October 1, 2007 by Ruth Gmehlin, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc
Ask anyone to recall their best manager and one individual always stands out. Now ask what set this manager apart from all the others, and you will get as many answers as people asked. There is a common thread however. Each of these best managers recognized, capitalized on, and appropriately rewarded the unique talents and strengths of their employees. This process not only makes good people sense, but also good business sense.
The Common Managerial Mistake
In terms of employee development, the traditional focus of a manager has been to identify the weaknesses of their employees and help develop a plan to overcome them. What is the result of only focusing on weaknesses? A well-rounded group of mediocre employees, all adapting and striving to be equally good at the same things, curbing their natural abilities and letting their unique talents wither, while focus is placed on bringing their weaknesses up to par.
Assuming that the hard skills required for the job are acceptable, mediocre managers define what they perceive to be weak behaviour and then create a plan with the employee to work on this before their next evaluation. For example, an assertive manager feels that their employee is not being aggressive enough in meetings and suggests during the review process that the employee needs to adapt their style to be more dominating. This manager does not realize that the natural style of the employee to influence coworkers is through networking and relationship, yielding the same results, with a different approach.
The Mindset of the Best Manager
The best managers do not try to change the style of others; they are aware that their people differ in how they approach problems and challenges, how they deal with others, how they handle change and pace in their work environment, and how they work with procedures set by the organization. The best managers recognize, capture and utilize the unique style each person brings to the team.
Some tools managers use are behavioural assessments, one-on-one discussions, and team workshops to learn about the styles and strengths of their employees and then put strategies in place on how to profit from th unique offerings of each person.
The Supporting Research
As important as it is for managers and their employees to be self aware and know their weaknesses, it is even more important to be aware of their strengths and capitalize on them. Research in social learning theory and cognitive psychology proves that self-assurance, which means to be truly aware of the strengths of others, is the strongest predictor of a persons ability to set high goals, to persist in the face of obstacles, and ultimately achieve success. By contrast self-awareness or too much focus on weaknesses has not shown to be a predictor of any of these outcomes, and in some cases it appears to hinder them.
The Benefits of Capitalizing on the Strengths of Employees
- Retaining employees. It costs an organization up to three times an employees salary when they leave to attract, hire and train a new employee. Employees feel fulfilled when their managers recognize and reward their strengths. Over 80% of people who leave organizations do so because they are not fulfilled by their manager or the work environment, not for monetary reasons.
- More productive work environment. When a manager focuses on what is unique about each employee they introduce a healthy degree of disruption into the environment. This challenges the status quo of an organization and thus helps the company become more vital and able to continuously grow to meet the changing demands of the marketplace today.
- Job satisfaction. This process makes each person more accountable and incites them to take ownership for their job performance. Capitalizing onthe strengths of each person gives a stronger sense of team, creating a healthy interdependency and helps people appreciate the particular skills and talents of others. Their coworkers fill in where they are lacking, and the unique abilities of each person come into play, supporting the old adage famously amended by Michael Jordan: There is no I in team, but there is in WIN.
Take Time to Invest in People Today
It takes time and effort for managers to learn about their employees strengths and motivators. Using a behavioural assessment tool to initiate the process is an excellent starting point. Consider the famous tale from Steven Covey about Sharpening the Saw. Suppose you came upon someone in the woods working to saw down a tree. They are exhausted from working for hours. You suggest they take a break to sharpen the saw. They might reply, I do not have time to sharpen the saw, I am too busy sawing! If they had stopped to take time to sharpen their tool, it would only take them a fraction of the time to actually complete this task and cut down the first tree. The point being illustrated here is that your employees strengths are your tools and it is important to recognize and take time to sharpen and hone them.
The best managers know that the most effective way to invest their time is to sincerely understand and appreciate the individual strengths of each employee and figure out how to best incorporate those strengths into their overall plan.