Two weeks ago, Nicolas Kristof wrote an Op-Ed piece, Why 2017 Was the Best Year in History, for The New York Times. His point was that in a time of hurricanes and fires, disruption and political unrest, it’s easy to overlook that in 2017 fewer people around the world went hungry, more were literate than ever, fewer lived in extreme poverty, and more had access to clean drinking water.
Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s going well.
We’re conditioned to look for what’s wrong and aim to improve it. But overlooking what is going well can impede our abilities to make positive gains. It takes a lot of energy to address weaknesses, and a clear picture of what is going well can provide much needed fuel and perspective.
Gallup has invested heavily in this thinking. Their StrengthsFinder curriculum, based on Don Clifton’s strength psychology, helps people identify their strengths and leverage what they do well. Their research points out that people who are working with their ‘strengths’ do better, have more energy and are better equipped to manage shortcomings.
It’s a luxury to always be working in our strength areas, and as leaders and managers, we must examine both our own and our team’s weaknesses if we want to stay in business. But strategic leaders ensure there is plenty of fuel to tackle difficult situations – fuel in terms of time, support, and most importantly, energy. Knowing what is going well can provide a tangible and positive source of energy.
In Jim Collins’s latest book, Great by Choice, he shares stories of companies who have thrived in uncertainty and chaos to beat their industry indexes by ten times or more over fifteen years. One example he cites is how Southwest Airlines focused on what they did well in the midst of industry change, crises and recession. A big part of their operational strategy was to collect empirical evidence for what they did well – ensuring high aircraft utilization, short turn around times, and a fun people-oriented culture – and remain committed to these things in times of distraction and chaos.
This practice of assessing what is going well is one we can integrate with regularity into our businesses and personal lives.
When working with clients, I begin by assessing what’s working well across the board. And when I’m coaching someone through a difficult failure, I always begin with “What went well in this situation?”
If we can start the exploration from this point of view, teasing through challenges and failures is often less daunting. There is a lot of wisdom to glean from what’s right in a given situation.
Engaging in a “well” inventory on a regular basis can be a powerful practice. How might your business evolve when you are clear about what you do well? How might New Year’s resolutions differ if you launch from this perspective? How might addressing your challenges and inefficiencies be informed by knowing what you are doing right?
Here are a few questions to jumpstart your reflection:
- What are three successes your organization has had this past year?
- What contributed to these successes?
- What are you proud of?
- What would outsiders say that your enterprise does well?
- What about your work would your competitors wish to copy?
- Where have you had the greatest growth this year?
- Where did you have the highest return on your effort?
- Who has benefited from your work this year?
- How might you quantify this benefit?
- In five years, if you were to look back, what were the best things the organization accomplished this year?
- If you could live last year over again, what would you do the same?
If you’d like to learn more about integrating “well” inventories into your business strategy or personal practice, please contact us at email@example.com.