The sun was shining as Katie set off for her first day at work on her dream job. Heading to the office with a brisk walk, a little smile, and the flutter of butterflies in the stomach, everything seemed bright about the day to come.
As managers, we know that there are many things to be coordinated to help Katie start off on the right foot. Generally, I find that these fall into four main categories: logistics (computer, phone, payroll, etc.), information (understanding the strategy and systems of the organization, for example), relationships (the people with whom Katie will be working most closely), and projects (the areas for which Katie will be responsible, prioritized in order of importance and urgency).
One special ingredient that most managers tend to overlook when helping new hires make a running start is Identity. We know what Katie’s resume looks like, how she came across in an interview, and what her references say about her. Yet we do not really know her deeply. Who is this person? What is she like when at her best? How can we help her bring her best self to work as often as possible?
According to recent research, understanding and reinforcing Katie’s positive sense of self will make a big difference to how she performs and how happy she is at work. In the series of experiments by Dan Cable, Julia Lee, Francesca Gino, and Bradley Staats, two findings are particularly relevant. First, when individuals are given feedback on how they are at their best before individuals start their team task, they outperformed the teams that did not do this. Second, when this positive identity-boost was given as part of corporate onboarding procedure, newcomers who went through this exercise felt that their relationship with the company is less transactional, felt less emotionally exhausted, and less likely to quit, as compared to those who did not do this exercise. These findings suggest that learning about one’s reflected best-self can help teams to work better together and improve employment relationships.
What actions could you do right now to put this research into practice?
- Provide opportunities to give and receive best-self feedback
In the study, the researchers implemented a tool called the Reflected Best Self Exercise, which was developed by the scholars at the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations. This powerful exercise allows employees to learn about their positive impact and contribution to others through the eyes of their social network (family, friends, colleagues, etc.). Over the last ten years, the exercise has been implemented at business schools including HBS and the Michigan Ross, and in leading companies such as KPMG.
- End meetings with appreciations
Saving a few moments at the end of meetings to give room to express gratitude for the contributions of others can be a way to routinize a culture of best-self feedback on an ongoing basis. Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig writes:
“Every meeting always ends with a few minutes of Appreciations. Appreciations can be of anything or anyone; in the room or not in the room; work-related or not; past, present or future. No one is required to say anything, but most people usually do. This one small systemic change has made a huge impact over the years. Think of it like ending a meal with a good cup of coffee; because every meeting ends with them, people almost always return to the organizational world with positive feelings. Its regularity disciplines us to devote time and mental energy to positive recognition.”
- Rethink performance evaluations
“Most corporate performance evaluations (e.g., 360 performance evaluation) tend to focus on identifying weaknesses rather than celebrating strengths, because people tend to focus on limitations and blind spots,” says Julia Lee. “Plus, studies have found that existing performance evaluation tools failed to foster learning and personal development but rather became punitive to employees, increasing a perception of threat and vulnerability.” Lee suggests following in the footsteps of companies such as Adobe and Deloitte by tweaking or even overhauling performance management systems to be based on empowerment, rather than fear and anxiety.
How people see themselves at work makes a big difference to how they perform. How do you help people bring their best selves to work?
Chris White (@leadpositively, leadpositively.com) is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business (@MichiganRoss). The Center is the convener of the Consortium of Positive Organizations, a catalytic co-learning community of leaders actively building high-performing organizations where people thrive.