Changing Forms Doesn't Create Strengths-Based Performance AppraisalsAs with my webinar earlier this month, 11 Keys to Building Extraordinary Leaders and Coaches (now archived and available for viewing), when presented with the overwhelming research, reflecting on their own experiences with good and bad leaders, and thinking about what motivates them to stick with an improvement plan, most audience members experience a sharp shift in thinking.

Most participants respond with some variation of “but of course it makes much more sense to build strengths rather than focus on weaknesses. But that’s not what we’re doing.” Unconsciously we equate almost any type of improvement with fixing weaknesses.

When we then discuss how painfully ineffective performance management is because of its weakness-focus (see “Most Performance Appraisals like Being Poked in the Eye with a Stick“) many participants vow to immediately fix this approach. And that’s a good news/bad news story.

Our gap-focused and badly broken performance management systems desperately need to be overhauled. The good news is that leaders and HR/development professionals quickly see that logic when introduced to strengths-based leadership.

The bad news is thinking that changing performance appraisal forms, revamping the performance management system, and even training leaders to take a strengths-based approach produces lasting change. It doesn’t. What’s worse, this backward approach can cause long-term damage.

If leaders haven’t experienced a strengths-based leadership development approach based on a 360 tool and implementation map providing strengths cross-training designed for that purpose they won’t really experience, truly understand, and sustain that focus. A sustained strengths-based performance management is a culture change. Research and experience shows that it takes two to three years to introduce a strengths-based performance management system. Revamping the forms and practices follow — they don’t start — the process.

I read listener feedback on my 11 Keys to Building Extraordinary Leaders and Coaches webinar with mixed emotions. It was great to see how many people bought into the shift to strengths-based performance management that’s needed. But it was frustrating to see how many participants said their next steps from the session was to tinker with their performance appraisals to make them strengths-based.

Like not completely following the full medical treatment for an infection, this superficial change will have the long-term effect of creating a change-resistant strain of strengths-based leadership. Leaders will think they’re practicing strengths-based leadership when all they’re really doing is “wordwashing” their traditional weaknesses focus. Soon the underlying culture will reassert itself and leaders will revert back to “improvement plans” focused on weaknesses. And the organization’s “immunity” to embracing a truly strengths-based approach will grow.