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Build on Strengths, Avoid Weaknesses

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At your next set of performance reviews, what are you going to talk about with your employees? You may discuss what goals were met, next year’s objectives, or where their performance needs improvement. But new research suggests that more than fixing flaws, managers should be concerned with building on strengths.  In a recent Forbes article, Joseph Folkman shares research, which reveals that “70-80% of leaders and employees benefit more from improving what they are doing right.

If someone on your team is a great writer but lousy at spreadsheets, the tendency is to try to help the employee improve his or her spreadsheet skills. A better practice is to hone this individual’s writing skills. People are less likely to make huge strides in something they’re bad at or hate doing, yet there is a common notion that doing more of those actions builds a more well-rounded employee. On the contrary, as Folkman says, our strengths are what make us successful. The following tips will help you learn your employees’ strengths, build on them, and ultimately reach more goals with your team.

1. Be a good listener
Performance reviews should be a dialogue,  a time for managers and employees to have an honest discussion about what hinders performance and what gets the most positive results. Talk to your employees about areas where you see them struggling, as well as where they see trouble for themselves. Explore what they do that has the most impact, what they love doing, and where those intersect. Let your employees give honest feedback, and listen well – chances are they already know where their strengths lie.

Ask them to relate their feedback to examples of actions they’ve performed and successful initiatives in which they’ve participated, then do the same with your own feedback. Grounding the conversation in real examples helps illuminate the path forward.

2. Cultivate strengths
Don’t let your conversation on building strengths and boosting impact end after the formal performance reviews.  Cultivating your employees’ strengths is an active process. Weekly one-on-one discussions and periodic informal feedback are the best ways to reinforce what you discussed. Work with all your employees to let their strengths shine, and provide them with the resources to utilize and enhance their abilities on a daily basis. Consider this a business strategy – the more they can relate their strengths to your goals, the more goals they’ll meet.

3. Beware the fatal flaw
This is Folkman’s single caveat in his discussion of strengths in the workplace. He defines a fatal flaw as “a competency in which you receive strong negative feedback results (and/or poor performance review results) or below average capability in an area that is mission critical to your job.” The latter portion of the definition is the most important. Everyone has flaws, and we need to accept that to work with the premise of strengths-based coaching.

A fatal flaw is different in that it prevents someone from performing their job in spite of their strengths. This idea should be approached with caution since not all flaws are fatal flaws, but Folkman does advocate addressing a fatal flaw before playing to your employees strengths. Beyond that, build strengths and watch as you realize more goals and achieve higher productivity!

Employees often have a well of potential that remains buried by managers who focus on working with their flaws. Instead of pursuing the ideal of a well-rounded employee, great leaders bring out their teams’ strengths  and help them learn to use their talents for the good of the organization. Incorporating the idea of strengths-based coaching into your managerial style will lead to enhanced productivity and fantastic results for you and your company.

— The Velocity Gurus @ WorkBoard

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