Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hard lessons from a 360 review

“We are measured not by what we are, but by the perception of what we seem to be; not by what we say, but how we are heard; not by what we do, but how we appear to do it.” – anonymous

I think I say more when I keep my mouth closed.

I had the privilege of attending a management class about six months ago. I say "privilege" in complete sincerity and with nary a hint (well, maybe a hint, but no more than a hint ... really) of sarcasm. The class included a 360 review, an assessment created with the input of people who know me from all perspectives in my work life - colleagues and collaborators, direct reports for whom I provide day-to-day supervision, my own manager and other program directors who supervise me.

The class also included a talent assessment (StrengthsFinder 2.0). The StrengthsFinder development approach was, at least to my way of thinking, a totally new approach for my company.

I think the focus in the past has been on identifying weaknesses and correcting them like they were bad habits. Work on those weaknesses. Practice!

The new approach was to identify strengths and play to those strengths. Acknowledge weaknesses, manage weaknesses, but accept that the innate weaknesses will probably always be weaknesses. Use your strengths to counterbalance those weaknesses. Grow!

Turns out our greatest strengths are sometimes also our greatest weaknesses. Whodathunk?

Take me, for example... I'm a context girl. I seek out contextual information to put problems in perspective and make sense of the process. I have a hard time approaching problems any other way.

I'm a dot-connector. I can take a bit of information from here, and a bit of information from there, and assimilate it into a cohesive whole. I'm at my best when I'm connecting the dots.

It excites me to take regulatory issues and put them in a societal context. Asbestos in attic insulation in millions of homes? Let's think about how that exposure scenario will work as more Americans embark on do-it-yourself campaigns to weatherize their homes to lower their heating bills.

Contextual communication is one of my greatest strengths.

And contextual communication is one of my greatest weaknesses.

Turns out I give some people exactly what they need when I give them the contextual information. Turns out I overwhelm some other people with the contextual detail when I give them exactly the same thing.

This dichotomy showed itself in the 360 review. Some folks (primarily managers and collaborators) said "She gives just the right information. I go to her for answers." Other folks (primarily direct reports) said "It's like drinking from a fire hose. By the time she gives me all the information I've forgotten what she wants me to do."

I was devastated.

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