Given that we've just finished Performance Management Week, it seems like a good time to go into a bit more detail around a concept that is becoming more and more entrenched in our performance management philosophy: understanding, and playing to, our strengths.

The idea is pretty straightforward:

  1. Pinpoint what invigorates us at work.
  2. Shape our roles to tip the balance of our activities to tasks that invigorate.
  3. Get a shared understanding of what our individual strengths are.
  4. When faced with a change in environment, stay reasonably focused on maintaining that optimized role.

One of the first things to wrap your head around are 3 myths:

  1. As you grow, your personality changes.
  2. You will grow most in your areas of greatest weakness.
  3. A good team member repeatedly does whatever it takes for the greater good of the team.

In the "strengths movement", the "truths" are:

  1. As you grow, you become more of who you already are.
  2. You will grow the most in your areas of greatest strength.
  3. A good team member deliberately volunteers their strengths to the team most of the time.

(As an aside, we're not looking to foster a new culture of folks who take on a "I don't do windows" kind of attitude. What it does mean is that we can all get a much clearer understanding of what makes us feel strong and figure out how to have a greater diet of those activities, so that if we have to "do windows" every once in a while, it's not a big deal nor is it a tacit acceptance of nothing but windows for ever more.)

So what is a strength?

A strength = talent (inherent) + skill (learned) + knowledge (learned)

This definition of a strength is helpful in terms of understanding that there's a mix of stuff we're born with plus a healthy dose of what we learn over time. This is why you could feel strong doing something but not necessarily be good at it because it's new and unknown territory. However, understanding that it's rooted in a strength can help give additional motivation and energy to persevere through the learning curve. Things that we gravitate towards but even after time and effort we find we do not improve at are more like hobbies. Which, for instance, is why I will never become the official Habanero staff photographer.

What are signs of a strength?

S — success; self-efficacy
I — instinct; normal attraction to those activities
G — growth; areas you want to practice, read up on, refine, grow
N — needs: after the activity, it feels like you've fulfilled a need

Some feelings / thoughts that strength activities evoke:

  • gravitation towards x
  • confidence
  • smoothness
  • greatness
  • Awesomeness (ok that's a made up word)
  • in the zone
  • authenticity
  • naturalness
  • elation
  • easy
  • "when can I do this again?"
  • time flies by

Some feelings / thoughts that weak activities evoke:

  • drained
  • frustration
  • irritation
  • boredom
  • wiped out
  • repeated procrastination
  • time drags
  • no concentration
  • feels forced
  • want to get out of doing it
  • repellence

So note that a strength is not necessarily just something you're good at; there are things that each one of us do that we're good at (and because we're good, we tend to do them a lot), but that leave us drained, stressed, and frustrated.

Start to get in touch with your strengths and weaknesses

Here's a fairly simple exercise to start to get the ball rolling (but certainly feel free to get the book on which this is based (Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham) to get into the full program):

Get a notebook and jot down when you feel strong / weak; try to make your notes when you're in the moment. At the end of the day (or week) go back and review your notes and look at what's in your "strong" vs "weak" columns. Consider the following for each item:

  • Why do I do this activity?
  • Who do I do it with or for?
  • When do I do this activity?
  • What is this activity about?

Distill a few of the items that seem to strike you the most forcefully; try to get down to the core of the activity so that you have some "atomic" truths you can start to apply towards upcoming conversations about your role, a successful year, and areas of focus.

This is an ongoing journey. You can start this discovery today and apply what you learn whenever you're ready to. "Stellar careers" isn't a once-a-year event; you can be exploring your strengths and discussing them when you feel ready to with your performance manager or group leader or teammates.

Finally, there are some interesting offshoots to this regarding our understanding of how Habanero functions as a team or how our clients work with us on projects. The better we know what we excel at individually, as an organization, as a partner, the better we will be able to work with others, the better the quality of our work and the greater our overall satisfaction. Pretty heady stuff with which to kick off the year!