Have you noticed people making excuses for poor performance or ugly
behavior by invoking the “It’s just who I am” defense?
Experienced training consultant, Phyllis Roteman, sent in a good take on this:
Research (and common sense) confirm that focusing on peoples’ strengths has a positive affect on morale, engagement and the bottom line.
But as with any approach (or new idea), focusing on strengths can go overboard in organizations, causing many negative side-effects. Some I’ve seen:
1. Using the “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.”
2. 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.”
3. 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 focusing on strengths. I just get alarmed when I see a good concept spin out of control and become destructive.
First of all, what’s happening is
what Phyllis says is happening. 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.
These are two actual representations of the 80/20 “concept”:
Instead of really taking time to understand all that lies underneath a
principle, the human condition tends to run with a catch phrase and treat it as “the way.” A
book title becomes a buzzword that gets tossed around in meetings as a mantra.
It becomes problematic when that word isn’t represented accurately or in context. 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.
managers avoid uncomfortable performance discussions, they are showing
disrespect for their employee. How can the person improve without
hearing the truth, explore ways to change, and growing as a result?
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
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.
What experiences do you have with the topic? Jump in with a comment below.