Don’t Try to Improve Weaknesses, Instead Focus on Strengths

If you’re the owner or CEO of a company, you’re probably familiar with what happens when you have a struggling employee. You sit down with the struggling employee and assess what they’re doing wrong. You ask them to improve and then, six or eight weeks later you assess their improvements. Sometimes things get better, sometimes they don’t and then you have to start a termination plan.

There are a lot of problems with this process. For starters, performance reviews often include benchmarks on how to judge the improvement (or lack thereof), but rarely include instructions for the employee on how to improve. Simply telling people they need to pay more attention to detail is unlikely to help them pay more attention to detail. The bigger problem though is that focusing on an employee’s weaknesses provokes anxiety and does nothing to help the employee contribute more to your organization. Assuming you have a good hiring process, you are hiring smart, capable people who can benefit your organization. You want to keep those people involved and interested, and you want to keep them employed by you, not your competition. A recent Gallup poll found that employees who use their strengths at work are more productive, less stressed, and less likely to leave an organization.

This is not just something I’ve seen in my own career as a CEO, it’s cutting edge management theory detailed in the book. “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. According to Buckingham and Coffman, great managers assess a team member’s talents and skills, make sure the skills and talents are being used in their job and help the person increase these skills. They can then construct teams that work around weaknesses.

Here’s an example I saw more than once during my management consulting days in Silicon Valley.  A company would have a fantastic software engineer who, true to the stereotype, was not great with people skills. They also had an employee who was not quite as talented as an engineer, but had better people and management skills. The more talented engineer would be promoted to a management position. The engineer would be frustrated by their inability to focus on work they enjoyed, and their staff would be frustrated by their people skills or lack of organization. Senior management would have several difficult conversations with the now manager about how they could improve their people skills.  Meanwhile, the less talented engineer would also become frustrated by their work, finding it too difficult. The engineering manager would be having conversations with this engineer about missed deadlines or sloppy work. Engineers are in high demand and over the course of six to 18 months, half the engineering team would leave due to the unpleasant work environment while the company suffered from missed deadlines It’s not easy for talented engineers to see less accomplished peers get promoted to management positions. But I have seen this work great for the company and all affected employees when you plan ahead, have open and honest communication, give people options and tools to improve skills, and then “choose” the job that best suits them and the organization. ,

Does this mean that great managers never help people improve their inadequate skills, knowledge, or methods? No, many employees and managers may not even recognize their strengths until some of their weaknesses are pointed out to them, but instead of concentrating on weaknesses, good managers build a “learning culture,” that allows employees to grow.

At The Kaplan Group we often say that working with a collection agency frees your staff up to concentrate on other matters which can add more value to your organization while we collect your past due invoices. Wouldn’t it be great for you, and your employees, if those other matters were strengths?

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