Shall I break the bad news to your CEO or do you want to?
CEO’s across the world are frantically pulling their hair out as they try desperately to get their leaders to manage employee performance better in order to drive up revenue and profit. The truth is that most managers are going about this in completely the wrong way by focusing on weaknesses rather than strengths. As a result of this misguided focus, managers are missing a golden opportunity to not only improve performance, but also to increase employee motivation, well-being and happiness. In other words, the company is missing out on something that equates to an absolute fortune each year!
As an employee in one of these companies, you will still find that when it comes to performance, employee weaknesses are still the preoccupation of managers and annual performance reviews. Whether these are outright labelled as weaknesses or dressed up as areas for improvement, essentially it means the same thing: your manager wants you to improve your performance in specific areas of your job where you lack strength. It could be that you struggle with presenting to large groups of people or take too long to make important decisions, or perhaps that you over-analyse data or need to enhance your problem solving abilities. Whatever your exact weakness, there are always going to be some things that you can do better than others. However, should your main focus be on these areas, or would it be better if you played to your strengths? Instead of focusing on what is “wrong” with you, how about considering what is right?
In their research on strengths and goal achievement, Linley et al. (2010) discovered that when students used their natural strengths to pursue meaningful goals, they were significantly more likely to make measurable goal progress, which in turn led to increased satisfaction and higher well-being. In addition, a different study (which focused on the workplace) found that when managers created environments that allowed employees to utilise their strengths, the likelihood of success was 38% higher (Harter & Schmidt, 2002). However, these findings should not be surprising to us, as it makes sense that using strengths which come naturally to us leads to greater fulfillment.
In contrast, think about the last time you had to do something in which you did not have natural ability. For example, say you had to lead a business negotiation with a client, but this is not your strength. During the meeting, you would likely feel an underlying sense of anxiety and at times you’d probably feel uncomfortable and out of your element. In the end, you’d probably make it through the occasion just fine, but you’d also probably dislike the experience. This lack of enjoyment combined with the stress of the situation would have inevitably sapped your energy and left you feeling drained. Maybe though, if this was a one off, you might have gained satisfaction from stepping out of your comfort zone and accomplishing something that was difficult for you.
Imagine, however if you had to do this day after day? What if the focus of your performance appraisal was built around developing these weaknesses by continually exposing you to them? Is this really something that is going to lead to great performance, productivity and employee motivation, or is it something that will threaten your long-term well-being and passion for your role? Playing to one’s strengths clearly has advantages for an individual and the organisation they work for. Strengths are a stable aspect of our personality that we tend to enjoy using and developing because we like doing things we are good at and get a natural buzz from doing so. Collectively, using our strengths is energising and allow us to function to our optimal ability.
Interestingly, 66% of people asked in a survey to name their own strengths were unable to do so (Linley & Harrington, 2006). This probably reflects the fact that we may not always appreciate what we are good at, perhaps because the focus is usually on improving what we are not good at. Clearly, knowing our strengths is important as if we want to thrive as people in the workplace, we need to know where we should aim to focus most of our energy.
Fully understanding our own strengths is often best achieved by using psychometric tools and questionnaires. This is because humans are too subjective and find it difficult to objectively assess individual qualities in themselves. One of the most useful ways of gauging strengths is to take a comprehensive personality test that measures your traits across a range of different areas. By taking this kind of test, you will discover what makes you ‘tick’ as a person and what natural preferences you have in relation to people, work, leadership, motivation and ideas. From your results, it will be abundantly clear where your strengths lie and, just as importantly, how different strengths can actually complement each other to create enhanced effectiveness.
So, what are you waiting for? If you are one of the lucky ones that knows your own strengths, start using them more. If your job gives you scope for utilising your strengths, then fully embrace this! If it doesn’t, then consider finding a new job instead. Finally, if you have an inkling about some of your strengths but want the complete picture, then bite the bullet and take a personality test to fully understand how you can improve your performance, job satisfaction and passion for life.
About the Author
Steven Green MCIPD MBPsS is the Founder of Careerlicious, an online company that has helped people like you with career development and personal growth. Key services include: discovering your ideal career, mastering your interview technique and developing enhanced leadership skills. With qualifications in Human Resources and Organisational Psychology, Steven is an experienced Executive Coach who also contributes to a range of international coaching programs. Connect with him on Twitter @Careerlicious today.