According to the Employee Engagement scientists at Gallup one of the key ingredients to Employee Engagement is positioning employees so they have the opportunity to do what they do best – everyday. This element is considered so crucial that is one of the twelve questions that make up Gallup’s venerable “Q12” survey that is widely considered the most effective measure of employee engagement.

“At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day” is the third question in the Q12 survey and is focused on creating self-awareness – as most employees do not have a good definition of their natural talents. The personal and organizational benefits that are realized when individuals are positioned where they can succeed rather than spending the majority of their time doing things they are not good at – are amazing. I love unpacking this question with others not only due to its obvious value and positive impact on employees and employers but also because it took me so long to truly understand it.

At the time I was first exposed to this concept, my manager told me to figure out what I did best and apply it to my job. So simple!”

Unfortunately, I realized I did two things best:

  • I ride horses
  • I eat bon-bons while reading vintage novels

As these two things define the pinnacle of what I do best, I felt challenged to find a way to apply this to my work. First, I tried to find identify opportunities at work that could somehow be related to these personal bests – long story short, I could not. How could there not be a hot market for a horse-riding, bon-bon eating vintage-book reading executive? Second, I became frustrated and gave up the survey concept as not being relevant to me.

One day when I was muttering at the water cooler about the impossibility of being able to incorporate “what I do best” in my job, my co-worker snapped “enough! That is NOT what it is about… At all!” He sat me down and proceeded to change my life. The first thing we did was to clarify that I needed to focus on the “at work” part of the question and define things that I was good at in my current role at work and things I may be good at in the context of the organization but was currently not using in my role at work.

He then gave me an amazing and simple exercise that I still use today – for myself and with my clients to really help clarify what we do and where we contribute the most value at work! Using two columns:

  • List the five most important things you get paid to do at work in order of importance
  • List the things at work you do well
  • Draw lines connecting the things at work you do well with the five things you listed in the first column

We all like to be considered experts in our field and this process helps define where an employee can both add value to their team and organization while reveling in the feeling of joy that accompanies doing something really well.


Michelle Smirnoff

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