Why play to your strengths?

Blog written for Bloomfield Harris Workplace Wellbeing published 9 January 2019.

Why play to your strengths?

I recently read that the more attractive and ornate the bird, the worse it’s singing voice is. The article was discussing how sometimes when we evolve it isn’t always to our full advantage. The peacock example led me to think about how animals naturally play to their strengths and how we should be utilising this at work and at home.

Playing to our strengths is not a new revelation, the idea that businesses should ‘get the right people on the bus and in the right seats’ was famously written by Jim Collins in his book ‘Good to Great’. The concept that in order for your business to become great you need to have your employees in the best roles.

Some organisations have extended this idea to appraisal systems. An article in the Harvard Business Review outlines how this can be achieved. Here the authors argue that appraisal targets should be based on developing existing strengths.

When setting appraisal targets there can be a pressure to pick something new, perhaps so it seems like a challenge. Instead you should focus your attention on your current skills and how you can improve them even more to become the expert.

Why is this a good idea?

People respond to praise and it motivates them. If an individual is not playing to their strengths they’re unlikely to receive praise resulting in a demotivated, dissatisfied and unhappy employee. The converse will create a happy and motivated employee enabling the individual and business to grow.

There is a good chance that your strengths will link to your values. If you’re working inline with your values you will feel content and motivated.

Doing well at something with or without feedback, confirms your self-efficacy and thus supports your self-esteem.

Lastly, it means that your actual self, ought self and ideal self are more likely to be alligned. Edward Higgins (1987) proposed the Self-discrepancy Theory to explain how internal psychological disagreements between our actual, ought and ideal selves lead to complex emotions and affect our motivation.

If we want to improve a skill, we may have a discrepancy with our ideal self. However this can be positive because it motivates us to change and develop. We also anticipate positive outcomes from the change which results in positive emotions. In contrast, a discrepancy with your ought and actual selves could be caused by setting appraisal targets that aren’t within your skill set. This could then result in a fear driven motivation as you await criticism for being inadequate in the skill, leading to negative emotions, procrastination, avoidance and stress.

One way to start this process is to re-evaluate (identify) your business needs. Then find out exactly what your employees’ strengths are. There’s likely to be lots of hidden talents and some employees in the ‘wrong seats’. You can do this by surveying and interviewing your employees. Bloomfield Harris are specialists in research and can help you establish the strengths of your employees supporting you with change management to improve your employee motivation and business growth. We’d love to hear from you jessica@bloomfieldharris.com

If you’re an individual we can also help you through coaching to establish how to build on your strengths.

If you’re interested in finding out more about your values and how to live by them we highly recommend Transformative coach, Speaker and Author Nahla Summers. She has two workshops this month: 19th January (Somerset) and 26th January (Wiltshire).