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Playing to our strengths- Guest article by Lindsay Allen

Most organisations have been wrestling with the idea of “doing more with less” for some time, and the need to deal with reduced funding, uncertainty and short term shareholder interests isn’t going to change anytime soon. Linked to this, we hear about the UK’s “productivity challenge” which reports that the UK lags considerably behind the rest of the G7 leading economies (ONS, Nov 16). Two solutions have been tabled to address the problem – improving quality of labour and skills, and boosting innovation. This got me thinking about the drivers of high performance, and particularly a quote from Drucker:

“It takes far less energy to move from first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity”

If this is the case, why do we persist with trying to improve performance and engagement by remedying “weaknesses” (or trying to)? Linked to the concept of positive psychology, I’ve always believed that it’s far better to work on building something you’re already quite good at, as the sense of achievement and self-efficacy that develops from getting “even better” at something we enjoy naturally improves engagement and performance.

However, how many people actively spend time really thinking about their strengths and what their specific contribution to the team might be as a result, let alone really have the opportunity to fully play to those strengths? Also, if something comes naturally to you, you won’t always recognise it as a strength – it’s just what you’ve always done. Some people might have done some work around identifying their strengths as part of a leadership development programme, but what about everyone else?

Conversations about performance management seem to be the logical opportunity to talk about strengths, but it doesn’t seem to happen for most people. According to Gallup, when individuals talk to their manager about their performance the conversation covers the following:

– My strengths (24%)

– My weaknesses (36%)

– “We don’t talk about that stuff at all” (40%)

So, my challenge for you is this – just for a moment, stop reading this and look up. Take time to notice the colleagues around you. When was the last time you told them you appreciated them for their strengths?

We all share a deep need to be respected, valued and appreciated. There is a growing evidence base which shows that when leaders take time to notice and appreciate the strengths of those within their team, people perform better. We can do this by starting to look for occasions when colleagues are highly engaged and clearly enjoying what they are doing. Pick a suitable moment – we actually used to set aside time at the end of team meetings to do this – to thank them and show your appreciation for their strength. If you struggle with identifying strengths, you can get some great pointers from the VIA Character Strengths classification.

This simple piece of feedback can offer real insight for individuals and teams, and I’ve seen it grow into deep mutual respect and improved collaboration when we help each other play to our strengths. And when we’re all performing at our best, teams are capable of extraordinary results.

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