StrengthsFinder: Is It Time For A Performance Appraisal Tune Change?

Individual Development Plans, Quarterly Performance Appraisals, Probation Reports…whatever you call them, they elicit the same type of response from most recipients, “what are they going to ding me for this time?”

There is a reason for that – as human beings we tend to remember the criticism from year to year, anticipating an endless list of improvements and shortcomings – defining us as “less than”, perhaps with the occasional praise sprinkled in for good measure.

In an article, ”How to Play to Your Strengths” we are reminded that criticism, aside from the negative feelings it conjures up (disappointment, frustration, anger and embarrassment), really does nothing in terms of employee “development”. Sure, employees can work on their shortcomings and demonstrate some improvement, however, that improvement comes out of a fear response as opposed to growth response.

The bottom line is this; people remember criticism, however they respond to praise.

When I was in fourth grade, most of my friends joined the glee club. For reasons that I can’t fully explain, it was a very cool thing to do in fourth grade. Anyway, because they all joined, I wanted to join too. I brought the permission slip home for my mom to sign. She asked me a number of questions (a veiled attempt to persuade me to change my mind), yet I would not budge, I wanted to be in glee club with my pals.

She signed the slip. I went out to play. She went to her PTA meeting (she was the PTA President, in the seventies, that was a pretty significant role!)

Tryouts were the following afternoon. I showed up and handed the glee club teacher my permission slip. She asked me to sing “My Country Tis of Thee”. This was a problem, as I didn’t know all the words. Yet, I knew enough to get started.

I began to sing.

Now, I can’t remember the glee club teacher’s name, only that she had a southern accent, tight permed hair and was quite tall and lanky.

She was a little scary.

If memory serves, I got maybe ten words out before she stopped me. She told me to try and listen to the piano notes first and then try again. She played the first part on the piano, I listened, and then she pointed toward me, my signal to join in.

“My country tis of the, sweet….” She stopped me.

In fact, she stopped me in a manner that startled me.

“ENOUGH”, she said sternly. And then she went silent for a while.

“Listen sweetie, I know you want to be in the club. In fact, your mom called Mrs. Johnson, so – you are going to be in the glee club, but I am going to ask you not to sing. Just move your lips, but whatever you do, don’t sing. Honey, you are tone deaf.”

Heart sunk! Gulp in throat! Tears welling up!

“Don’t cry sweetie, a lot of people can’t sing, you just move your lips and pretend to sing. You will still be in the glee club, no one will know except us.”

I can’t remember what happened next, but it did involve me running out of that room and all the way home. When I opened the door and looked into the kitchen, I saw that my mom was on the phone. I suppose my face said it all, and she hung up. I began to cry.

I suppose if I lived in the world of the Waltons or something, there would have been sage advice, and a beautiful discussion, culminating with the consumption of milk and cookies and reassuring hugs. Instead, I got really mad at her. Really mad. I felt stupid, and embarrassed, and angry that she used her PTA president “mobster” powers to have the Principal intervene and force me into the club…a club I had no business being in. I wish she would have told me that I was a horrible singer, told me that I shouldn’t even try.

Then again, I suppose she did, I just wouldn’t listen. After having kids, I realize what an impossible situation my mom was in. If she told me the truth, I would have been destroyed by the criticism.

However, if she would have said “singing isn’t your gift – but you have lots of other gifts like writing, art, and drama…why don’t you join a different club?” I am sure I would have been upset, but I would like to think I would have responded more positively if a list of strengths had been added to the one perceived critique.

Because knowing we are good at something, while great, is even better when it is recognized by other people!

When it comes to performance appraisals, you have to include a “strengths” variable in the equation; how is an employee using their strengths? Obviously, performance concerns must be addressed, but should that be where we concentrate all our efforts? Leaders need to ask themselves how they can enhance employee development by constructing an atmosphere that assists in identifying strengths. Create an atmosphere where employees can utilize their individual strengths to fortify the organization. How can this employee’s unique skill-set be nurtured, so instead of an endless list of improvements and shortcomings on their performance appraisal, they find a list of praises and successes with a sprinkling of improvements to be made?

I still can’t sing! However, it certainly doesn’t curtail me from doing so, at the top of my lungs in fact (usually in my car) – I consider it to be joyful noise. Thankfully, I am not “graded” on it, thankfully my salary is not impacted by my weakness in that area, thankfully I don’t need to focus on improving it. Because try as I might, I can only improve so much in those areas that are not my strengths. That said, give me a strength, let me invest some time and energy into it, there is no limit to how far I can take it! The possibilities are infinite!

Since embracing StrengthsFinder, since learning how to leverage my own strengths and help others learn to do the same, my entire approach to leadership has changed. Why? These ten simple words sum it up quite succinctly, I learned to…


Read that again…sure sounds like the outcome we all want to see from a performance appraisal, don’t we?!?!?

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Shelley Hom is a technology manager with the State of California who was introduced to Strengths Finder through a leadership academy at work. Using what she has learned both in her work and personal life, she mentors colleagues, family and friends on using ones’ strengths to get them where they want to go! When she isn’t working, she loves hanging out with people and enjoying the simple things life has to offer; laughing, chatting, reading, and let’s not forget writing – all usually done with a really good cup of coffee close at hand! Outside of blogging for 34strong Shelley’s own blog can be found at:

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