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Character Strengths based performance management for nonprofits

Martin Seligman and the Late Chris Peterson, the pioneers of Positive Psychology movement worked diligently on 24 Character Strengths, which covers all strengths that build character. So, all humans, irrespective of their working patterns and style invariably relate to all those character strengths as espoused in the work by these two thinkers and executioners. Positive Psychology, by the way has been trying to distance itself in a rather subtle way from the disease model of Psychology although many traditional Psychologists are now moving closer to it. Positive Psychology has been working towards enhancing the potential of normal life and making it more enriching and meaningful. Character Strengths is one of the tools which are used to understand the character building behaviors in people. There is of course a test, which one needs to register for at which is absolutely free to administer. The test results show one’s character strengths in order from the top to the least. Analysts and Human Resources professionals look at the Top 5 strengths in people and perhaps the bottom 5. The idea is to enhance the top 5 while identifying more ways to enrich the bottom 5 strengths. While this survey can be adopted in the corporations, as part of the performance management process, it can also be taken up by nonprofits that are looking for a strengths-based tool of performance management. Nonprofits have more of “compassionate” outlook towards their teams because they deliver societal change. In this context, character strengths based tools can be significantly useful for them. The Character strengths are categorized in 6 blocks, which are Wisdom and Knowledge, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance and Transcendence. The details are as follows;
  1. Strengths related to Wisdom and Knowledge – Include such strengths that support the acquisition and application of knowledge
  • Creativity: Refers to originality and novel ideas at work
  • Curiosity: Taking active interest in the routine as well as new with fascination for subjects and topics, discovering through exploration etc
  • Judgment: Judgment is related to critically examining all ideas and options from all sides and not merely jumping to conclusions.
  • Love of Learning: Implicitly related to the strength “curiosity” but love of learning goes a step further where the involvement at work and seeking new paradigms show yearning for more knowledge and its applications
  • Perspective: Being able to provide advise with wisdom and maturity
  1. Courage – Strengths tied to emotions that showcase the intent to achieve objectives when the external forces are not totally inspiring
  • Bravery [also valor]: Acting on conviction and being always encouraged to speak up, for the overall right causes. Quiet appropriate in a nonprofit setting.
  • Perseverance[industriousness/ persistence]: Irrespective of obstacles, finding delight in taking up challenges and delivering them
  • Honesty[integrity, being authentic]: Being genuine, without pretense
  • Zest[vitality, energy]: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated
  1. Strengths with alignment with humanity – Such Interpersonal strengths that involve being humane and inclusive
  • Love: Feel good in closeness to people, developing relationship of trust and reciprocity
  • Kindness[also generosity/compassion]: Helping people, making them form great teams with support and compassion
  • Social Intelligence[also emotional intelligence]: Being aware of things happening around, with people, stakeholders etc. A person high on social intelligence can be fit in a communication related work.
  1. Justice - Strengths that are cornerstone for building healthy robust community
  • Teamwork: Being effective working with groups, cohesive and accommodating
  • Fairness: Treating people in an unbiased way and not letting personality issues clog the overall decision making.
  • Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done, and at the same time maintaining good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen.
  1. Strengths of Temperance- that shield against any overkill
  • Forgiveness: Accepting people with their follies and creating a mechanism to enable them to perform better
  • Humility:  Letting the work speak without being loud
  • Prudence: Being mindful in taking calculated risk
  • Self-Regulation[self-control]: Being self disciplined and careful with excesses
  1. Transcendence - Strengths that connect to a holistic picture
  • Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence[awe,wonder, elevation]: Noticing beauty, appreciation of innovative ideas
  • Gratitude: Being able to thank oneself and others in all great happenings at work and at home
  • Hope[optimism, future-mindedness]: Expectation of the best future at all times, being joyful with possibilities of better future
  • Humour[playfulness]: Being joyous, interested in sharing stories that inspire and make people laugh
  • Spirituality[faith/purpose]: Having a belief of a higher purpose than the self, the organization and the family
Hence, these are the 24 character strengths which are clubbed in 6 broad themes. Now, when we look at using this for performance management, let us imagine a Mr X who was expecting a better role along with a promotion and his top 5 strengths (as per the test) were as follows:
  • Prudence
  • Spirituality
  • Fairness
  • Perseverance
  • Curiosity
 The bottom 5 that were identified was:
  • Social Intelligence
  • Teamwork
  • Kindness
  • Love of Learning
  • Bravery
In this case, the organization would have to probe further to understand whether a person with a strong fairness and curiosity quotient but a strikingly low love of learning, social intelligence and teamwork deserves promotion at a particular time. Of course other tools to measure performance would have to be matched with character strengths to arrive at a better judgment. But this gives an interesting insight. A person with curiosity is perhaps not able to seek learning and additional information needed to execute tasks. In nonprofits especially where the challenges are definitely more society driven, the performance management approach could be directly co-related with the strengths survey
When technology and human expertise get interlinked and a tool like Character Strengths is used, either as a standalone performance management process or a supportive mechanism, it can surely enhance the employee potential towards a meaningful work-life. There are experts who can customize as per a non-profit’s culture and management vision.
I end this piece by a quote from Chris Peterson, “If you never venture outside the box, you will probably not be creative. But if you never get inside the box, you will certainly be stupid”