I remember the performance evaluation I received after the first year of my career. My boss was a great guy. I liked him personally. But he was a bit non-confrontational.
The review was outstanding. Anyone reading it who didn’t know me would think I was going to be CEO in just a couple of years. I was great at everything.
But I knew that wasn’t the case. I had one year of a professional career under my belt. I felt like I did well. But I had a lot of things to learn. I walked out of his office with a nice feeling. But more than anything, I felt a little empty.
I liked the praise. I believed I had some of it coming. But I was looking to him to help lead me to the next level. I had my own goals, but I wanted him to give me a partial analysis of where I should focus my energies. I wanted him to say something like, “Despite all these great things, here is where I see your weaknesses and what I’d like you to work on for the next year.”
Putting our head in the sand
We’ve probably all faced that interview question at some time in our career where they ask, “What do you believe is your greatest weakness?”
You want to answer with the strength-weakness answer like, “Well sometimes, I just work too hard.”
That’s a certain cop-out that no interviewer is going to buy. But the reality is we don’t like to think about our weaknesses and we certainly don’t like to talk to others about them.
We would rather focus on what we do well. We can stay in our comfort zone and just consider doing the same things well. People get used to breathing well with their head in the sand.
A personal weakness assessment
If you are modest and rational, you know that you have weaknesses. And you probably know what they are. Weaknesses are things you don’t do well, but could be more successful if you did. You should be able to find five or six major weaknesses.
If you can’t list that many or your list includes minor things, you may need to ask for help. It’s best not to ask a friend. That could lead to either hard feelings, or too partial of a response.
The best person to ask is someone that will be brutally honest with you. Explain that you would like to improve, but aren’t sure what the best areas are for your personal development.
You may even ask multiple people. The key is to ask someone who knows you well and will be honest. You must make it clear to them that you won’t take any personal offense to their answer.
When someone in an organization is not performing well, the manager will report it to human resources. When the manager thinks the poor performance is enough to fire the person, HR usually requires the manager to put the person on a performance improvement plan.
The manager then sits down with the employee and does the following:
- Explains the areas where the employee needs to improve
- Establishes goals for improvement
- Defines milestones and deadlines for each goal
- Explains the consequences of failing to meet these goals within their defined deadlines
Your personal weakness assessment should emulate this process closely. After consulting with people you trust to help define your weaknesses, select the top three to five weaknesses. These should be areas that you need to work on that could improve your career success.
For each weakness, determine what improvement would look like. You don’t have to turn it into one of your greatest strengths. You just need to remove it from the weakness list.
Once you have a vision of what improvement looks like, define the steps it would take to improve on it. Define goals for each step. Establish milestones and deadlines for each.
At each milestone, try to meet with the trusted people who provided input. See if they have noticed an improvement. Seek their honest feedback.
Focus on successes
The performance improvement plan from HR generally focuses on consequences if goals are not achieved. Instead, the personal weakness assessment should focus on the positive.
When you reach a milestone and feel like you’ve genuinely improved, reward yourself. Take in a show with a friend or go out to dinner and toast yourself.
Some people need to combine negative consequences with positive reinforcement. In that case, perhaps a minimal punishment like chocolate deprivation for a week will suffice.
It’s easy to avoid focusing on our weaknesses. Most of us would rather stay in our comfort zone and pay more attention to the things we do well.
If we work on identifying areas where we can improve, we can continue to do the things we do well, and become more successful through self-improvement. A personal weakness assessment can help us to continually improve to reduce or eliminate our weakest areas.
Are you strong enough for a personal weakness assessment?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
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