Strengths Coaching Blog

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Leveraging Strengths in Performance Review Conversations

By Tom Melanson & Stephen Shields

It has happened to many of us -- too many of us.

We sit down with our manager for that dreaded event: the performance review. After a few perfunctory remarks about our positive characteristics, or perhaps some comments about a project on which we worked that went particularly well, at about the six-minute mark we hear, “What I thought we might do for the remainder of our time together is to focus on how we can improve your performance and even attack some of those barriers that have been holding you back.” Joy.

Don Clifton, the creator of StrengthsFinder, once said, “What would happen if we studied what was right with people versus what’s wrong with people?” For you as a manager, focusing on your employees’ strengths is a powerful way to make the performance review conversation something the members of your team will look forward to rather than a yearly event that must be endured.

We typically use our talents without being very conscious of them, using what Dr. Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, calls system one in our brain -- the part of our brain we’re usually talking about when we use terms like “intuitive” or “reflexive thinking.” When we use system one, we’re on automatic. We intensify the power of those talents when we become intentional about both thinking and using them. When we do this, we use system two of our brain -- the part of our brain that considers and makes intentional choices. When we are intentional about identifying our talents and thoughtfully applying them in our lives, then those talents rise to the level of strengths.

Accordingly, in the performance review, the manager has the opportunity to help their employee become more aware of their particular strengths and can provide insight into helping employees figure out how to use them more effectively in the execution of their job responsibilities. Gallup has worked with thousands of managers to help them more effectively leverage strengths in performance conversations. We’ve discovered that managers do this by asking great questions.

For example:

  • What part of your job have you enjoyed most in the last year? Which of your strengths are you using when you do that?
  • Based on your strengths, what is your unique contribution to your team? What do you give them?
  • What would you like to spend more time doing in the next year? Which of your strengths reflect that desire?
Great managers know that the best way for people to grow and develop is to identify how they most naturally think, feel and behave -- their talents -- then build on those talents to create strengths, or the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance. Gallup has found that building employees’ strengths is a far more effective approach to improving performance than trying to improve weaknesses. When employees know and use their strengths, they are more engaged, perform better and are less likely to leave their company.

The performance review is a time to reflect upon and celebrate the strengths of each employee and what those strengths bring to the team. By understanding and focusing on an individual’s unique strengths during the performance review, a manager can help employees leverage those strengths to their fullest potential to achieve the desired goals and outcomes. By spending time in the performance review exploring what your folks do well, you will not only help them to eagerly anticipate that conversation, but to excel!

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