Tools for Focusing on Staff Strengths
By Katherine Maloney, WorkPaths Consulting
I made the case previously that, as a leader, it benefits you and your team to focus energy on finding and encouraging staff strengths rather than on cataloging their deficits. By now, it is well documented that results of this more positive approach to coaching employees include enhanced motivation and higher performance and productivity. I outlined four steps detailing how to implement the approach:
- Observe worker performance
- Set up coaching conversations
- Provide specific and timely feedback
- Record good performance for review time
Well, as the adage goes (and it applies to being a leader), following the four steps is simple, but not necessarily easy. What are some tools that can facilitate your efforts to key in on employee strengths? While techniques abound, here are a few that you can implement on your own and one that may apply across the organization:
Tool #1: Plan to Discuss Successes at One-on-One Meetings
The tool to use here is the meeting agenda. You knew that preparing agendas for your group meetings made them more effective, right? For your convenience, most office systems have agenda templates prepared. So extend the concept and prepare agenda for your one-on-ones with staff members, and make sure you include an item where you discuss the employee being his or her best. Be sure to ask questions so that you can learn from the employee about how and why s/he kicked butt, so you can delegate future projects.
Tool #2: Gather Positive Feedback from Others
Are you feeling that it's all up to you to be the deliverer of strength feedback? If so, take heart: others can help gather information on your employees doing great deeds. Gathering feedback from your employees' customers and co-workers is a leadership practice that bolsters both staff development and perceptions of you as a leader. Here are two ways to accomplish this:
- Once a quarter, focus on a project or task that went well for your staff member. Then, select one or two co-workers or customers, internal or external, and ask them for feedback on the staff member, accentuating the positive. Give employees a heads-up that you are doing this to keep things open.
- Once a year, have your staff gather their own positive feedback. Again, this involves choosing key co-workers and customers, and sending email messages asking for an example of when the staff members was at her/his best, and what an impact it made. More about this exercise is written up in a classic 2005 HBR article, "How to Play to Your Strengths." I've led individual leaders and teams through this exercise, and it results in heightened self-awareness and even higher team performance.
Tool #3: Add 'Strengths' to Your Performance Review Form
Does your organization's performance review form include a section or column for Strengths to catalog employees' developmental strengths? If not, you may want to make an appointment with HR and ask why not. In any case, as a leader you can add a review of strengths to the performance conversation. The full-blown rationale for this practice is found in the work of Marcus Buckingham. Now if you're not up for changing the system, you can have the conversation anyway, since you are "recording employee strengths," and using tools #1 and #2 above.
My hope in sharing these tools is that you will be more empowered to find and benefit from your richest resource: your people. Think of it as mining gold: you've got a wealth of talent right in your sphere; be sure to tap that talent for happiness and success at work!
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Katherine Maloney of WorkPaths Consulting has been an accomplished career and executive coach, consultant, program manager and facilitator with more than 25 years of experience helping individuals and organizations align with their missions and goals. Her strengths lie in partnering with individuals and business leaders to create positive workplaces where people can thrive. She can be reached at kmaloney2 (at) maine.rr.com or 207-363-0922.