As we evolve and progress as a society, so too should our performance management systems and the way in which we deliver feedback. We now know that certain methods of feedback promote enthusiasm and an eagerness to excel, while others can be demotivating and ultimately disengaging. As a performance management consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to experience a number of different evaluation processes, and overwhelmingly, they all share the same detrimental approach. They focus all too often on identifying and discussing employee weakness.

During personal development reviews, it is natural and logical that there should be a discussion concerning both improvement and development. But in the process, many companies forget to highlight the positives. According to research, this can not only be damaging but ultimately affect your company’s performance, customer service, and brand experience.

What Does Research Tell Us About Emphasizing Employee Strengths And Weaknesses?

There is a lot of research on this topic, and one fascinating study by the Corporate Leadership Council (now Gartner) dates back to 2002. The study surveyed 19,000 managers and employees, and the results indicated that when companies focus on employee strengths during performance reviews, employee performance rose by up to 36%. Conversely, they found that a focus on weakness to be a “performance killer”, which decreased performance by 27%.

Research by Gallup later discovered that managers who received strengths-based feedback improved their productivity by 12.5%, while improving company profitability by 8.9%. Strength-related feedback has also been linked to improved goal achievement, loyalty and, importantly, employee engagement. Employees who receive recognition and encouragement of their strengths also learn quicker and show higher levels of discretionary effort.

All of this research should hardly come as a surprise; after all, when we enjoy and feel empowered by our work, we feel at our most productive. With this in mind, how does strengths-based feedback positively impact brand experience and customer service?

How Can A Focus On Employee Strength Fuel Great Customer Service?

A 2016 Gallup poll showed that strength-based companies enjoy more profit, better sales, and higher levels of customer engagement. In large part, this is due to the fact that when employees feel positive about their performance, and they are able to work to their strengths, they feel more engaged, and are therefore more passionate about their company and their work. They’re also more invested, meaning they go that extra mile to ensure customers have a great experience. Employee engagement has been termed the “wonder drug for customer satisfaction”, so every time you emphasize strengths in your employees, you should remember the domino effect it creates.

On the other hand, there have been a number of studies that have shown that disengaged, dissatisfied employees are generally unlikely to provide good customer service, which will have a significant impact on your business. When the only feedback an employee receives is negative, your company will foster an atmosphere of defensiveness, dissatisfaction, and a decreased desire to improve.

Instead of insisting that everyone is an all-round great team player in every aspect, managers would be better off assigning specific projects and responsibilities to employees with the appropriate skills and experience to succeed and excel. Every person is different and is naturally inclined to different strengths. It takes a great manager to understand this and to put every piece of his or her team together, so they work fluidly and effortlessly.

How Can A Focus On Employee Strengths Develop Great Brand Experience?

We now know that developing employee strengths leads to improved sales, profit, and employee engagement. We can now look at the impact engaged employees have on company brand experience.

Of course, all companies aim to have a strong brand. The establishment of a great brand means that businesses can increase product lines, succeed during economic downturns, and attract top talent. But to develop great brands, we can’t only look to the marketing department. We also need to focus on employee satisfaction, engagement, and morale.

As Forbes highlights, engaged employees are dedicated, inspired, and enthusiastic about their companies, making them ‘brand ambassadors’ , which leads to ‘natural brand amplification’. Michael Eisner, former CEO of Walt Disney, attests to the power of engaged employees in building a dynamic brand, stating that they are critical in making a brand radiant and exciting. When employees are disengaged, they make the brand duller and less attractive overall.

So Should We Just Ignore Employee Weaknesses?

Some managers may be wondering: does a focus on strengths mean that we completely ignore employee weaknesses? The answer to this is a resounding no. Of course, noting and improving weaknesses are still critical to employee development. This approach simply demonstrates that there is much more to be gained from further developing strengths.

Weaknesses can still be discussed, but they should not be the focal point in performance discussions. Managers should also be realistic, however, and understand that certain employees will never significantly improve in certain areas. Instead of investing time and effort encouraging employees to overcome these weaknesses, it would be better overall to reallocate work to them that they are more suited to.

How To Identify Employee Strengths

The best way to determine employee strengths is to hold regular discussions with them and ask them what aspects of their role they enjoy, what they feel they are good at, and what motivates them. Remember: a strength is defined as something an employee does well, consistently and effortlessly. If an employee performs well, but the activity drains them, it cannot be considered a strength. For that reason, the only reason you can get a full and accurate picture is to communicate with your employees and to hold regular one-on-ones. This is a strategy that has been named one of the most effective performance management tools, as such regular contact improves engagement, transparency, and authenticity.

When delivering feedback, remember that it should be timely, specific, encouraging, and impactful. Explain how their behavior and performance impacts you, the team, and the company as a whole. Explain how they matter to the business at large, and before long, you’ll begin to enjoy the benefits of a positive, engaged workforce.