Have you ever noticed people making excuses for poor performance or ugly behavior by invoking the "It's just who I am" defense?
Research (and common sense) show that focusing on peoples' strengths can have a positive affect on engagement and results.
But any approach or new , misunderstood, can actually cause negative side-affects.
Have you seen any of these?
- Using "strengths" research as an excuse for managers to avoid uncomfortable performance discussions with employees. ("Everyone knows that James is difficult to work with and shirks his responsibilities. No one wants to work with him and clients complain about him...but he's a really good analyst. Let's not rock the boat.")
- Hiding behind strengths as an excuse for bad behavior. For example, "I'm sorry that I snapped at you and called you a bumbling idiot. I have a short fuse. That's just how I am. Sensitivity is not my strength. You'll just have to accept that."
- Dumping mundane tasks (like paperwork, administration) on others because "it's not my strength." (For example, "Anne, you're so good at making the office coffee, cleaning out the pot and using the fax machine. Would you mind? I'm not good at that kind of stuff.") All jobs require doing some things we don't like, or aren't particularly good at...and most companies can't afford to give all of their employees an assistant to dump work on. Sometimes we just have to suck it up and do something, even though it's not our strength.
All of that said, I'm still a huge believer in understanding one's strengths. I just get alarmed when I see a good concept spin out of control and become destructive.
What's Happening With The Strengths/Weaknesses Thing?
There are probably a number of reasons why, but I think there is a phenomenon that gets played out--at least in American business circles--whenever the latest and greatest thing hits the scene. And it's this:
What is actually a Principle is adopted as a Rule.
Instead of really taking time to understand all that lies underneath a principle, people run with the catch phrase and treat it as "the way." A book title becomes a buzzword that is then tossed around in meetings. It becomes problematic when the word doesn't have a shared meaning among the users. And that happens a lot. So it is with Strengths.
It's a lot easier to say "It's all about Strengths" than it is to live a life identifying and acknowledging our strengths; figuring out where we need to become at least adequate in some of our weaknesses; and respecting the people around us enough to behave unselfishly even when we "feel" like doing our own thing our own way.
When managers avoid uncomfortable performance discussions, they are showing disrespect for their employee. How can the person improve without hearing the truth, exploring ways to change, and growing as a result?
When we hide behind Strengths as an excuse for bad behavior, we're really saying "I don't respect you enough to bother to honor you with good behavior."
And when mundane tasks are dumped on someone else because "I'm not good at it," then I better ask myself just how I'm using my position power. Is one of my less attractive "strengths" the inclination to take advantage of others' weakness?
What I find ironic as I write this is: we're talking about Strength, yet the insidious culprit is Laziness.
What to do?
1. Take time to learn the "why?" behind the "what." When you can explain a concept accurately using everyday language, you've got it. If you or colleagues around you are still discussing things using buzzwords, stop and ask for an explanation of the meaning. That discussion could lead to shared meaning and deeper understanding.
2. When you hear a "performance excuse" disguised as a reason, follow up by asking: "What are you going to do about that? It's impacting other people and that's not acceptable." It's amazing how we'll make changes once we are called on our behavior and not allowed to explain it away.
3. Make really bad coffee and jam the fax machine.
Related bonus post: From Lynn Mattoon: Millenials In The Workforce