July 17, 2014

Psychological Capital

Psychological Capital , like widely recognized concepts  human and social capital, is a construct similar to  economic capital, where resources are invested and leveraged for a future return. Psychological Capital is different from  human (‘what you know’) and social (‘who you know’) capital, and is more directly concerned with ‘who you are’ and more importantly ‘who you are becoming’ (i.e., developing one’s actual self to become the possible self).

Luthans et al. operationally define Psychological Capital as follows:

An individual’s positive psychological state of development that is characterized by: (1) having
confidence (self-efficacy) to take on and put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks;
(2) making a positive attribution (optimism) about succeeding now and in the future; (3) persevering
toward goals, and when necessary, redirecting paths to goals (hope) in order to succeed; and (4)
when beset by problems and adversity, sustaining and bouncing back and even beyond (resiliency) to
attain success (Luthans, Youssef, & Avolio).

Luthans et al. used  the following criteria to include concepts and variables in the operations definition of PsyCap. (1) the concept must  grounded in theory and research; (2) valid measurement; (3)
relatively unique to the field of organizational behavior; (4) state-like (i.e., open to development as
opposed to trait-like and thus relatively fixed); and (5) have a positive impact on sustainable
performance  Note the variable must be amenable to development.

Input for Developing Hope Variable 

Positive psychologist Rick Snyder (2000) has done  extensive theory building and research on the concept of hope and also on the development processes of hope. He identifies the primary components of hope
to be agency, pathways, and goals. Luthans et al used  a three-pronged strategy embedded in a goal-oriented framework, which includes goal design, pathway generation, and overcoming obstacles in the exercise of developing hope.

Goal Design

The micro-intervention sessions (lasting from 1 to 3 hours depending on the number of participants
and exercises/video clips used) begin with participants identifying personally valuable goals. Once they have recorded these goals, the facilitator explains the ideal design for such goals includes: (1) concrete end points to measure success; (2) an approach (rather than an avoidance) framework, which allows participants to positively move toward goal accomplishment as opposed to away from desired goals (e.g., work toward quality targets instead of avoiding product rejects); and (3) the importance of identifying sub-goals in order to reap the benefits of even small ‘wins’ (what Snyder calls ‘stepping’ in his hope training). There is refinement of goals after this facilitation.

Pathways for Goal Attainment

After the personal goals are determined, pathways are developed. First, using the stated personally
valuable goal, participants are asked to generate multiple pathways to this goal. They are encouraged to
brainstorm as many alternative pathways as possible, regardless of the practicality of implementation.
Next, small groups are formed in order for participants to hear from others, and provide to others,
alternative potential pathways to the group members’ various goals. The final step is to inventory
pathways. This process entails considering the resources required to pursue each pathway. After careful
deliberation, the unrealistic pathways are discarded and a smaller number of realistic pathways are

Overcoming Obstacles

Snyder (2000) posits there will be obstacles to virtually any goal. These obstacles may result in disengagement from pursuing the goal. Hence an attempt to anticipate and plan for overcoming  obstacles is an integral part of the exercise. Participants are instructed and given a few minutes to consider the potential obstacles or ‘what can stop you from accomplishing your goal?’ After time for self reflection, small groups are formed again to hear alternative perspectives on potential obstacles and strategies to overcome them. The facilitator focuses on utilizing this process to identify obstacles in advance and choose an alternate pathway to avoid pathway blockage.

At the completion of this hope dimension of the intervention session, participants have defined a
personally valuable goal in such a way as to take ownership, be prepared for obstacles, and be ready to
implement multiple pathways as contingency plans. Throughout this exercise,  the facilitator tries to acknowledge and encourage positive, rather than negative, self talk. The facilitator maintains focus on goal setting, pathway generation, and overcoming obstacles as a process that can and should be applied to an array of participants’ goals in the workplace. Transferability back to the job is constantly emphasized. The objective of the exercise is to increase participants’ level of hope in his PsyCap developmental process.

Psychological capital development: toward a micro-intervention
Department of Management, Gallup Leadership Institute, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln,
Nebraska, U.S.A.
Journal of Organizational Behaviour
J. Organiz. Behav. 27, 387–393 (2006)

Positive Psychological Capital: Beyond Human and Social Capital
Business Horizons, Jan-Feb 2004

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