Unlocking Employee Potential Through “Best-Self Activation”

Your employees are your greatest assets. They are the lifeblood of your company and a direct reflection of your brand. This is true now more than ever before, and many companies are examining their “people approach” to determine how to increase employee retention, satisfaction, health and well-being, and performance. In this article, we will explore how to incorporate a concept into your customer experience (CX) operations that may or may not be new to you:  Best-Self Activation.

What is best-self activation?

One definition describes it as the deliberate effort to think the best of yourself and it goes beyond simply recognizing one’s strengths. This can be done in two ways: 1) Reflecting on and acknowledging specific situations in your past when you were at your best; and 2) Receiving feedback from others that highlight when you were at your best — basically what others think and say about you.

Why is this important, and why should you consider incorporating this into your organization?

Dan Cable, Professor of Organizational Behavior with the London Business School, has researched and spoken about best-self activation for many years.

As included in this article by Cable, data is beginning to suggest that when people’s signature strengths and contributions are emphasized in a more salient and consistent manner, performance not only improves, but the following changes also occur:

  • Physiology changes for the better
  • Creative problem solving improves
  • Ability to perform under pressure increases
  • Social relationships become more effective

In one research study, 40% of employees surveyed said their job is “very or extremely stressful.” It would not be unreasonable to believe that this percentage is even higher in 2020. It is believed that best-self activation can undo the cardiovascular responses due to stress, resulting in an increase in resilience and performance under stress. Never has this been more important than today. Additionally, people generally hear negative feedback more loudly than positive feedback. While constructive feedback is necessary at times, the theory is that focusing more on the positive can produce better and more sustained results.

Cable states, “Improving performance doesn’t start with a focus on people’s weaknesses. Psychological threat and fear don’t spark innovation. Highlighting people at their very best could be just the competitive advantage your organization needs.”

The question is, how do you operationalize and apply this in your environment, unlocking the potential of all your employees?


  1. Interview/recruiting process – A typical question you might ask as part of the recruiting process is: “What are your greatest strengths?” While this is a perfectly appropriate interview question, reframing it to encourage the applicant to reflect on an example of when they were at their best can serve a couple of purposes. It can be more enlightening as to what situations and work would be best suited for the applicant. You may also be able to get a glimpse into their future potential with the company and where they might thrive. Last, if they are hired, you are already setting the stage for them to bring their best selves with them to the job.
  2. Onboarding/training – In the article by Cable, he discusses a study they conducted with Wipro, an outsourcing customer service provider that was experiencing an attrition issue. When they looked at their onboarding process, it was typical of most organizations. They tested an alternative approach and compared it to a control group. For the test group, they implemented two new concepts: 1) Organizational identity – where organizational values were emphasized and employees were then asked to discuss which values made them most proud to be part of the company; and 2) Personal identity – where employees were asked to discuss who they are when they are at their best. When compared to the control group, the ones in the test group were 57% less likely to leave, and customer satisfaction improved. This entire exercise only took about an hour to complete but had a dramatic impact.
  3. Coaching – Sometimes leaders become focused on the “activity” of coaching versus the quality of it. And quite often, many leaders focus more on the areas of opportunity, because let’s be fair, they are trying to improve But if you shift this thinking and focus the discussion on questions like: “Tell me about your week. What was an example of where you think you were able to perform at your best, and why?” In this way, you are encouraging them to self-reflect, but you also need to be prepared to give them an example of something you witnessed where they were at their best. Consider structuring your coaching process to dedicate specific sessions that are only focused on the employee’s best self. Traditional corrective action conversations have their place and are necessary, but it is more difficult to focus on both negative and positive feedback in one meeting. So, separating these conversations can be more effective.
  4. Performance Evaluations and 360 Reviews – Similar to coaching, sometimes leaders get in a rut with formal performance evaluations. They are often extremely focused on metrics (which is to be expected) and, again, might have a typical structure of discussing strengths and areas of opportunity. Tweaking the discussion and format from a place of strengths to specific and impactful examples of where they were at their best can be much more lasting and impactful. It’s equally important to receive external feedback not only from a direct manager, but from peers and other stakeholders too. Implementing a 360-review process that encourages positive external feedback can be very insightful and have a profound impact on long-term performance.
  1. Reinforcing Strengths – To reinforce the value of employees bringing their best self to work, implementing a structured approach for employees to recognize peers is important. Additionally, developing a structure that encourages employees to save any examples of praise or success allows them the ability to reflect on those situations over time, bringing those to their performance evaluations and, most importantly, identify patterns of their own performance and strengths. One example cited was having twice-yearly meetings with a trusted peer or colleague to review these instances with each other and jointly interpret them.


Incorporating the best-self activation concept into your organization begins with your culture. The fundamental principle must be woven into all parts of the organization, from recruiting to onboarding, and performance management. All discussions should have this in mind and employees should be encouraged to ask managers and peers about their performance and how their strengths can be used not only in their current roles, but also in the next phase(s) of their career. Most importantly, create a culture and expectation in which employees feel empowered to bring their best self to work. At the end of the day, most people want to feel valued and leverage their strengths to make a difference. By focusing on the best people have to offer, you will reap the benefits in performance and employee well-being.









Blog post, written by: Execs In The Know