Since I’ve been writing about performance evaluations lately, it’s good to cover the subject of weaknesses.  It should be obvious that we all have some weaker areas in our professional lives.  If you don’t think you have one and you’re generally not a person who’s quoted every other minute for being an expert in your field, you should spend some time figuring yours out.  Why?  Because self-awareness is always a powerful tool in your arsenal.  You can learn strategies to mitigate your weakness and be more effective when working with others.

However, there’s a misconception during performance evaluations that you must always improve an area of weakness.  The truth is, you should only try to improve a weak area when it directly impacts your work.  Case in point: consider a brilliant researcher with poor public speaking skills.  If the researcher has a job in which her findings are published rather than presented, this will never be a problem.  She should be aware of her weakness, but does not necessarily have to improve it in order to be good at her job.

The problem with performance evaluations is that they are often filled out by people with different strengths and weaknesses.  To be clear, it is good to be reviewed by people from diverse backgrounds because it allows you to understand completely how you are perceived by your colleagues.  On the flip side, people tend to focus on areas that they are good at.  Someone in business development might hone in on our researcher’s lack of presentation skills since he himself uses public speaking every day.  If the performance evaluation centers too much on a skill seldom used by an employee, it can be counterproductive and lower motivation while never actually offering solid advice on skills that actual matter in that employee’s job.

So managers, take note: it’s not only your job to help an employee improve weaknesses, but to help them pinpoint relevant ones.  You may even find yourself in a situation where it’s better for an employee to further a strength rather than focus on a weakness.  It’s all about understanding how that person fits in your team and how their contributions can help the whole.  Get rid of nit-picky criticisms within the evaluation process that don’t lead down that path.

And for the employee yourself, take note: don’t blindly follow all advice you ever receive.  Make sure you really think through an evaluation and learn something useful.  After all, you are the one in charge of your performance.

-Deborah Fike

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