56. Building positive organizations and their impact on the future of work | Nicky Garcea, Co-founder of Cappfinity


Nicky Garcea | Co-founder of Cappfinity


This week, we catch up with industrial psychologist and Cappfinity co-founder and Chief Customer Officer, Nicky Garcea. Nicky works with Cappfinity clients globally and heads up the Americas. 
In this episode, we get to know what positive psychology is, as it relates to business, and specifically how the PERMA model is used to help promote it.


Nicky Garcea web


Nicky has over 20 years of experience working with global clients. She is a pioneer in recruiting and developing for strengths, and the recruitment and promotion of underrepresented talent. Nicky is a regular keynote speaker on candidate experience and immersive recruitment technology.



[00:00:00] - Nicky Garcea
So much of positive psychology comes from learning about individuals who might have experienced a trauma, who might need to actually grow out of that trauma. And one of the things that I think with what has happened with the pandemic is, globally to different degrees, we have collectively experienced an aspect of you could say trauma, you could say change or loss.

[00:00:36] - Doug Foulkes
Hello and welcome to episode 56 of The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future. And it's brought to you by WNDYR and Pattyrn. I'm here with the CEO of WNDYR and Pattyrn, Claire Haidar. Claire, what's the weather like in America?

[00:00:53] - Claire Haidar
Hey, Doug, that's a bit of a controversial question right now because the East Coast is under a snowstorm, a major one, and I'm sitting here in sunny Dallas, so let's not spend too much time on that one.

[00:01:07] - Doug Foulkes
I've got 42 degrees that's celsius in Cape Town, and I don't even know what that is in Fahrenheit. It must be about 120 or something. Anyway, let's move swiftly on. We've just had an amazing conversation with Nicky Garcea.

[00:01:23] - Doug Foulkes
She's the Co-founder and Chief Customer Officer at Cappfinity and she's an industrial psychologist. Tell me briefly what we've been talking about and learning from Nicky.

[00:01:35] - Claire Haidar
Doug, like you said, it was genuinely one of those highlight conversations that you and I have had on the podcast. What makes Cappfinity stand out is their focus on strength-based recruitment solutions for their customers.

[00:01:50] - Claire Haidar
So they come from the school of positive psychology, which is all about asking not what is wrong with the human condition, but what is right with the human condition and looking at humans through the lens of strength. So what are people exceptional at? How can we take those skills and talents of theirs and put that to work in a really positive way?

[00:02:12] - Claire Haidar
That underpinned the whole conversation. And naturally, we went down a few very specific rabbit holes, which we'll get into. But that was the overarching thing, and I think so relevant to what every single company on the planet is navigating right now, given the times that we're living in.

[00:02:20] - Doug Foulkes
It was an exceptional hour that we spent together. So let's kick things off and hear what Nicky has to say.

[00:02:35] - Claire Haidar
Nicky, we're going to dive straight in. You're an impressive human, which is why I asked to get you onto our podcast as a guest. You're an industrial psychologist. You're a head of America's for a very large, well renowned organization and very much a thought leader in the area of recruitment and building strong teams.

[00:02:55] - Claire Haidar
And as I'm sure you're very well aware right now, this is a hot topic in organizations because of what we're navigating. And so it's an honor to have you here. So let's start by going back to basics.

[00:03:09] - Claire Haidar
I want us to start the whole conversation by actually just giving a basic, broad definition of what positive psychology is because it's such a huge part of your work. And I think by grounding everybody in that, it's a good way to start the conversation. So can you lead us down that train of thought?

[00:03:26] - Nicky Garcea
Well, thank you. And you've demonstrated your own bit of positive psychology by referring to me as an impressive human being, which will be a first, so, thank you for that. It means I can access all my positive thoughts because you've allowed me to do that.

[00:03:38] - Nicky Garcea
At its simplest level, positive psychology is about not focusing on what is wrong. And for many years, across all aspects of psychology, psychologists were famous and were published for their focus on deficit, on depression, on helplessness, on fundamentally what was wrong with people, organizations, educational systems.

[00:04:10] - Nicky Garcea
And it was a gentleman, Martin Seligman, at the end of 1990 that started to really ask the questions, well, what's right with people? And that brought together a whole movement of which I was delighted to learn about and apply in my own work. But it fundamentally created a big, big shift in psychology, which continues today.

[00:04:36] - Claire Haidar
Just in case you remember, Nicky, I don't know if you're aware of this, but I'm also an industrial psychologist by background. It was my major at University. And I can just think you remember the day in class when the lecture turned up and introduced us to positive psychology.

[00:04:54] - Claire Haidar
I literally had an outburst in the class. And I was like, finally, somebody is looking at the flip side of the coin and asking what's right with the human condition and what's not wrong? And it was a very big turning point for me in my degree as well, for the exact same reasons that you've just laid out.

[00:05:12] - Claire Haidar
So can you layout for us what are the core principles of positive psychology? And I know there's many. So I don't expect you to go into detail, but just at a broad level, if you can lay some of those up for us and share with us why they can be so impactful to companies right now in this present moment.

[00:05:34] - Nicky Garcea
I think, first of all, with what is happening with the current situation. I think positive psychology probably has a place in society and in work in a way like never before.

[00:05:46] - Nicky Garcea
I was using positive psychology, practicing with strengths within Cappfinity just after the financial crisis of 2007, 2008 and into 2009. And it absolutely had applications then, but not as profound as what we have been experiencing in recent years.

[00:06:06] - Nicky Garcea
One of the things that's fundamental in the principles of positive psychology is the Perma model. And actually, this Perma model again originates from Martin Seligman's work, but arguably brings in the work of many great psychologists like Barbara Fredrickson and Edina.

[00:06:27] - Nicky Garcea
It really gives a framework for the application of positive psychology, which I think people can possibly take at an organizational level like I do in workplace psychology, but also an individual level. So just to kind of spell the five areas out.

[00:06:44] - Nicky Garcea
The first area is the P, is positive emotion, and this is about cultivating joy, mindfulness, optimism, gratitude. And this is very much where the work of Barbara Fredrickson comes in. And you can really focus on how can we create positive emotion in our work and also in our individual lives. I'll pull on some of these examples as I go through.

[00:07:11] - Nicky Garcea
The E is for engagement, and that's about feeling engaged in the world around us, which I think has really been challenged at these times. But it's also about working on your inner strength. And strength is something that's very important to our work at Cappfinity in the work that I do.

[00:07:30] - Nicky Garcea
The third area R is relationships and establishing and fostering good quality relationships in all that you do. The fourth M is meaning. And possibly this area underpins so much of what's going on with the great realignment and resignation that we see globally at the moment, because this is about finding purpose and meaning.

[00:07:54] - Nicky Garcea
And then the fifth area is about accomplishment. And Martin Seligman, when he first started out, kind of grouping pillars to help with positive psychology. Back then, he published a book, Authentic Happiness.

[00:08:07] - Nicky Garcea
Actually, accomplishment was an area he went back to and put in the PERMA model, because what he acknowledged in his research was that actually we really feel at our best and organizations work at their best when there is that sense of having goals, having an ambition, striving towards something. And this is often where the resilience aspect comes in.

[00:08:32] - Nicky Garcea
One of the things that I often think about with this PERMA model is that there have been so many applications of it. Probably one of the most well referenced was with the US military service. And it used the PERMA model to identify people that might be significant risk of having suicidal thoughts, of experiencing difficulty, and they were able to put in positive interventions related to this model that actually reduced suicide rates, reduced the impact of the negative wellbeing, that servicemen and women were experiencing.

[00:09:13] - Nicky Garcea
So much of positive psychology comes from learning about individuals who might have experienced a trauma, who might need to actually grow out of that trauma. And one of the things that I think with what has happened with the pandemic is globally to different degrees, we have collectively experienced an aspect of you could say trauma, you could say change or loss.

[00:09:42] - Nicky Garcea
And the PERMA model right now, even if you just took one aspect of it, would probably benefit us, an individual, a societal level, an organizational level. And maybe too early on. But I think it was June 2021, Seligman ran a seminar where he talked about using the PERMA model to recover out of the pandemic.

[00:10:10] - Nicky Garcea
And I think that's when we were probably all feeling very optimistic and that actually we would move into better times. But actually, I think that PERMA model can be so strong when applied to recovery with what we have all been experiencing and continue to experience.

[00:10:26] - Doug Foulkes
Nicky, I'm going to jump in and say for the first time. Hi. Good evening. Nice to meet you.

[00:10:31] - Nicky Garcea

[00:10:33] - Doug Foulkes
I am not an industrial psychologist but I can chirp in. In a previous life I was a sports coach and one of the things that was very interesting for me was mental strength and sport psychology. And it was also around the late 80s and early 90s where that really came to the foreign as sport got more professional.

[00:10:50] - Doug Foulkes
What came first, the sport side, the industrial side, because I think with sport it was very much a case of it was always you were looking at the positive and ways to look at the positive more so than the negative side.

[00:11:02] - Nicky Garcea
Yeah. And I think this is a really interesting piece of positive psychology, Doug. That it has brought so many strands of good practice from other disciplines under one heading.

[00:11:14] - Nicky Garcea
And I think sports psychology, if you think of all the applications of emotional intelligence that happened in the sports psychology field arguably way before it hit the industrial field, probably aspects of sports psychology and positive training I would imagine came from sports before it hit the industrial setting.

[00:11:35] - Nicky Garcea
I think we often look to good coaches, good sports training and borrow it into organizations and often resonates because people believe and they can see what good teams are made of. Just to put a curveball in on top of I think what we saw within sports psychology there's aspects of religious psychology that fit within positive psychology.

[00:11:59] - Nicky Garcea
So one of the many parts of positive psychology is the idea of having rituals. Rituals clearly do not need to be religious. But many people who practice a religion will find the benefit of the ritual having wellbeing aspects to it. So I do very much feel with positive psychology that it has grouped a lot of strong practice or with this focus on let's not focus on the deficit.

[00:12:27] - Nicky Garcea
Let's not focus on how badly you play cricket or how badly you play soccer. But let's look at how you can be the best in the world at the skills you have in relation to that particular sport. And I think that's what then manifested into industrial psychology.

[00:12:43] - Doug Foulkes
Before we move forward into another section of the podcast, I'd like to just talk about the employee and the employer relationship. You could say it's a dance, almost each trying to give and take, trying to be their best and turn up and perform.

[00:12:57] - Doug Foulkes
But the relationship often does break down obviously for various reasons. How can employees apply the aspects of positive psychology to enhance their own employment experience?

[00:13:08] - Nicky Garcea
There's a couple of areas of the PERMA model which I think are based applicable to say the manager but also the employee. And one of these areas is in relation to individual strength. So this would fit under the E of the Perma model.

[00:13:25] - Nicky Garcea
What we know from based my work at Cappfinity, but well-documented work from the Gallup Organization and others, is that when employees are able to work using their strengths every day, their engagement will increase.

[00:13:45] - Nicky Garcea
And one of the things that is clear with strengths is that in the same way psychology didn't necessarily focus on what was working for people at an individual level, we find it quite hard to focus on actually. What are we strongest at? And how can we focus on the things that we can do within ourselves, not comparing ourselves to anyone else, but to be that best self?

[00:14:16] - Nicky Garcea
It is often the case if I asked you both now to write down a list of things that you weren't good at, and then I asked you to write down a list of things that you are good at. That list, not to upset you both, but the list that you're not good at is probably going to come to you quicker because our brains are hard-wired to focus on the negative.

[00:14:36] - Nicky Garcea
It's got that evolutionary benefit of fight or flight. But as individuals, if we can focus on our strengths and label them and have a vocabulary to discuss them, then we're able to apply them to the A of the PERMA model and think about how might I use my strengths to work on a goal or a project or a New Year's resolution or an ambition?

[00:15:01] - Nicky Garcea
And I can do that on my own. I can do that even absent having a good or bad manager. I can understand what I'm truly good at and apply it to work and outside of work. And that's within my gift to do. So what we found in our research at Cappffinity is there is undoubtedly hundreds of things organizations can do to harness positive psychology and strengths.

[00:15:29] - Nicky Garcea
But what's the smallest thing an individual can do to make the biggest difference? It would be to genuinely understand what their own individual strengths are and then put them to work, particularly those things that perhaps they don't draw on at work currently as much as they would like to.

[00:15:48] - Nicky Garcea
So very much focusing on strengths aligned to goals, accomplishments, things that you want to achieve. But you can be completely, personally responsible for doing that today.

[00:15:58] - Claire Haidar
Nicky, as you were talking there with Doug in response to that question, I actually literally went back into a Google Drive folder from 2017 and I pulled up my Gallup Strength Finder report.

[00:16:14] - Claire Haidar
And yeah, I think it will be good to mention because you actually called out the Gallup work there. I think it's a really solid body of work that Gallup has done there and definitely something worthwhile for individuals to look at. Strength Finder 2.0 and the actual questionnaire that they take you through.

[00:16:35] - Claire Haidar
Because I remember one of the things that was most useful, the reason why I actually took myself through that exercise at that point in time was I was transitioning between one start-up that I started and I was busy evaluating a few different opportunities that were on the table.

[00:16:51] - Claire Haidar
It was a phase in my life where I was like, I didn't really know which route to take because there were pros and cons to all of the routes that I had in front of me and I went back to the drawing board by actually going through this exercise and I took what the test shared with me at the end of the day what my results were and I chose my next opportunity based on my strengths and what I loved about it.

[00:17:15] - Claire Haidar
Which is why I actually went and pulled it up when you mentioned it was they actually have very specific ideas for action, so under each of the strengths that they identify for you, they actually have a section called ideas for action. Definitely, something worthwhile for individuals to take themselves through and also as a tool for managers to take their teams through.

[00:17:35] - Doug Foulkes
And that's the first part of our conversation with self-named career geek Nicky Garcea. Make sure you catch the next two parts of this interesting look into positive psychology on Spotify, Google, or Apple podcast or on WNDYR's website wndyr.com. From Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.

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