During my time in Redmond, Washington, I worked with several executives from a giant tech firm famous for its brutal performance review process. Some of these executives literally got sick each time reviews came around. They were required to cut the bottom 10% of their group regardless of performance. In other words, everyone on their team might be contributing their dead-level best, but might be cut anyway to meet that quota. It was a toxic process – a deficit-focused mindset that nearly everybody hated, and thankfully, they abandoned it.

When applying a strengths focus to the review process, it transforms into what I think of as mining for gold; we are looking for what is working well, and where we might go from there.

Imagine having some of the following questions be part of your performance review and where they might lead you and your manager:

  • What has gone especially well since our last chat? What is working?
  • Where do you see your greatest potential for contribution coming from?
  • If you imagine there is untapped greatness within you and you were able to unleash it, what would facilitate that?
  • Since your last review, where was the greatest growth for your group? For you, personally?
  • Where do you want to grow next? Where would you like to see your team grow?
  • Which of your strengths do you see contributing most to the team performance?
  • What strengths do any of your teammates have that, if you collaborated, would improve performance significantly?
  • What do you see as a blindspot for you? For your team?
  • Who or what is called for to mitigate that blindspot? What strength would help here?
  • If we gave you a budget and team for a special project that would best express your talents and also be a big benefit to the company, what would you do?
  • From your perspective what could I be doing better to support your group?
  • What ideas do you have for how the organization might improve?

When the focus is primarily on what we do well and how can we get better individually and as a group and organization, all kinds of energy and ideas are unleashed and people walk away excited about their “what’s next” rather than feeling beaten down. They understand that their ideas and opinions have value. They feel heard and seen—as a valuable contributor to the overall success of the organization. Isn’t that what we all want?

It takes a leader with confident vulnerability to be willing to ask these kinds of questions. The trust, respect and energy that emerge will make it very worthwhile. When we invest in the greatness people have to offer, assuming we all have it, the dividends are exponential.

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