While I don’t know about performance appraisal timing in your organization… What I can say within many I’ve been employed or now partner, the New Year typically marks the wrap-up of the old cycle and the start of annual goal-setting. No matter your particular system, I virtually guarantee it goes something like this: A numerical rating of actions against prescribed objectives (aligned with your vision, mission and/or values – if you’re lucky) together with room for comments plus a “Developmental Action Plan” (or, your term for how you’ll continuously learn and grow professionally).
Ah, there’s the rub… For, I can also predict with almost-certainty your development is founded on the expectation you’ll improve…what? Yes, “weaknesses”! All those behaviours and attitudes you’re not “good at” that must be corrected, addressed, beefed up or eradicated. Code speak for the multiple ways something is “wrong” with you…
What if we were to overhaul our view of so-called weaknesses? Could we see them as strengths? The world of personal branding does this regularly. Just look at Oprah Winfrey. Has she not made millions precisely from sharing with her audiences all the foibles with which she daily struggles, such as her weight? She transmutes these challenges into “living your best life”. If anything, her obstacles make her more human, but not necessarily weak.
Become More of Who You Already Are
For literally years, Marcus Buckingham’s Go Put Your Strengths to Work resided on best-sellers lists. The idea of building on your strengths clearly resonates with huge appeal. Why is that?
I suspect one reason must be the relief of not having to constantly “work on” ourselves (as performance appraisals enforce)! Let’s be clear here. By no means am I advocating “slacking off”. Not as a dedicated life-long learner!
Two of my favourite quotes from Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder mini-book (based on the Gallup online assessment in Buckingham’s work) make the point that it’s exponentially more effective to direct our energies toward strengthening Who We Really Are:
“You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”
“Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?” (Benjamin Franklin)
The Top Ten List
Borrowing next from a Globe & Mail article of April 18, 2008 entitled “Pump Up Your Strengths”, taking time to validate our strengths allows us to apply them consistently to maximum (competitive) advantage. So how about a fill-in-the-blank exercise this month? Remember: Don’t spend too long “struggling”; if an answer doesn’t come quickly, move on. Note which one(s) you need to return to, and why you think that is:
- I am especially good at ____________________________________________.
- Others would describe my special talents and gifts as ____________________.
- The abilities that come naturally to me are _____________________________.
- Something unique about my professional experiences is __________________.
- Something unique about my personal experiences is _____________________.
- I am different from others around me in the areas of _____________________.
- I am motivated by ________________________________________________.
- I love doing _____________________________________________________.
- I lose track of time when I __________________________________________.
- I could easily develop myself in the areas of ____________________________.
There! Did that feel endorsing? I definitely hope so!
Surely you’ve noticed daily life unfolds with welcome ease and grace when you operate inside your center of excellence. Yes, you can perform a “job” by exercising your skills. But this is no guarantee you won’t be battling your innate nature. I can tell you as a Project Manager, I possessed the needed planning and organizational capabilities. Still, it was sheer torture to drag myself to the office. Why? I wasn’t allowed to be me!
On the other hand, when you can apply your unique gifts to your profession (let alone your whole life), it doesn’t feel like work at all. Does it? No. More like you’re being paid to “play”. How much better than that does it get?
As Rath writes in Strengths Finder: “Far too many people spend a lifetime headed in the wrong direction. They go not only from the cradle to the cubicle, but then to the casket, without uncovering their greatest talents and potential.”
Please don’t let this fate happen to you.