A Strengths-based Approach to Performance Feedback

For several years I have promoted a strengths-based approach to leveraging talents and building more productive, creative and high-performing teams. A recent article from the Kelley School of Business articulates nine research-based recommendations on how to deliver effective performance feedback using a strengths-based method.

Building up vs. breaking down

The strengths-based approach involves identifying strengths, providing positive feedback on how employees are using their strengths to exhibit desirable behaviors and achieve beneficial results, and asking them to maintain or improve their behaviors or results by making continued or more intensive use of their strengths.

Managers often provide feedback in a manner that is overly focused on employees’ weaknesses and it fails to improve employee performance. A more productive way to give performance feedback is to identify employees’ areas of positive behavior and results that stem from their knowledge, skills or talents. Strengths-based feedback enhances individual well-being and engagement.

The discrepancy between the intended and actual consequences of performance feedback constitutes a major concern to employees, managers, and organizations. It is important to note that if clear expectations and goals or outcomes aren’t communicated with employees, it is difficult to have a helpful performance feedback conversation.

First Recommendation – Focus on a strengths-based approach

If you haven’t already, have your team take the Gallup Strengthsfinder© assessment to discover their top five strengths. Managers can maximize the strengths on their team and better leverage their strengths.

Second Recommendation – Talk about weaknesses in terms of knowledge and skills

Strengths or talents are typically fixed and don’t really change. Knowledge and skills can be learned and improved. In my experience, some weaknesses are a window into a strength. For example, someone who takes a long time to make a decision or always wants more information may have an analytical talent that is over used. They have analysis paralysis. Even with strengths, too much of a good thing can be a problem. Balance is important.

Third Recommendation – Managers adopt a strengths-based approach to talent weaknesses

For example, if an employee has a strength in communication but has public speaking anxiety, support them in learning tools for remaining calm. If an employee possesses the strength of WOO (winning others over) yet struggles in networking, support them in learning tools and tactics for meeting others and starting conversations.

Fourth Recommendation – The feedback provider needs to be familiar with employee’s knowledge, skills and talents as well as job requirements

The credibility of the feedback provider can be lost if feedback is given improperly and if the provider isn’t familiar with the employee’s duties and job requirements.

Fifth Recommendation – Choose an appropriate setting when giving feedback

Setting and location matters. It has been said, praise in public, and criticize in private. Some may feel uncomfortable with praise in front of co-workers so be careful to choose an appropriate setting.

Sixth Recommendation – Deliver feedback in a considerate manner

An optimal ratio of positive to negative feedback is 3:1 (refer to my blog post The Losada Line). It is also helpful to include the employee in the feedback. Ask them what’s working and what’s going well. This allows them to participate in the process and keeps them from becoming defensive.

Seventh Recommendation – Feedback should be specific and accurate

Feedback should be timely, specific and focus on work behaviors and results, as well as the situations in which you observed them. To help remove emotion and irrelevant information, ask yourself, “What do I know for sure?”

Eighth Recommendation – Tie feedback of employees’ behaviors and results to other important consequences at various levels throughout the organization

Behaviors and results of employees have an impact on the goals of the team, the unit and throughout the organization. Employees’ positive and negative behaviors need to be linked to other important outcomes for motivation to continue (positive) or cease (negative).

Positive: Thank you for going the extra mile to complete the data entry project. Your stick-to-it-ness not only contributed to a successful upload of the data, it has contributed to the successful implementation of the project to the enterprise.  

Negative: When you withdraw from team activities, it breaks down trust with your peers. I appreciate that you like to think things through and have a solution before speaking up, but we can’t see what’s going on in your head. People assume your withdrawing is you don’t care what’s going on and you’re not engaged in the outcome. By providing the agenda in advance, giving you time to think it over, can I count on your contribution in future activities? Not only will your team appreciate your contribution, the whole unit will make better decisions with your input.

Ninth Recommendation – Follow up on feedback

Your diligence in following up and praising progress and checking in on what’s not working or what’s happening that’s not helping shows the employee you care about them, you care about their job success and that your feedback should be taken seriously.


The purpose of performance feedback is to improve individual and team performance, as well as employee engagement, motivation, and job satisfaction. Focusing on strengths and what’s working will have more positive effects than focusing on weaknesses. Don’t avoid discussing weaknesses in performance. Adopt a strengths-based approach to correct issues. You might even put a copy of this message in your performance evaluation file so you can refer to it “in the moment.”

If you’d like to know more about strengths, and using a strengths-based approach, please contact me!


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