Changing Behaviour for Good Programme
A collaborate initiative of the John Madejski Centre for Reputation (JMCR), Nov 2013
Developing resilient and thriving individuals, organisations and societies
What is the bigger picture?
The human condition is characterised by both great achievement and damaging conflict and harm. Our actions may, on the one hand, represent the highest virtues such as kindness, courage and fair leadership while at other times may be self-serving, cruel or lead to avoidable disasters.
At the heart of these actions are human beings, whose own identities and relationships with others influence their action. We wish to study human actions from a fundamental level, considering how actions depend upon motivation and a sense of self and are influenced and played out in relationships with others and in different situations and contexts. Put simply, we are interested in understanding the foundations of actions that result in thriving and resilient individuals.
It is our belief that strong and thriving organisations, communities and societies depend upon healthy and resilient individuals. Understanding how we develop healthy senses of identity as well as positive and valuable relationships is therefore at the heart of what we aim to investigate.
What is new? And how are we aiming to achieve this?
The study of human beings and relationships in the wider context of management has often focused on the needs and desired outcomes of firms. In this way, research has served the organisational agenda, with deeper study of individuals as central actors in organisational and societal network dynamics often being underplayed or neglected. Individuals have been placed into roles such as consumers, employees or community members, and looked at in terms of how their emotions and behaviour impact organisational goals. Based on a closely defined set of roles of organisational stakeholders, much research to date has focused on a narrow set of behaviours that firms would want to engender from these stakeholder groups. At the same time, a narrow understanding of humanity (i.e. often limited to aspects such as performance) has been explored when understanding the drivers of behaviours of individuals.
By embracing a wider sense of humanity and through a deeper study and application of psychology of individuals, we aim to overcome these narrow and often unhelpful boundaries of previous research and practice in organisations. As Stephen Pain, VP of Strategy at Unilever, explains: ‘human nature has got us into many of the problems that we face today in organisations and society– so it is only our humanity that can get us out of them’. In line with his view, we believe that the study of a broader set of inputs (by building on advances in areas such as human motivation and drive theory, identity theory and behaviour decision-making theory) and a broader set of outcomes (that include interests of individuals, organisations and society) will deliver much of the unfulfilled promise of the science of management. We take an holistic approach- focussed on identifying causes and consequences- and exploring human identity as key factor in understanding the relationships that exist between individuals and other individuals and organisations. We aim to increase knowledge about the development of healthy identities and relationships as well as the development of expectations and norms that foster flourishing and resilient communities, organisations and societies.
Our Research Themes
“Coping with what life throws at you” is arguably one of the most important skills an individual can possess to steer through unpredictable and turbulent times. Resilience, or the ability to recover from set-backs, succeed in the face of adversity and keep optimistic in challenging circumstances, is increasingly emerging as one of the key differentiating factor between successful or unsuccessful, healthy or unfit, happy or unhappy individuals. However, little systematic knowledge exists to date about the concept of resilience from the perspective of individuals and their identities and relationships. While research has explored the concept of resilience originally from the perspective of geology, ecology and material sciences, and more lately from the perspective of crisis and disaster management as well as developmental child psychology (Werner and Smith 1982; Block and Block 1980; Luthar, Cicchetti and Becker 2000; Carver et al. 1989) – however, the meaning of resilience in the context of people’s day-to-day lives and their identities and relationships –surviving in an ever more complex environment - is relatively unexplored (Fredrickson 2008, 2005; Lee et al. 2013; Cutuli and Masten 2009).
This is surprising, considering that a ‘resilient’ person requires a strong foundation within (to be able to rely on a ‘sense of self’ in difficult times), strong relationships with others to access necessary social and network support, while also displaying a degree of sensitivity and courage to allow for, and deal with, vulnerabilities (Brown 2010). Indeed, resilience at the level of the individual is likely to depend on physical, intellectual, social and psychological resources (Fredrickson 2008, 2005; Luthans, 2002; Lee et al. 2013; Carver et al. 1989; Cutuli and Masten, 2009; Kahneman 2011), while also expressing both a sense of stability and a process of transformation and change.
A lack of resilience in individuals, on the other hand, contributes to increasingly worrying trends in society and staggering statistics, such as published by the mental health foundation in the UK (http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/), that suggest that 1 of 4 people experiences some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year, that mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental health problem in Britain to date and that self-harm statistics for the UK show one of the highest rates in Europe: 400 per 100,000 population. We believe that resilient individuals are at the heart of healthy communities, organisations and society. Thus by exploring individual identity and resilience we hope to provide approaches that can foster, enhance and develop thriving and resilient communities, organisations and society (see theme 1.1 below).
 The concept of resilience has its roots in subjects such as material science and engineering, and is typically defined in its root disciplines as “ability to withstand (endure), recover from (bounce back), and/or reorganize in response to a shock and/or stress” (Martin-Breen and Anderies, 2011).