What is Virtuousness?
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series articles about The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. The first was A Powerful Collection by Kirsten Cronlund.
In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines virtuousness as excellence in the human soul. Is it possible to find excellence in the soul of an organization or business?
In Chapter 18 of The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship , Kim Cameron and Bradley Winn argue that virtuousness in organizations “is often manifest in collective displays of moral excellence. Virtuousness refers to aggregates of virtues acting in combination, which manifests itself as behaviors, processes and routines in organizational settings.”
Virtuousness is a form of behavior that leads to beneficial outcomes for humans and that is, in itself, “an ultimate good.”
“In sum, virtuousness in organizations refers to the process and practices that support and manifest the display of virtuous behavior. In virtuous organizations, employees collectively behave in ways that are consistent with the best of the human condition and the highest aspirations of human kind.”
Aggregates of Virtues & Research
Many virtues combine to form acts of virtuousness. We are all familiar with well-known virtues such as forgiveness, humility, wisdom, compassion, honesty, gratitude, hope, empathy, love, understanding, integrity, trust and optimism. Cameron and Winn noted that some research investigations used aggregate measures but that it is often individual virtues that are the subject of empirical research. Thus, the combination of virtues, in the form of virtuousness, has not been widely investigated. Virtuousness, a phenomenon comprising a combination of virtues working in combination, is more usually “associated with social conservatism and religious conservatism and often studied in the fields of theology and philosophy” rather than the subject of empirical research.
There are only a few studies about the relationship between virtuousness and enhanced organizational performance, which Cameron and Winn summarize and analyze in great detail in Chapter 18. Generally, the research has established that:
- In organizations experiencing downturns, there is a statistically significant relationship between a range of individual virtues and increased productivity, quality, employee commitment, and profit. The research indicates that virtuousness may act as a buffer against downsizing, helping organizations to perform well despite setbacks.
- Similarly, in financial organizations that incorporate virtuous practices into business culture to support the organizational strategy, virtuousness predicts favorable financial results.
- Even in the health care system, business units with higher measures of virtuousness over time outperformed business units that did not engage in improving measures of virtuousness.
Research definitely indicates that aggregate virtuousness has a statistically significant relationship with organizational success across a range of areas of business. However, there is still much to learn about this relationship.
Areas for Future Research
Cameron and Winn welcome and encourage deeper research to include areas such as:
- Developing a standardized measure to assess virtuousness and its component elements
- Analyzing which virtues are the most important
- Exploring the possibility that virtues are not displayed in isolation from one another
- Investigating whether clusters of virtues are the powerful contributing factor
- Identifying if there can there be too much virtuousness
- Discovering which activities are most helpful in increasing virtuousness
- Researching the potential direct moderating effect of virtuousness on organizational outcomes
Positive Deviance and Virtuousness
At the Australian ‘Positive2012’ conference in March of this year, Kim Cameron explained in his keynote address that virtuousness is represented on the positive side of a “deviance continuum.” Virtuousness is a positive aberration from the norm whereas poor organizational performance is a negative aberration from the norm. Interested in Positive Deviance? Stay tuned…. Chapter 77 will be the topic of my next article.
Cameron, K., & Winn, B. (2011). Virtuousness in Organizations. In K. Cameron & G. Spreitzer, The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Oxford University Press.
The following book is a story of organizational virtuousness:
Cameron, K. & Lavine, M. (2006). Making the Impossible Possible: Leading Extraordinary Performance: The Rocky Flats Story. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler. There’s an excerpt available online.
Cronlund, K. “A Powerful Collection: Book Review”
All quotes in this article are from the Chapter 18, “Virtuousness in Organizations.”
Edited by Natasha Utevsky