the customer and work to address and resolve their problem, you win that customer in the long run; their satisfaction will be higher than it would be if they had never complained in the first place. A customer who complains is not necessarily a negative; it is the customer who leaves without any return that is worrying.

Likewise, if a technology partner changes prices or the contract, the optimistic team asks, “How can we manage this change while still serving customers?” The team can help customers take advantage of current pricing plans before the price change takes effect. Again, strive to control the variables you can to minimize the impact of variables you can’t control. If you do this regularly, your positive impact on customers (and your organization) will be substantial.

There are three constants in life: change, choice and principles, according to author Stephen Covey. If optimism is a guiding principle within your company, your teams will be better equipped to deal with unexpected changes with actionable choices that create positive results. And over time, these cumulative positive results strengthen the business, internally for employees and externally for customers, partners and everyone who interacts with the business.

Tony Safoian is the CEO and President of SADA systemsa cloud solutions provider specializing in technology consulting, IT services, application development and managed services.

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