Reflection on Work Improves Career Performance

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According to research conducted at Harvard Business School, “taking time to reflect on our work improves job performance in the long run”. 

How does this work? In their paper “Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance”, authors Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats argue that “learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection”. In other words, the act of reflecting on our experiences can be a powerful mechanism, making learning more effective and even longer-lasting.

How does one properly ‘reflect’? By intentionally attempting to “synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience”. By so doing, workers in the study found that their experiences were more productive, and that they themselves were more confident in their ability to achieve a goal, translating into higher rates of learning and retention overall.

The Power of Reflection

‘Reflective Practice’ is a way of studying your own experiences to improve the way you work. In her paper “Reflecting on ‘Reflective Practice’” for the Open University, Linda Finlay writes:

In general, reflective practice is understood as the process of learning through and from experience towards gaining new insights of self and/or practice. This often involves examining assumptions of everyday practice. It also tends to involve the individual practitioner in being self-aware and critically evaluating their own responses to practice situations. The point is to recapture practice experiences and mull them over critically in order to gain new understandings and improve future practice.

Many psychologists, social workers, and health professionals are already educated in and engage in reflective practice. In fact, in Social Work Education, The International Journal Harry Ferguson notes that “Reflective practice is a core concept in social work and probably the most well-known theoretical perspective across the entire applied professions of teaching, health, and social care.”

However, while common in the health sector, many corporate organizations are yet to unlock the power of reflective practice.

“I don’t see a lot of organisations that actually encourage employees to reflect—or give them time to do it,” ​Learning by Thinking study author and Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino says. 

Why should companies make employee reflection a priority?

The practice of reflecting and sharing can lead to a stronger sense of self-efficacy, which can, in turn, lead to future success. “When we stop, reflect, and think about learning, we feel a greater sense of self-efficacy,” Gino notes.​ “We’re more motivated and we perform better afterwards.”

Self-Reflection as a Career-Building Tool

Self-reflection is not just a philosophical exercise; it is a powerful career-building tool. When we take the time to reflect on our work, we gain valuable insights into our strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. Similar to how a mirror reflects our physical appearance, self-reflection allows us to see ourselves in a professional sense, giving us a clear picture of where we stand and where we want to go in our careers.

But what does self-reflection really entail? It goes beyond simply thinking about our past actions and achievements. Self-reflection involves deep introspection, a willingness to confront our shortcomings, and the desire to grow and develop professionally. It requires us to ask ourselves tough questions, such as:

  • What are my core values?
  • What are my long-term career goals?
  • What steps can I take to bridge the gap between where I am now and where I want to be?

Have you ever noticed how successful individuals often credit their mentors for their accomplishments? Mentors play a crucial role in our professional development, providing guidance, support, and invaluable insights gained from their own experiences. Seeking out a mentor who can help you navigate your career path and offer valuable feedback throughout the reflection process can significantly enhance its effectiveness and impact on your career growth.

Self-reflection can also help us identify and capitalize on our unique strengths. By taking the time to understand our natural talents and abilities, we can leverage them to stand out in our chosen field. For example, if you discover through self-reflection that you have excellent communication skills, you can focus on honing those skills and seeking opportunities that allow you to showcase them. This self-awareness can lead to increased job satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment in your career.

Another benefit of self-reflection is the ability to identify and address our weaknesses. By acknowledging areas where we may be lacking, we can take proactive steps to improve ourselves. This might involve seeking additional training or education, seeking feedback from colleagues or supervisors, or even taking on new challenges that push us outside of our comfort zone. Embracing our weaknesses and actively working to overcome them can lead to personal and professional growth.

Moreover, self-reflection can help us stay aligned with our values and passions. As we progress in our careers, it’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of success and lose sight of what truly matters to us. Regular self-reflection allows us to reassess our priorities and ensure that our career choices align with our values and passions. It helps us avoid burnout and maintain a sense of purpose and fulfillment in our work.

Reflection in Practice

How can you make reflection a practice at your organization? Mentoring sessions can provide a critical space for employees to reflect.

Not only can mentees self-reflect and look at things they’re struggling with, what tools they regularly employ to solve problems, and where they want to improve, they can then communicate those things out loud and get verbal feedback from a mentor acting as a sounding board and/or advisor.

The study found that the act of not only reflecting but also sharing those reflective thoughts out loud helped workers perform even better. While the reflection group increased its performance on the final training test by 22.8% compared to the control group, the sharing group performed 25% better.

Need some help getting started? Here’s 10 questions to help you reflect on the past 12 months

Taking Time to Reflect on Your Work

We’re living in a busy world, and finding the time to reflect on our work may seem like a luxury, but it is an investment worth making. Carving out dedicated time for reflection allows us to step back from the daily hustle and bustle and gain a broader perspective on our work. This pause not only helps us maintain focus but also enables us to identify areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments.

If you’re guilty of constantly jumping from one task to another without ever stopping to assess how you could do things differently or better – incorporating regular reflection sessions into your routine creates a space to consider alternative approaches, new ideas, and creative solutions. Remember, success often comes from thinking outside the box and taking calculated risks. So, ask yourself, are you giving yourself the opportunity to think critically and innovate?

When we take the time to reflect on our work, we open ourselves up to a world of possibilities. It is during these moments of introspection that we can truly evaluate our progress and identify areas where we can grow. By analyzing our past actions and outcomes, we can gain valuable insights that will guide us toward future success.

Moreover, reflection allows us to celebrate our achievements. Amid our busy lives, it’s easy to overlook the small victories and milestones we’ve reached along the way. By taking a moment to acknowledge and appreciate our accomplishments, we not only boost our self-confidence but also fuel our motivation to keep pushing forward.

Reflection provides us with an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, and when we examine our failures and setbacks, we can uncover valuable lessons that will help us avoid making the same errors in the future. It’s through these moments of self-reflection that we grow and develop as professionals.

Furthermore, incorporating reflection into our routine can enhance our problem-solving skills. By stepping back and analyzing the challenges we’ve faced, we can identify patterns and trends that will enable us to find more effective solutions. This critical thinking process allows us to approach future problems with a fresh perspective and a greater sense of confidence.

Taking the time to reflect on our work can have a positive impact on our overall well-being. It provides us with an opportunity to de-stress, recharge, and reconnect with ourselves. In a world that often prioritizes productivity over personal well-being, reflection offers a much-needed balance and a chance to prioritize self-care.

Harnessing the Power of Reflection to Advance Your Career

Ultimately, as Gino puts it, “When we fall behind even though we’re working hard, our response is often just to work harder. But in terms of working smarter, our research suggests that we should take time for reflection.”

What’s more, the benefits of individual reflection only compound when you have a mentor to assist in guiding it.

If you haven’t yet, it’s time to build a culture of mentoring at your organization, and Mentorloop can help. Our solution is designed to get your mentoring program off the ground simply and efficiently, with tools to sign people up in minutes, create custom profiles, and maximize your effort to create data-driven mentoring matches.

Speak with one of our mentoring specialists

Strategies for Incorporating Reflection Into Your Career

Now that we’ve explored the benefits of reflection, let’s discuss some practical strategies for incorporating reflection into your career:

  1. Create a reflective journal: Set aside a dedicated notebook or use an electronic platform to jot down your thoughts, ideas, and insights. Regularly review your journal to identify patterns and consider new approaches.
  2. Find a reflection buddy: Seek out a colleague or friend who is also interested in personal and professional growth. Schedule regular reflection sessions to discuss your challenges, successes, and goals. Their input can provide fresh perspectives and inspire new ideas.
  3. Set aside reflection time: Dedicate a specific time each day or week to reflect on your work. Whether it’s during your morning coffee break or a designated hour on Fridays, make sure to prioritize this time and guard it fiercely.
  4. Utilize feedback loops: Solicit feedback from your colleagues, supervisors, or mentors on a regular basis. The insights gained from their input can serve as catalysts for reflection and help you grow professionally.
  5. Experiment and iterate: Reflection invites experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try new approaches, take calculated risks, and iterate on your ideas. Embrace the process of learning and growing.

Remember, reflection is not a one-time event; it is an ongoing process that requires commitment and consistency. By incorporating reflection into your career, you’ll gain clarity, make informed decisions, and continually progress toward your professional goals. Take the time to step back, assess your journey, and embrace the power of reflection. Your career performance will thank you.

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Emily Ryan
Emily Ryan
Head of Marketing at Mentorloop. Observing tens of thousands of mentoring relationships, she is passionate about helping people get the most from their mentoring experience. When not writing, you'll find her brewing beer or globe-trotting.

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