There comes a point in life where we realize that most of the weaknesses we have…we are going to continue having. For example, I am not a numbers person. I like numbers, I have tried to work with numbers, but I am simply not the finance guy. Now, while I’m not a numbers guy, I am a story guy. If you can give me the numbers and help me understand what they mean, I will be able to explain the numbers in a way that people understand. Granted it’s not a superhuman strength like x-ray vision, but it has served me well for most of my career.
As leaders, we often approach our employees as if it is our job to “fix” them. Then, of course, we get frustrated at the fact that “fixing” never seems to work. I’m not talking about behavioral problems that need to be addressed. I’m talking about instances where the strengths of the individual are either not in alignment with their responsibilities or have simply not been allowed to develop in relation to the task at hand. Here are some tips for helping employees improve through strengths:
1. Ask your employees to identify the part(s) of their job that excites them or gives them energy. The part of the job that most excites an employee, or more specifically, that most energizes an employee, is likely to be directly related to their strength. When we are doing things that are in alignment with our interests and our abilities, we find that the time spent doing these activities tends to be energizing. Even if the work is hard, we take power from using our strengths.
2. Ask your employees to identify the part(s) of their job that is the most fun. Again, the alignment of strengths with activities is usually so enjoyable for people that it qualifies as “fun.” Pay attention to the answer to this question. It might be that your employee is most jazzed by time spent with customers or colleagues. It might also be that they love solving complex problems. Don’t judge their answer by whether or not you would find the activity fun. That isn’t the question.
3. Ask your employees to evaluate themselves. First of all, when given an opportunity for honest reflection, most employees are fairly accurate about how well they are doing. There ARE times where the employee may be misinterpreting their performance, but in most cases, they are pretty close. This should not be a “guess the right answer” exercise nor a spontaneous one. Have them evaluate their performance in some form that you will review before the performance discussion. Use their evaluation as the basis for your discussion.
4. Have your employees tell you what should be different about their job in order for their performance to improve. This one takes guts because we normally go into a performance review situation telling employees what they need to do to change. You are probably still going to have some things you want them to do differently. But start from a collaborative effort. Perhaps there are simple ways…or ways you would never guess on your own…that the work could be better aligned with the strengths of the employee. This is not necessarily re-engineering the job. It might simply be allowing an individual to do the job in an individual kind of way.
From the time we are children we are taught to identify our weaknesses and eliminate them. This activity is enormously time consuming and energy draining. If you truly want to engage your employees in a performance improvement effort, allow for the possibility that it might not be the person who needs to change, but the approach of the work that would give the greatest return on investment if aligned with the already held strengths of the individual.