Tim Underwood

I met with four of my personal academic tutees this week.  They are the life-blood of medicine and the people who will be looking after me in the not-too-distant future. These medical students, the doctors of tomorrow, are hard-working, considered and genuine people finding their way through the complex world of health-care during a pandemic. Despite the upheaval of recent months, I found them engaged, excited and enthusiastic about their futures.

But there was a purpose to our meetings. These weren’t meetings for the fun of it, they had a Personal Development Plan to complete and it had to be loaded up to the Medical School by the end of today. So, we turned to the paperwork. To my surprise, all of them had identified areas where they needed to improve. Why surprised? This is the meat and drink in the standard appraisal process, identify weaknesses (perceived or real) and work on them. No, I wasn’t surprised by this part of the forms, what surprised me was the way that they have all been polluted by our traditional view of only focusing on the weaknesses and not celebrating and learning from our strengths and successes.

I asked them what they were good at and what they had achieved in the past year. There was loads of great stuff, which will now make it onto the forms. This is really important if we want to change the way we do things for the better. Reviewing performance begins with strengths and doesn’t move on until we have developed a clear picture of what those strengths are and what behaviours underpins them. It’s your performance, so assert your ownership and responsibility.

Perhaps the most important step is to create a picture of success – what’s my picture of success for this review? Without a clear picture of success, how can we understand if we have made progress? And resist the temptation to only focus on outputs, success is created by attitude, choices about where to spend time, energy levels, confidence and the work environment.

Next time you are reviewing performance (your own or others), please spend more time on the successes than the weaknesses. You might find it really helps!

Footnote: I sent a photo of the whiteboard in my office to my lab team this week. It was written on about a year ago with the things that we might do individually and together. We have very nearly completed them all! When times are tough, doing this occasionally really helps boost morale and lets us remember just how good we are.

Learning from our strengths and successes by Professor Tim Underwood

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