The past couple of years have tested our hope worldwide. As organizations have faced the COVID-19 pandemic, they have also been tasked with facing other challenges. Climate change, unequal access to vital resources (e.g., food, housing), and a lack of social justice around the globe have all presented challenges to humanity. Organizations often arise for the purpose of addressing these concerns. For example, non-profit organizations often aim to tackle these problems. But, even organizations that aren’t focused on these issues still grapple with them. For example, organizations are paying more attention to their philanthropic responsibilities to customers and society at large.
When organizations tackle big challenges, they often turn to hope as a way to motivate them when times are tough. But, while hope sounds positive – it is hard to hang onto it in the face of almost inevitable hardships. How should organizations manage their hope, so that they stay on course? Read more below.
What is Hope?
Most of the research on hope has been conducted at the individual level. We have talked about hope before. It is one of four key components of psychological capital. Employees are more hopeful when they feel they are motivated to achieve their goals. They are also better able to brainstorm multiple ways to achieve their goals. So, it’s about having energy to pursue goals and feeling that it’s possible to achieve them through various paths. People hope for all kinds of things, like doing well on a test or getting a new job.
But, when whole organizations turn to hope as a guiding principle, things get a bit more complicated. Groups of people generally only do so if they are in a shared negative circumstance. For example, organizations need hope when they face a large, collective challenge. When organizations are trying to grow hope, it usually means a big problem is on the horizon. As members of organizations hope together, our research finds, they are constantly scanning the environment to determine if what they hope for is actually possible. As they struggle to overcome challenges, if what they hope for seems further from their grasp, they may quickly become hopeless instead.
How Do Organizations Grow or Lose Their Hope?
We find that, when events unfold that support the idea that what is being hoped for is possible, organizations grow more hopeful. If events support the idea that people can achieve their goals if they band together, hope grows. It also grows when people believe that the organization’s practices for achieving goals are effective. Finally, people have to share a vision for the future they are striving toward. When events that support these ideas occur, people tend to speak positively to one another about their odds of achieving success. Positive emotions then start to spread. As a result, organizations become more energized. They then expand their goals beyond what they initially dreamed.
But, often, events unfold that call into question the idea that hoped-for outcomes are possible. Then, organizations start to lose hope. As events unfolding around the organization begin to create doubts that they are able to achieve goals together, or that they even know how or why to achieve their goals, hope fades. Negative emotions catch on quickly in these circumstances. Organizations begin to lose steam and begin to contract their goals. Some may even give up altogether.
What Can Organizations Do?
Because hope starts to fade in organizations when people more heavily discuss events that call their abilities, practices, and vision into question, organizations might want to pay more attention to the stories they tell at work. While there is a risk in being hopeful when goals truly are out of reach, negative stories and emotions can quickly take organizations off track and cause them to prematurely give up on their goals.
Remembering and discussing times when organizational members have banded together successfully in the past may help. Also, tweaking methods and practices to address new challenges – or keeping conversations on balance, by talking about how these practices have worked in the past – may also help. Finally, continue to talk about the importance of the vision you’re working toward. While it’s important to stay realistic, organizations might give up on hope too soon if they let negative stories and emotions dominate. Anticipating and planning for hopeless times may be a useful exercise for organizations trying to maintain hopefulness and strive toward their important goals.