Managing to Employees’ Strengths

18 11 2010

I was speaking with a coaching client about how she consistently performs at and above expectations and rarely receives any positive feedback from her management, and then when something doesn’t go so well, she hears about it immediately.

When I worked in Corporate HR, this was my experience, both personally as well as anecdotally with my employee clients. My manager told me that if I didn’t hear from her, then all was good. So, when her name popped up on my caller ID, my heart stopped!

I once presented to a group of 40 managers about employee development and retention, and I pointed out that they were spending 80% – 90% of their time pushing and counseling their poor performers, and little time with their high potentials and key employees.

During performance reviews, the typical hour is split – 10 to 15 minutes reviewing one’s accomplishments, and 45 to 50 minutes focused on what one needs to do to increase next year’s performance, including all the skills that need to be learned or improved.

So, why do we manage to employees’ weaknesses?  Why do we insist that employees improve on their weaknesses, instead of focusing on their strengths?  I once attended a workshop where the presenter pointed out that if you are “good” at something, you may learn to be “great” at it, but if you are “poor” (weak) at something, you will most often struggle to be even “good” at it.

Doesn’t it make more sense that we play to one’s strengths?  Consider the benefits of matching employees to their strengths where they can achieve and excel!  We’ll have more productive and more motivated employees!

I love working with people, helping them understand and solve their challenges.  I don’t love working with spreadsheets.  When my last six months in a corporate job was spent mostly working with a spreadsheet to collect and organize data, I was bored.  When I was working with employees, I was energized, working more hours, and accomplishing more.  When I was working with data and spreadsheets, I left at 5 pm, racing to the exit.

If you are a manager, consider how your spend your time – are you more productive supporting, developing and motivating your good performers, or do you focus on trying to get the poor performers to meet expectations.  How much time do you spend terminating poor performers, and then starting the selection, hiring and training process all over again?

My former employer experienced an increase in turnover from 25% to 35% during the 3+ years I was there.  More and more time was spent replacing instead of developing the company’s workforce.  Literally hundreds of millions of dollars left the bottom line in turnover costs due to the loss of productivity, loss of intellectual capital, and all the costs in attracting, hiring and training new employees.

Let’s be more productive as individuals in matching our jobs to our strengths, and let’s be more productive as managers in matching our employees to what they do well – you will have happier, more motivated, and higher performing employees, and you will also have more time to do the things that you enjoy as a manager!

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One response

23 11 2010
Frank Sonnenberg

Well said Stuart. Employees will live up or down to our expectations. We get what we deserve.

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