Discovering Your 'Best Self' Helps Improve Professional and Personal Performance

If Albert Einstein had been given a conventional performance review, he might have been recognized by his supervisors for his brilliance in mathematics and physics, but criticized for his controversial lectures and unkempt appearance. Management most likely would have encouraged him to improve his weak spots, but would not have taken steps to nurture his natural abilities.

At the University of Michigan Business School, faculty researchers are pioneering a much different approach to the traditional appraisal and self-improvement processes used by most business organizations. This new alternative emphasizes building upon each person’s unique talents and capabilities rather than trying to “fix” their performance shortfalls.

A developmental process called Reflected Best Self Feedback has been integrated into the Michigan Business School curriculum at all levels to help students discover their “best self” and determine ways they create value for other people. Ultimately, the goal of Reflected Best Self Feedback is to enable people to become active architects of job activities that utilize and develop their talents, and to enrich their relationships with others.

“People do better building on their strengths rather than shoring up their weaknesses,” says Jane E. Dutton, the William Russell Kelly Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management, who has used the Reflected Best Self Feedback process in her MBA courses. “This feedback changes their picture of themselves and lights up the relational network that enables them to develop their best self more fully. It is a catalyst for creating extraordinary performance at work and in personal life.” Reflected Best Self Feedback is part of a broader research program at the Michigan Business School called Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) and is quickly spreading to other leading schools, including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brigham Young University and the University of British Columbia.

The process involves students asking 20 people they know to provide written accounts of incidences when they have added significant value. From these “peak episodes,” students are able to see their patterns of excellence and “capture their uniqueness.” With these insights, they realize they do make a difference in the lives of others and feel appreciated.

“What we find is that people are shocked to discover their natural strengths, because our culture prevents this from happening,” says Robert E. Quinn, the M.E. Tracy Collegiate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management, who has introduced company managers to the process in his Executive MBA course. “When they receive this concrete feedback, they get very excited and feel good about their ability to create value at a high level.”

The Reflected Best Self Feedback process potentially can help business organizations redesign their work processes in ways to create greater satisfaction and productivity, according to Quinn. “If people begin to work together better using their best-self skills and gain greater appreciation for each other, the workplace climate and overall performance of the company will improve,” he says.

Farris Khan, a business analyst at Compuware Corp., says the Best Self feedback he gathered in Dutton’s organizational behavior class last spring revealed that any positive action he takes has the potential for inspiring others.

“I am now convinced that it is far more ‘value-added’ to feed off the positive than to dwell in the ‘need-improvement’ negative,” Khan says. “It makes you think that big things are possible.”

He is eager to share his class experience at the Michigan Business School with his colleagues at Compuware and has contacted the team responsible for setting the appraisal-process guidelines for the company’s 9,000 employees.

To receive a preview copy of the Best Self Assessment, visit the POS Web site at