A New Approach to Organizational Effectiveness – Positive Organizational Scholarship

Critique of the theory of POS

A number of management scholars and practitioners have questioned the validity of the position held by POS, with some claiming that it is vague and, thus it does not stand as a viable theory of organizational effectiveness (Juntunen & Wettersten, 2006, p.95; Jain & Sinha, 2005, p. 258; Roberts, et al., 2005, p. 77). Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), as a new approach to organizational effectiveness, is most concerned with the understanding of the manner in which positive and negative conditions in the organization integrate. According to Cameron and Caza (2004), the manner in which “difficulties and challenges are interpreted, managed, and transformed in order to reveal the positive is in the domain of POS” (p. 732). The claim by Cameron and others that POS focuses on the “dynamics leading to exceptional individual and organizational performance” (2003, p. 3) has been challenged by some critics. For instance, Rego et al. hold that, the achievement or the lack of achievement of such dynamics is also influenced by other factors some of might be the leading causes of the exceptional performances (2005, p. 217).

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POS cannot be claimed to be the force behind the achievement of positive individual and organizational performances because a number of other approaches are integrated in organizations, with the aim of achieving the same results (Steele, 2010, p. 123). Cameron and Caza (2004) claim that, with the adoption of the POS perspective in organizations, “the purview of topics that are central in traditional organizational studies is expanded and enriched” (p. 731). Reuer and Tong (2005) contest this nature of POS to rely upon other phenomenological approaches in organizational development to gain a ground (p. 411). Apparently, POS has no theoretical underpinnings of its own that can enable it to foster the positivity it claims in isolation (Greiner & Gummings, 2004, p.375).

Considering that positive phenomenon in the organization has been studied for the longest time, POS comes in as an unnecessary duplication of such studies according to Dutton et al. (2006, p. 67). Cameron and Caza (2004, p.734), however, rush to the defence of POS against the accusations of Dutton and his colleagues claiming that, the theory comes in to uplift and elevate the process of the outcomes of such studies that are considered to have been overwhelmed by the non-positive literature making the examination of positive phenomenon in most organizations totally underrepresented. Positive phenomenon, which forms the chief focus for POS, is in most times neglected considering that it “lacks valid and reliable measurement devices, and it is often associated with uncritical science” (Fullagar & Kelloway, 2009, p.597). The fact that negative events have the most felt impacts to the organization, attempts to focus more on positive events at the expense of the negative is a waste of time and valuable resources (Huo, et al., 2005, p. 238).

It is extremely risky to ignore the attempts aimed at studying any potential sources of negative implications at the expense of positive ideals such as those pursued in POS (Reuer & Tong, 2005, p. 420). POS topics are at times associated with what Cameron and Caza (2004) refer to as “uncritical ecumenicalism or non-scholarly prescriptions” (736). This results to the neglect of positive phenomenon, in most organizational studies. Bernstein (2003) specifically disregards most of the concepts and topics of POS as akin to Sunday school prescriptions or grandfather’s advice (p. 268). Concepts of POS, such as altruism and pro social behaviour, are considered by Makino and Beamish as disguised motives aimed at achieving selfish gains (1998, p.263). Despite consciously using the term “scholarship”, according to Bernstein (2003), POS has no genuine link to serious scholarship (p. 269). Arguing in defence of POS against such accusations, Cameron et al. (2003) state that, POS embarks on a series of scholarly attempts in an effort to “document, measure, and explain unusually positive human experiences in organizations, and in so doing, contributing to the verifiable body of useful knowledge about the positive phenomenon in organizations” (p.12).

Current work on POS: good empirical evidence that prove the validity of POS

Most POS work has been engaged in the psychological level, and remarkably little has been done in an effort to achieve quantitative measures of the positive organizational phenomenon (Dutton et al., 2006, p.92). Surveys aimed at assessing psychological concepts such as optimism, forgiveness, virtues, as well as, gratitude have been conducted. Very few such studies in POS have been conducted to establish the empirical underpinnings of the approach. Most scholars interested in POS have emphasized more on conceptual work rather than the empirical (Gardner & Schemerhorn, 2004, p. 275). However, few exceptional studies are aimed at providing empirical proof for POS. These include the occasional quantitative analysis conducted in single organizations by Dutton et al. (2006) and the few published works by Cameron and Caza (2004), aimed at providing empirical support for the POS approach.

The issue by Cameron and Caza assists in “addressing the dearth in the literature by including three quantitative studies of positive organizational phenomenon and one qualitative study” (p. 733). The initial articles by Cameron and Caza (2004) provide a report for the empirical inquiries that link positive phenomenon in the organization to the organizational results. Another article by Huang and Blumenthal (2009) employs the nonlinear dynamics to study the effectiveness in teamwork. In the study, about 60 management teams were studied and their communication patterns examined in a strategic planning session (p. 590). Cameron and Caza (2004) report that, the “ratio of positive to negative communications, which was found to be mathematically equivalent to the amount of “connectivity” and “positive emotional space” in the teams, was a significant differentiator among high, medium and low performing teams” (p. 733).

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The teams, which portrayed a higher degree of positivity, performed relatively better. Cameron and Caza’s study uncovers the concepts of virtuousness, integrity, forgiveness, trust, and optimism by “operationalizing” virtuousness in organizations (Cameron & Caza, 2004, p. 734). The study reveals that virtuousness is directly proportional to organizational performance as those companies across a variety of industries that scored highly performed better. The organizations achieved the desirable outcomes such as retention of customers, profitability, and a high quality of products. Another recent POS empirical study documented in Cameron and Caza (2004) was conducted by Pittinsky and Shih. The study was carried out in 2007, in two high technology firms. The study confirms, “The traditional measures of commitment and loyalty are inadequate” (Pittinsky & Shih, 2007, p. 734). The indicators of employee commitment that were used in the study included “the employee’s intent to leave the organization and the longevity on the job” (p. 734).

In concluding their report, the authors argued for the adoption of a positive perspective on both organizational commitment and worker mobility. These empirical studies carried out by different scholars confirm that POS is a valid approach to organizational effectiveness. Actually, POS rejuvenates and expands the traditional approaches to organizational effectiveness not totally reshaping them for the benefit of the organization (Gittell et al., 2006, p. 310).

Applicability of POS in assessing IJV performance

A number of firms, as a strategy to enter the foreign markets, have adopted International Joint venture (IJV). As argued by Robson et al. (2002), “there is a widespread concern with their performance” (p. 385). The POS approach has been named as forming part of the approaches, which have been revelled through research, to determine the factors that enable superior IJV performance. Market competition and the intensified technological challenges that have been brought up by globalization have led to the upsurge of IJVs (Glaister & Buckley, 1999, p.130).

Robson et al. (2002) argue that, the “examination of the international business and strategic management literatures reveal that the identification of the factors influencing IJV has received focal empirical attention” (p. 390). The IJV management team is considered as the link that unites the parent companies (Chowdhury, 1992, p. 116). POS is applicable in engaging studies such as those aimed at determining the existence of phenomenon such as opportunism, ability to take risks as well as optimism. Venturing a new market requires these qualities and through the approach provided by the POS theory, the availability or the inefficiency of these attributes can be determined before the IJV management team is put to task. If the negatives of these attributes exist, the POS approach can enable the transformation to achieve the desired positive attributes, which will ensure the performance of the joint ventures (Berner & Gleister, 2010, p. 214).


Berner, M., & Glaister, K.W. (2010). Determinants of Performance in International Joint Ventures. Journal of Strategy and Management, 3(3), 188-214.

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