In this article, Robert Biswas-Diener and Nicky Garcea present a strong business case for using a strengths-based approach to performance management. They not only highlight the benefits of this approach, but also provide suggestions for conducting strengths-based performance reviews.
by Robert Biswas-Diener and Nicky Garcea
Imagine for a moment a workplace in which the employees eagerly anticipated their performance reviews. Picture your staff telling each other how much they look forward to meeting with their supervisor and bragging about what an empowering experience these meetings are.
Obviously, this is not the relationship most folks have with their performance reviews; which begs the question: “What is wrong with the current practice of performance management that it sometimes leads to fear and disengagement instead of increased motivation?” Simply put: “How can such reviews be improved upon so that they are dynamic, fun and empowering?”
A strong case for the strengths-based approach
The answer is found in a strengths-based approach to performance management. This innovative approach is timely given the current sagging economic conditions. Research done by the Corporate Leadership Council tells us that in the United Kingdom the number of disengaged staff has doubled since 2007, rising to 19% in the second half of 2008. It is safe to assume similar figures in other countries, such as the United States and South Africa, which have been equally plagued by economic hardships. In this article, we will present a business case for using a strengths-based approach to performance management, and provide practical suggestions for conducting strengths-based performance reviews.
A strengths-based approach is more than just a management fad. Compelling evidence for the effectiveness of this approach comes from a variety of sources. The Corporate Leadership Council, for instance, conducted a survey of more than 19,000 staff members in which they found that a strengths-based approach to management resulted in a 36% increase in performance, as contrasted with a 27% decrease associated with a weakness focus.
Similarly, at the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) we have conducted interviews with 60 highly-engaged employees in four businesses to better understand what sets these people apart from their sluggish counterparts. It turns out that the answer lies in strengths: the highly-engaged staff reported using their strengths 70% of the time. These findings dovetail with data collected by the Gallup Organization in which researchers have found that top managers spent disproportionately more time with their top producers and focused more heavily on developing strengths rather than overcoming weaknesses.
The role of managers and workers in the process
A strengths-based approach to performance management can be divided into two easy categories:
Employees: The individual worker’s engagement with this concept includes taking strengths-based assessments, receiving coaching and otherwise trying to develop personal strengths.
Managers: Managers play a crucial role in the process. Managers intending to use this approach need to develop the habit of looking for strengths in their employees. They can use the hallmark features of strengths – positive emotions and high energy – to observe strengths in action. Whether it is in e-mails or watching interactions among people in the break room, managers can develop the ability to see when and where staff members are using their strengths. This is a crucial skill because it allows managers to give real-time feedback. One of the biggest problems with the traditional quarterly performance review is that they are retrospective and present feedback too late for the timeliest growth to occur. Strengths-based performance meetings, by contrast, are future focused and present learning that can be assimilated and used immediately.