Positive Working: What is it and Why does it matter?

Positive Working: The science and practice of embedding optimal performance across your organisation.

If the events of 2020 proved one thing, it’s that the only certainty right now is more uncertainty.

But uncertainty doesn’t have to mean bad news. After all, running a business in a VUCA world means always being on the look-out for changes in the landscape and being ready to respond.

The businesses that stay flexible, adapt and, crucially, adopt a Positive Working approach are the ones who don’t just survive when the going gets tough. They thrive.

Here at before nine, we’ve seen it in action over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic; our clients have told us that embedding Positive Working into their organisations has equipped them to weather recent storms – even in the most volatile of environments, such as the aviation industry.



Unsurprisingly, this is music to our ears. We’ve known for a long time that Positive Working has the power to transform the way in which leaders and their people approach challenge and change. Now more than ever, the effects of Covid are bringing its value to the fore.

So, what exactly is Positive Working? What makes it different from traditional organisational development techniques? And how does it benefit the world of business resilience and transformation?

This article explains some of the key points, including:

  • What defines Positive Working and why it matters.
  • What we mean by optimal performance (spoiler – it may not be what you think!).
  • How Positive Working supports resilience and transformation strategies that deliver.
  • Three questions you can ask yourself right now to see if Positive Working is for you.

What is Positive Working?

Positive Working is a strengths-based, systemic and scientific approach to organisational development. It integrates human and organisational strengths with business best practice to enable optimal performance – not just at any one time, but across the full range of scenarios we are likely to come up against in the business world.


Traditionally, vanilla development approaches focus on frameworks, people and systems separately. An executive board might come together and design a strategic roadmap for delivering organisational change – new vision, new ways of working, new organisational structures. That plan is cascaded down to people in the business, usually middle managers.

It’s then down to them to ‘make’ their teams ‘do’ the change. Meanwhile, frameworks, processes and operations are called on to deliver. All too often though, strategies go awry. Why?

The answer is actually very simple, but almost always missed. The approach is not joined up. The strategy has not considered how to unlock and engage the human strengths, mindsets, behavioural styles and values within - and across - teams.

More often than not, the people have not been given the supporting psychological and behavioural tools and capabilities they need to buy into, deliver and - crucially – adapt to the strategy. The result? Mistrust in leadership, the very opportunities we are seeking to create are lost and middle managers take most of the pain, both from those on high and the teams they manage. "Why isn't the transformation working?" The emphasis shifts from a positive outlook to a ‘fail and fix’ culture.



It doesn’t have to be this way. Not if a business or team adopts a Positive Working approach.

An approach that recognises the wide variety of tools required to sustain growth.

To be clear, Positive Working isn’t all positive thinking. Or only focusing on the positive, at the expense of the negative. 

What Positive Working asks is that you widen your perspective. It invites you to start by recognising how a shared hardwired negativity bias has framed our organisational lens. And to begin paying deliberate attention to unlocking the strengths and seizing opportunities in your people, your organisation and your wider environment. That's the positive (organisational) psychology part!

Understanding the vast range of negative AND positive real-life scenarios your business might face and looking to the huge potential to shape people, systems and frameworks that are geared up to deliver sustainably in good times, challenging times and complex times. That's the business best practice part!

Which leads me to…

On your marks, get set…the real meaning of optimal performance

Performance. We all know how important it is to a business. But somewhere along the way, we started talking about it like we’re all professional athletes. It’s all about high performing teams or bust, right? Well…no.

Let me explain using a sports analogy. An athlete has a goal – for example, to run 100 metres in under 10 seconds. What they’re not doing, though, is running at that speed all the time. Clearly, that would be unrealistic. Instead, they aim for an ongoing level of fitness driven by regular training while using tools, such as diet and sports psychology, to bring out their peak – or high – performance when they need to win the race.



High performance has its moments. But in a business context, it is simply unsustainable. That’s why when I coach individuals and teams I always talk about optimal performance.

We don’t need to focus on that one moment of brilliance. Life isn’t one long wave of success. Instead, sustainable growth comes from people, frameworks, and environments working in an integrated and complementary way to be the best they can feasibly be at any given time – given the crisis, challenge, or opportunity. Driving wellbeing, resilience, agility and innovation.

The science bit…

There’s a reason I put ‘people’ first in that last sentence – and this brings us to what really differentiates Positive Working. Understanding and applying the science behind what makes your people tick and thrive are the missing pieces of the puzzle.

Even organisations that embrace the notion of workplace psychology usually try and apply that to their people, rather than harnessing what emerges from their people.



Positive Working is based on the well-established science of Appreciative Inquiry. It seeks to recognise the strengths, resources and skills that are there to be unlocked.

Crisis management is a great example. Invariably, a crisis debrief team will ask: “How can we fix the things we didn’t do well?” They rarely ask questions like, “How can we learn from the areas where we succeeded? What resources and skills have enabled us to do those things well? How else could we apply those elsewhere in the organisation? How can we do more of these things in the future?”

This is not to say that we should ignore the threats, weaknesses or failures. We should, of course, seek to learn from them.

Think of all the opportunities we miss when we fail to exploit our successes! The value of which may well eclipse the downside of a threat we are spending time, effort and resource mitigating.

Positive Working also recognises that human perceptions, mindset and behaviour drive practical day to day decision-making. Let’s take the example of risk management. Imagine you have 10 people in a room discussing your approach to a potential threat. You may have a framework and it may well be robust in terms of guiding a practical response.

But do you understand how your people perceive risk? What about their own individual approach to risk-taking (in life, in the workplace...)? Is the environment psychologically safe for them to talk about risk?

Your framework can only fuel an organisational capability if it takes into consideration how your people think, feel and act - day to day and in times of high-pressure - and the environment that influences them.

Curious about Positive Working? Three questions to ask yourself…

If this all resonates, then Positive Working could transform the way you approach your business. There is, of course, a lot more to it, but I’d recommend starting by asking yourself these three questions to help you to decide if it’s something you’d like to explore further.

1) Are we sure that our current approaches to culture change, business transformation and resilience enable our people to be at their best?

If the answer is ‘no’, then a Positive Working perspective could help you join the dots so that your human resources and management systems work in harmony for sustainable success.

2) Am I constantly firefighting things that go wrong?

If the answer is ‘yes’ then you may be stuck in a ‘repair shop’ mentality. Positive Working can help you break the cycle, so that you spend less time and energy problem solving and more time and energy maximising strengths and opportunities.

3) How are we framing our experience of the pandemic?

Remember what I said about uncertainty not always meaning bad news? Recognising your cognitive bias and asking yourself open questions is incredibly important because it can help you to identify unexpected or hidden opportunities. You may discover, for example, that remote working has helped some of your people be more impactful. They may have used talents and strengths you didn’t previously know they had. They may have found real opportunities to transform your management systems – systems that could be developed and rolled out further. And used curiosity and creativity to seize market opportunities. By paying deliberate attention to the positives of their pandemic experience, you may discover all kinds of potential just waiting to be tapped into. We're not ignoring the negative, we're simply widening our perspective.

If this article has whet your appetite, have a look around the website for more information, including more on our approach to Positive Working and its benefits and what to expect when working with us.

I’m always delighted to have a chat about your specific needs, so get in touch if you’d like to start your journey towards Positive Working.