Managers should build on the positives of employees not focus on the negatives

Instead of trying to fix the weaknesses in employees, your manager should be trying to build on your strengths. That’s the finding from new research published by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

Its study, called: Strengths-based performance conversations, aims to move managers away from what the CIPD calls a deficit-oriented method. The method focuses on line managers identifying and fixing the weaknesses of team members, analysing what has gone wrong and considering how that can be avoided in the future.

However, the new study of performance management outcomes (in the civil service, where the research was undertaken) shows that that employee performance can be improved by a simple training intervention focused on building strengths instead of fixing weaknesses.

The CIPD suggests that these results can be boosted by a more extensive intervention, which includes wider communication to improve employees’ performance and changes to HR policy, as well as more training for managers themselves.

“The research demonstrated that by focussing on the positives and building on what works, we can actually boost employee performance and help with the learning and development of our teams,” says Jonny Gifford, senior research adviser for organisational behaviour at the CIPD.

He adds that the strengths-based approach marks a ‘big shift in mind-set for many, if not most of us’, pointing out that generally, our default mode when looking for improvements tends to include looking at what’s gone wrong and consider how we can avoid that in the future.

“Our research shows the benefit of reflecting instead on what worked well, why, and how it can be replicated,” he says.

The CIPD research centred on workplace interventions in three government organisations: Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the National Offender Management Service (NOMS, now called Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, or HMPPS) and the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), as well as work with the Civil Service Employee Policy team.

The CIPD says the feedback from employees after the study suggests a marked improvement in how useful performance conversations were when they focussed on strengths-based conversations. Overall, the interventions led to a 9.7% increase in employees agreeing with the statement, ‘My meetings with my line manager help me learn and develop as a professional’. There was also a 7.4% increase in those agreeing with the statement, ‘My meetings with my line manager help to improve my performance’.

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