In a recent Gallup article, author Jim Harter shared some good perspective on performance management and, most importantly, the value of building on people’s strengths rather than focusing on trying to improve weaknesses.
In the piece, Harter shared data from Gallup studies indicating that today’s highly engaged workers (about 32% of the US workforce) spend 5x as much of their day using their strengths compared to what they don’t do well. Conversely, actively disengaged workers spend about equal time on both strengths and weaknesses.
While the article points out that critical feedback is necessary, and that people must be accountable for their shortcomings, it also substantiates that this is not the path to high performance.
“Constant criticism makes it nearly impossible for a manager and employee to build a trusting relationship,” Harter said. “To inspire great performance, managers must lead with meaningful feedback that’s based on team members’ strengths. “This simple starting point builds trust and increases the chance that negative feedback will become real development.”
He also noted that too many managers still take an approach that assumes people “operate like machines; that we all develop in the same way.” And that approach involves a great deal of emphasis on weaknesses.
Simply stated, a strengths approach to performance management works better. This does not mean leaders should ignore people’s weaknesses, nor does it mean people should only be assigned projects or tasks they like. And the feedback given by managers shouldn’t be all strength based.
But, for optimum results, feedback can’t be all weakness based either… in fact, far from it!
“There will be times when it’s necessary for managers to provide constructive feedback to help employees improve in their roles,” Harter said. “But performance management falters when managers treat feedback like it’s a balancing act. They shouldn’t equally match criticism with praise. The scales should be heavily tilted toward what employees do best. And this emphasis is even more important in our increasingly remote workplaces.”
In summary, Gallup’s findings suggest:
- Great performance is inspired by meaningful feedback and recognition
- Managers should help employees do more of what they do best
- Engaging employees and providing feedback is not a balancing act between focusing on strengths versus weaknesses.
- More focus building on strengths is the more effective approach.