Creating High Performance Through People

by Dr Malcolm Johnson FAIM

Creating High Performance Through People

People want to flourish and be at their best but the reality is that barely 20% are succeeding in this objective. Approximately 60% are stuck in 'ordinary' mode. The remaining 20% of people are languishing, describing their lives as "hollow" or "empty".1

Listed below are a range of sentiments against which people and teams might assess the volume and tone of interactions in their everyday work environment.

The tipping point is a ratio of three positive sentiments/comments to one negative. Why the negative? Appropriate negativity is a critical ingredient within human flourishing that serves to help keep people grounded; in other words, a realistic balance to offset unbridled hubris.

Positivity ratios at or above 3:1 are associated with flourishing. The preferred ratio is 5:1 meaning that for every burst of irritability, tense exchange, or negative thought there need to be five times as many positives.

High performing teams exhibit ratios of 6:1

Poorly performing teams exhibit ratios less than 3:1

Just as negativity within the dynamics of human flourishing must be appropriate, positivity must be both appropriate and genuine.

How would your team assess prevalence of the following?

Positive List Negative List
Contentment Anger
Gratitude Fear
Hope Guilt
Interest Shame
Love Sadness
Pride Embarrassment
Amusement Contempt
Compassion Disgust

There is a catastrophic flip when the ratio of positive to negative falls below the critical threshold of 3:1. It becomes much more difficult to reverse as the subconscious begins to search out proof that the negative judgement is correct.

A change in negative tone also follows where negative feelings are more easily aroused and out of proportion to the incident.

Research2 has concluded that creating an environment where people flourish requires the optimal functioning of four key components:

  1. Goodness – indexed by happiness, satisfaction, and superior functioning
  2. Generativity – indexed by broadened thought-action repertoires and behavioural flexibility
  3. Growth – indexed by gains in enduring personal and social resources
  4. Resilience – indexed by survival and growth in the aftermath of adversity

At your next meeting a rule of thumb is to consider how open your team is to positive influence and open-ended questions posed to explore issues. If people are frequently defending their positions and are inflexible to change, it is likely that the ratio has fallen below 3:1.


1. Keyes, C.L.M (2002) The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43, 207-222.

2. Fredrickson, B.L. & Losada, M. F. (2005) Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing, American Psychologist, 60, 678-686.

About author

Dr Malcolm Johnson MBA (Qld ) Ph.D (Qld) FAIM
Dr Malcolm Johnson Dr Malcolm Johnson is General Manager of Professional Development and Research at the Australian Institute of Management QLD NSW ACT NT. He completed his MBA and thesis on corporate strategy while working at Shell Australia, subsequently contributing to preparation of the country business plan submitted to the Shell Board in London.

Malcolm undertook doctoral research in decision behaviour which he subsequently applied to build and sell a number of sizeable businesses in the financial services sector. Understanding decision drivers enabled articulation of client specific solutions that mapped aspirations to appropriate actions and resources.

The research also has specific application to change management. Understanding the complexity of implementing strategic change, he has guided a number of strategic transformations across the public and private sectors. This contribution to enhanced management practices has been recognised through coverage in publications ranging from BRW, Asset, InFinance, and Money Management through to the Australian Financial Review and The Australian.