Here are two numbers for you about productivity: -26.8% or +36.4%
Would you believe the difference is in whether businesses emphasise 'employee performance strengths' rather than the old-school system that uses 'personal development plans' to target ‘performance gaps’, ‘areas for development’, or in other words, weaknesses?
These numbers are the result of a massive study by the Corporate Leadership Council in 2002 that surveyed 19,000 employees in nearly 30 countries. It sounds dated, but despite the evidence (and coaching’s best efforts) change has been incredibly slow. Smaller scale Gallup research on human behaviours and strengths in 2014 found: "People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job."
Shifting from 'performance management' to 'performance improvement' can seem huge, but at what cost to business? Consider our revered footy players: if they've an amazing kick off their right foot, they then spend hours kicking off their right foot. Sports coaches know to use each individual’s strength to build the strongest team. Ignoring strengths to work on weaknesses will lead us to be average. Working on strengths will lead to what we like to call our ‘superpowers’. Amazing leaders know what they are good at, and do that!
Discovering your strengths
How do we figure out what we’re good at? There’s a trail of clues all around you to uncover. Here are some coaching questions and suggestions that can be useful:
- When do you have those moments that you lose track of time and are in a state referred to as being in ‘the zone’ or ‘the flow’?
- What are you really good at, and what do you enjoy?
- What have been your big successes? What skills did you bring to them?
- Imagine yourself in a room with 100 people – what would you be best at?
- Send an email to six people and ask them to describe you in three words.
- There’s a podcast called Lead through strengths about standing out at work by using your strengths. There’s a story in it of a brave woman who organised a focus group about herself when she no longer felt stimulated by her job and didn’t know in which direction to go.
- There are several free surveys that ask lots of questions to determine your strengths. The renowned VIA Institute on Character’s survey takes 15 minutes and measures 24 character strengths within six categories.
What to do with those strengths
Ample research shows that applying your strengths helps to build confidence and happiness, develop personal meaning, increase a sense of purpose, reduce stress, and enable you to improve relationships and manage problems. Consider how you could leverage your strengths – if you’re a great listener, how could you become a master communicator? If you’re a great rapport builder, what’s possible if you become even better?
What it means for business
COVID-19 is forcing companies to adapt quickly through rapid change, and employee wellbeing has catapulted up the list of factors for businesses to consider to survive. Deloitte published an article in December 2020 predicting five workforce trends to watch in 2021, which specifically highlights how human strengths would make organisational thriving possible. They found that: "… when given the chance to align their interests and passions with organisational needs, workers can fulfil their potential in ways that leaders may never have known they could, positioning the organisation to thrive in the long term."
Changing how we think
We all bring unique perspectives, experiences, wisdom, and strengths with us. Imagine if we took advantage of an employee’s individual qualities and celebrated what they brought to an organisation, rather than subject them to a competitive environment that cultivates the tall poppy syndrome.
When someone gives us feedback we tend to say, ‘thank you’, and leave it at that. Instead, what if we said, ‘Thank you, can you please give me one specific example of why you think that went well?’ It’s a small but powerful shift, isn’t it?
Every night our founder, Lisa Stephenson, asks her children, ‘What did you do really well today?’ It’s time we ask ourselves and each other the same question and shift our mindset to value what we do well, and teach our brains to look for the positives. There’s a fantastic Ted Talk here by a school principal who talks about the difference being strengths-focused makes with students, and how it can shift anyone to greater productivity.
High performance, purpose and happiness all align when we're in the flow, thriving and doing what we know works. It’s what we want for ourselves and everyone around us. Leaders who are conscious of and use their strengths can also recognise when they need to draw support from their tribe. Imagine the strength in that kind of role-modelling: 36.4%!
– The Coach Place Global
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