Both employers and employees tend to dread performance appraisals, primarily because humans have a tendency to fixate on bad news over good tidings. Even when the feedback is largely positive, the meetings tend to focus on areas that need improvement. While weaknesses need to be acknowledged and addressed, harping on them is unlikely to boost performance.
In an article titled How to Play to Your Strengths, published in Harvard Business Review, Laura Morgan Roberts, Gretchen Spreitzer, Jane Dutton and Robert Quinn argue that criticism doesn’t usually motivate people to reach further or extend themselves. In contrast, identifying and recognizing a person’s strengths can help them actualize their potential, thereby contributing to a firm’s growth and productivity.
But do we really know what our strengths are in the context of our work? While we may be able to pinpoint one or two areas, do other people also view us differently? What strengths would your colleagues, boss, friends and even family highlight? The authors describe a tool called Reflected Best Self (RBS) exercise that can help us “tap into unrecognized and unexplored areas of potential.”
Basically, the exercise involves soliciting feedback from an array of people who know you in different contexts. More specifically, you need to ask them to comment on your strengths, citing actual examples of when you deployed them and how they were useful. Who were the beneficiaries of this strength? Was it the person concerned, the family, a colleague or the organization? And, how did this strength manifest?
As it may seem awkward asking people to provide information on your strengths, you may explain that you are engaging in this exercise because you want to devise a “personal development plan.” The authors suggest using email as the medium of communication, especially if you feel uncomfortable approaching them in person. You may also assure the person that their feedback is valuable as they know you well and you are keen to hear their perspective.
Don’t get disheartened if a few people highlight your shortcomings instead of focusing on your strengths. You may politely reiterate that for this project you would like to specifically zero in on positive traits and talents. If they continue to press on with lacunae in your character or performance, you may disregard their inputs without necessarily telling them.
Once you garner this type of feedback from a gamut of individuals in your personal and professional circles, you need to sort through it with an eye on “common themes” that might emerge. Next, the authors encourage you to write a self-portrait based on the information you have culled. The purpose of this narrative exercise is to help you form a more coherent image of what your “best self” might be like.
While you will rely primarily on the feedback you have received, you have to distil it with a critical eye. If you feel somebody has listed a strength that doesn’t feel like you in the least, don’t add it to your narrative. But be careful of allowing your inner critic to simply dismiss most of the positive feedback. If you have this tendency of viewing yourself harshly, let your guard down or else you may stymie your own growth and potential.
Finally, consider all aspects of your current job and examine to what extent your role and responsibilities allow you to capitalize on your strengths. If there is a fair amount of alignment, you can take on new tasks that harness your skills talents and positive attributes. However, if your current role doesn’t tap into your talents, you need to consider whether a change of position or even career might be a better fit for you.
Further, the confidence you glean from leveraging your strengths may help you address areas of weakness that are relevant to your role. Stop aiming for being “good enough” advise the authors when you can realise your “best possible self.”