Motivation

Want Your Work to Flourish? Link Strengths and Goals

New study shows a simple way to link strengths and goals and make an impact.

Posted Dec 16, 2016

DepositPhotos/VIA Institute
Source: DepositPhotos/VIA Institute

Most of the hours of your typical day are spent working…that’s more than your time spent sleeping, eating, having fun, or caring for others. But, how much thought have you actually put into making your work-life better?

Research is now clear that you can make your work-life more fun and productive. The use of your character strengths is key. This means turning to your signature strengths – those best in you – while at your job. Are you using your curiosity to ask your colleagues questions about their weekend? Are you using your prudence to plan out your work tasks for the day? Are you using your kindness strength in the words you choose as you e-mail or call a client or customer? If you are deliberately use your signature strengths at work, you have a much greater chance to be happier at work, perform better, and report that your work is meaningful.

Now, I’m pleased to share this research has been taken a step further! Guest blogger and researcher, Ben Butina, Ph.D., shares his new research study and how it can be used in a practical way. Here’s what he says:

As part of my research, I studied how to make a classic positive psychology activity more effective in the workplace. I knew that signature strengths use would make employees happier and perform better. And, I knew 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 signature strengths exercise, so I conducted an experiment to find out.

Here’s what I did:

I randomly assigned 74 people into one of two groups. The control group did the following exercise that’s been shown to boost happiness and lower depression.

  1. Assess your strengths by taking the VIA Survey.
  2. Choose one of your signature strengths.
  3. Use that strength in a new way each day for one week.

The other group, the experimental group, did the above steps and watched a short video on how to set clear, specific goals to apply their signature strengths at work (watch the video here).

Here’s what I found:

The people who viewed the video set more goals than those in the control group. And, they reported using their strengths more. The more goals a person set, the greater the increase in their strengths use. These results told me that setting clear, specific goals with your signature strengths is a way to be more effective in the workplace. It’s like a turbocharger!

Here’s my advice on how 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.

Try it out at work for yourself!


Reference:

Butina, B. L. (2016). An investigation of the efficacy of the using your signature strengths in a new way exercise to enhance strengths use in work settings (Doctoral dissertation). Northcentral University, Scottsdale, AZ. Manuscript submitted for publication.
 

Ben Butina, used with permission
Source: Ben Butina, used with permission

About Ben Butina, Ph.D.

Special guest blogger and character strengths researcher, Dr. Butina 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.