The eco-system of an organization can be a curious thing. Ostensibly an organization exists for a specific purpose, principally to have happy healthy employees performing well in their jobs and ultimately to be profitable. Think of any team meeting or boardroom interaction in these organisations, it is almost always focused on the negative – the dreaded stretch goal – what haven’t we achieved yet, how much more can we do?
While this level of ambition can be energizing and exciting, it also comes with a health warning. This concept of “not-yet” can be exhausting and a common cause of employee burn-out. Constantly looking forward, seeking and striving for never ending improvement can ultimately leave us empty and this is borne out by research undertaken by Gallup stating that only 33% of employees are actively engaged in their job roles.
If we look at traditional performance management frameworks, they tend to focus on areas for development, we are told that next year needs to be better than this year, we are again faced with that stretch goal and ultimately a focus on work-ons over well-dones. How can we expect our employees to perform consistently at a high level with this intensity?
Strengths V Weaknesses
Biologically, the brain is wired to detect and sense threat therefore we are far more comfortable talking about weaknesses and threats than we are at embracing opportunity and strengths. This is why the command and control style of management is “de rigour” and exists in many organisations – because talking about weaknesses comes naturally to us.
So we are faced with a choice, do we persist with a problem focused command and control style or explore a new solutions focused strengths based approach?
Interestingly enough though, when we are talking about strengths and weaknesses we tend to use “have” and “have not” language when in fact your strengths and weaknesses are interlinked. The English social scientist Gregory Bateson observed that:
For all objects and experiences, there is a quantity that has optimum value. Above that quantity, the variable becomes toxic. To fall below that value is to be deprived.
Therefore for every strength you have as an individual, team and organization, there exists a toxic element to that strength. Therefore a high paced, tempo setting results focused organisation is absolutely a huge strength but if it is not backed up by high support, we might experience an oppressive, relentless work environment with burn out and exhaustion a key feature leading to high levels of employee turnover.
So how do we kick this into action and get your team into its optimum value or it “sweet spot.” Very simply, it’s as easy as pulling the car out of the parked position
What do you see when you look in the mirror?
What truths do we as individuals, teams and organisations have to confront? Some truths may be uncomfortable to confront but equally other truths may provide us with areas for growth and development. How can this impact on your organisation? What would happen if your team looked in the mirror – what would they see?
- Can we get team members to reflect on a time when this team worked really well together? What were the key aspects to this success? What roles were the team members playing, how did they challenge each other? What environment did they create?
- Can we identify a time when this team did not perform or when did they not achieve?
- What are the key strengths that each individual brings to the table?
- Identify when this team and individual is at its best and when is it at its worst
Knowing what we now know about when our individuals and teams are at their best and worst, we need to develop a strategy to harness the best out of our talent.
- Using that classic coaching framework “Stop, Start & Continue” – what do we need to stop doing in the workplace, eliminating performance inhibiting behaviours / practices. What do we need to start doing – more performance enablers. And what do we need to continue to do – what are we currently doing that’s working really well?
- Can we walk through our processes with a critical and curious eye to identify how we can better use our strengths to enhance the efficiency of our work practices?
Now it is time to put the car in gear and take off. An awareness and appreciation of strengths is highly impactful but only when accompanied by a dedicated performance plan.
- Do we have critical milestones in place to review and track our goals?
- Are we building in debriefs for both successes and failures to enhance wisdom?
- Are we checking in with team members for regular feedback?
The tangible outcomes for adopting a strengths-based approach can be seen through the latest research in the field of positive psychology which demonstrate that: –
- Employee performance improves from between 21% – 37%
- 73% more engagement
- 50% more likely to have lower employee turnover
So, it’s time to move, get in the car, mirror, signal and manouvre and watch your team and organisation accelerate.
Declan O’Connell is a Leadership and Performance Coach and co founder of Spirit Leadership. If you want to find out more about Building Organisational Capability and creating a performance plan for your organisation get in touch