People designated as leaders because of their actions, rather than title alone, know that their success is measured by the success of their employees. Such leaders know that if they foster an inhospitable environment, then only the hardiest of employees will flourish. The most skillful leaders uncover and help nurture individuals? potential, using missteps or mistakes as opportunities to augment and build on strengths. This approach elevates the performance of the group, and also supports and reflects well on the leader.
Many popular evaluation methods, such as performance reviews, focus too heavily on identifying areas of low performance or weakness. Concentrating on these weaknesses, without also highlighting strengths and emphasizing how weak areas might be strengthened, may result in a self-fulfilling prophecy: you build a poor image of the employee and he consequently performs ? down to? his potential. It can also lead to wasted resources, and you? ll end up getting a minimal level of performance from an employee with star potential.
Results of under-expecting the performance potential of employees include low morale, unsatisfactory performance, and higher degrees of employee turnover. In fact, many surveys suggest that employees often leave a company not because of dissatisfaction with the company or work itself, but because of poor relationships with a manager and/or unpleasant interpersonal issues.
So the question remains: How can you unearth and nurture your employees' strengths? Here are a few tips to help you achieve that goal.
Make time for positive recognition. Whether in casual conversation or a formal performance review, think about and genuinely express positive feedback for the employee. Be specific about what she? s doing well, and share examples. The benefit is two-fold: The employee knows what behaviors are most valued, and you help shift your thinking from ? can? t do? to ? there? s potential here.?
Identify ways to apply existing strengths in new ways. Thomas Edison saw sewing-thread as light bulb filament. How can you look at your employee in new, different ways? What qualities has your employee demonstrated, and how can these translate into needed skills? Start by throwing traditional title and responsibility-norms out the window. A receptionist with an unerring knack for detail could be an ideal project manager.
Ask the employee what she likes to do. There? s a funny equation applied to many promotions: People who excel at a specific job are promoted to management level. As a result, you? ve often taken the person out of the exact environment in which she succeeds and which she likes -- possibly reducing her success in the new position. Also, you cannot fully uncover a person? s strengths without her input. Tap into what she discerns as her strengths by asking what she enjoys most, and why, and in what role she believes she? s of most value to the organization.
Get co-workers? thoughts. As the business leader, you work with employees in different ways than they work with each other. ? Fertilize? your assessment about an employee? s strengths with co-workers? thoughts. A word of caution: This activity requires deft execution and should not be performed informally. Discussing an employee? s performance with other employees should never be done. However, implementing a 360-degree feedback loop or sharing kudos and thank-you? s at staff meetings can provide insight into traits and behaviors that suit -- and benefit -- the entire team.
Look to history for clues. If you find yourself mired in thoughts about an employee? s weaknesses, spend time concentrating on why you hired him, what his resume and references told you, and what your first impressions were. There were reasons you brought this person on board -- revisit those reasons to refresh your thinking about his strengths, contributions, and potential.
Turn a weakness on its head. Physicists know that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Applied to employees, consider, ? What? s the opposite of this weakness to unearth possible strengths. For instance, if an employee inconsistently completes projects that he developed in the first place, perhaps his strength is in generating ideas, not executing them.
Allow the employee to test-drive a new role. Maybe you? re seeing the employee in her specific role, yet more of her strengths would blossom in another role. Consider establishing a mini, internal internship program, in which employees shadow co-workers for a day to learn more about the roles and responsibilities available. This test-drive might spark new ideas about increased value from the employee, and allow you to see where a role-shift may make sense for the company. Ensure that the ? internship? leads to valuable information for the company and the individual. Set clear goals and intentions for the exercise, including, ? What we want to know at the end of this exercise.?
Remember, this information is food-for-thought, not customized counsel. The most effective interpersonal and organizational communication program is one that's been tailored to meet the unique needs of your group.
Jamie Walters is the founder and Chief Vision & Strategy Officer at Ivy Sea, Inc. in San Francisco, CA.