I've been fortunate to speak with hundreds of business leaders about how organizations are engaging people around purpose, values and habits in ways that can make them more successful, both personally and professionally. These conversations gave rise to another set of questions about how people, cultures and brand interact. Which happens first, personal or organizational change? And what does the idea that brand is a reflection of culture mean for personal growth for each individual?

Brand is Culture, Culture is Brand

The idea that brand is a reflection of culture has to do with internal and external experiences of an organization. Culture is about the internal, employee experience; it's what attracts the best team to the organization and motivates them to succeed. This in turn engages customers with your organization's brand when there's a meaningful purpose, values that act as a roadmap towards that purpose, and people whose daily habits reflect the values of the organization.

This intersection of culture and brand matters more today than ever before. To your customers, culture is brand. Culture drives every aspect of the employee and customer experience. If we want to improve perceptions of our brand, culture is a good place to start. Positive psychology supports this effort by helping people grow, personally and professionally, so that they can bring the best of themselves to the culture and the brand.

Positive Psychology and Organizational Change

Gretchen Alarcon, Group Vice President for Human Capital Management Strategy at Oracle says positive psychology drives change at an organizational level. "From a human capital management perspective, positive psychology is a huge opportunity," says Alarcon. "It's about figuring out how to bring individuals together to make a group thrive."

Positive psychology is based on the work of Martin Seligman, and before him, Abraham Maslow. Most people are familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which states that humans are first motivated to meet physiological needs like air, food and water, safety and rest, and when these are met they ascend to meeting higher order needs such as love and belonging, self esteem, and self-actualization. Self actualization means achieving your full potential and living a life that is meaningful.

Seligman took things a step further, hypothesizing that people can achieve happiness by using their individual strengths in the service of something larger than themselves. Working for a purpose-driven organization is one way people can achieve happiness. Research suggests that this in turn benefits organizations: happy people, for instance, are 12% more productive than less-happy people, while Gallup recently found that engaged business units where people are inspired to perform their best are 21% more profitable.

Positive psychology can transform an organization by putting individual strengths to work, but it requires a change from traditional management approaches. "Performance conversations have to focus more on coaching rather than correction," says Alarcon. "We're teaching today's managers to talk more about how to build from people's strengths. We have to show people that we are investing in them."

Personal growth through human understanding

Positive psychology is an obvious fit for star performers, but how can organizations help employees who may be struggling? Can positive psychology help them become a stronger asset to the organization?

"The question most employers are struggling with is how to take that positive, strengths based thinking to create change at the employee level," says Alarcon. "There's an idea that it's about hiring right. And there's also the idea that habits can be taught. I think it's a mix: you can manage in such a way that employees can improve professionally and personally. You have to capitalize on their strengths and passions to do that."

This means understanding employees at a deeper level - whether through one-on-one management sessions, employee surveys, or looking carefully about what successful employees and managers in your organization are doing. Says Alarcon, "Organizations that want to use positive psychology to manage their people need to learn as much as possible about what causes employee disengagement. That's what will drive change."

Positive psychology links positive states of being such as happiness, engagement, mindfulness and meaning as keys to living a happier life. It also can create more engaging and successful brands and cultures. When culture supports personal growth, employees are inspired to engage more fully with the organization's purpose, the brand and the customers it serves.