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Using Your Strengths at Work? Get S.M.A.R.T.!

December 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment

If you are like most people, you will spend more of your life working than doing anything else. This means that if you can improve your life at work, you can improve your life overall. And one of the best ways to improve your life at work is to use your strengths on the job. A substantial body of research shows that using your strengths at work can make you happier, healthier, and more productive.

The most popular exercise for increasing your strengths use is also one of the simplest. It is called the Using Your Signature Strengths in a New Way (UYSSNW) exercise. Here is how it works:

  1. Complete the VIA Survey to assess your strengths
  2. Choose one of your top strengths (called signature strengths)
  3. Try to use that strength in a new way each day

As part of my dissertation, I studied how to make this exercise more effective in the workplace. Based on prior research, I knew that employees reached their goals more often if those goals were specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.). I was curious if this approach to goal-setting could be applied to the UYSSNW exercise, so I conducted an experiment to find out.

I randomly assigned the 74 people who participated in my study into one of two groups. The control group completed the standard UYSSNW exercise described above. The experimental group completed the UYSSNW exercise but also viewed a short video on how to set clear, specific goals to apply their signature strengths at work.

As predicted, the participants who viewed the video set more goals than those in the control group. More importantly, they also reported using their strengths more. This shows that setting clear, specific goals for applying your strengths at work can substantially increase the effectiveness of the exercise. It’s like a turbocharger for the UYSSNW!

Here’s how you can apply these findings to turbocharge your strengths use at work. First, complete the VIA Survey and choose one of your signature strengths to work on. Then, use the S.M.A.R.T. framework to create an effective goal for using that signature strength at work.

Specific
A specific goal is clear and unambiguous. It should tell you where, when, and how you’ll use your strength at work. Let’s take a look a look at one of my recent goals as an example.

To use my strength of curiosity at work.

This is not very specific, is it? It is great that I want to use my curiosity at work, but this goal does not provide much specific guidance on how I am going to do that. Here is how I might revise the goal to make it more specific.

To use my strength of curiosity at work by asking my co-workers questions about their projects

This revised goal is much better, because it tells me how I am going to use my curiosity at work. That is a big improvement, but this goal still needs work.

Measurable
When a goal is measurable, there is some way of tracking progress. To make my goal more measurable, I’ll add information about when I’m going to ask my co-workers questions.

To use my strength of curiosity by asking my co-workers questions about their projects at all meetings

Now I have a way of knowing if I am making progress toward my goal. After each meeting, I can make a note of whether or not I asked my co-workers questions about their projects.

Attainable
An attainable goal is one that can be realistically achieved. A good goal should be challenging, but realistic. Looking over my goal, I think maybe it is just too hard. Asking questions at every single meeting I attend is probably not realistic. Here is a revised version to make it more attainable.

To use my strength of curiosity by asking my co-workers questions about their projects at our weekly staff meetings.

Relevant
A relevant goal is relevant to your job, or something you’re trying to achieve. This one is easy. Since I will be using my strength at work to become better at my job, it’s already relevant. I don’t need to make any revisions here.

Time-Bound
A time-bound goal has an end date, a date by which the goal should be achieved. Here I will add an end-date to my goal to make it time-bound.

To use my strength of curiosity by asking my co-workers questions about their projects at our weekly staff meetings for the next two weeks.

Summary

Now, let’s compare my original goal to my revised S.M.A.R.T. goal.

Original Goal: To use my strength of curiosity at work.

S.M.A.R.T. Goal: To use my strength of curiosity by asking my co-workers questions about their projects at our weekly staff meetings for the next two weeks.

My original goal wasn’t very clear, but my revised S.M.A.R.T. goal is much more specific. It provides me with guidance on when and how to apply my strength, and for how long. I know what to do and I have a way of tracking my progress. You can use the S.M.A.R.T. framework to create effective goals for your strengths use, too.

And here’s one last tip. My study found that the more goals a participant set, the greater the increase in their strengths use. So, if you really want to turbocharge your strengths use at work, try to set more than one goal.

-Ben Butina

Ben Butina, Ph.D. is an industrial-organizational psychologist and training professional. His research interests include positive psychology in the workplace, coaching, leadership development, and employee training. Ben is the host of Department 12, a podcast focusing on workplace psychology.

Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Northcentral University and an M.A. in Counseling from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He holds coaching certifications from Case Western University and ChangeWise and is a National Certified Counselor. Ben blogs at benbutina.com

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