“What would happen if we studied what was right with people versus what’s wrong with people?”
– Don Clifton, Soar With Your Strengths
Several years ago a colleague and I attempted to start a “Strengths Revolution”. Buoyed by the work of Marcus Buckingham (First, Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths), we wanted our organization to embrace strength-based development. Doesn’t that sound like something that should occur: focusing on strengths?
Our manifesto fell on deaf ears, however. Why?
As a society, we focus more on fixing our weaknesses than promoting our strengths. For some reason, the “powers that be” may think it is easier to fix something that is broken instead of improve upon something that is not broken. Maybe it is a result of accessibility or availability. Matching strengths to tasks or jobs takes time, they may say. And in the fast-paced working environment in which we all seem to exist, time is a rare commodity. The ineffective manager thinks, “You are the only one available so you are the one that has to do this task.” Result – a square peg is forced into a round hole. The job may get done, but it will probably take longer and/or not be completed as well as it could be. It seems to be easier for the ineffective leader to say “try your best” as opposed to “do what you do best”.
“You have development needs – areas where you need to grow, areas where you need to get better – but for you, as for all of us, you will learn the most, grow the most, and develop the most in your areas of greatest strength. Your strengths are your multiplier. Your strengths magnify you.”
– Marcus Buckingham, Go Put Your Strengths to Work
The Strengths Revolution encourages (requires) a shift in mindset. Turning our focus to the areas in which we excel demands an increased level of self-awareness and the courage to pursue those assets.
What is the organizational value of strength-based development? At a minimum:
- Increased productivity.
- An engaged workforce.
- A culture of respect for the employee and what he/she brings to the workplace.
- A high performing environment.
Think about your “best day ever” at work. (If you can’t think of one at work, think about your “best day ever” outside of work. Then let’s talk for you might need to seek an alternative to how you are spending your days.) What were you doing? As you think back on that day – or series of days – you are reviewing activities in which you excelled. Maybe you didn’t realize it at the time, but your contributions to that “best day ever” were indicative of your strengths.
I remember one such day. Another colleague and I were brainstorming ideas for content of an e-learning program that would introduce users to the navigational aspects of a new computer system. As we shared our thoughts, you could feel the energy in the room increase. We quickly added to each other’s ideas spawning imaginative ways to connect the learner to the concepts. As time went on, observers would see each of us running to the other with words of “what about this?” starting each discussion.
This “best day ever” exposed the creative process as one of my strengths. I am happiest when I create; when I take a blank piece of paper and turn it into a visual or written image.
What about you? How do you identify your strengths? And then what do you do once they are identified?
1. Start with a “strengths audit”.
In addition to thinking about your “best day ever”, I recommend Tom Rath’s book, StrengthsFinder 2.0. The book contains descriptions of 34 strengths and descriptions of these strengths in action. The related online assessment produces a list of your top five strengths. Take the assessment, read the descriptions of your top five, and analyze your workday. How often do you get to use these strengths?
For those who want to go further with the “strengths audit”, couple the StrengthsFinder data with other assessments, such as the Simmons Personal Survey and/or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, to determine your behavioral tendencies.
For example: The Simmons Survey tells me that I have a strong tendency toward embracing change and that my normal decision making mode involves collaboration. The Myers-Briggs tells me that I would rather imagine “what will be” as opposed to “what is”. And the Strengths Finders tells me that I am futuristic, always looking toward tomorrow and painting a vision of what appears. When I analyze my “best day ever”, I am doing just that. Working in a collaborative setting, combining existing pieces to create something new and different for “tomorrow”.
And don’t forget to include additional data in your strengths audit. What have you learned about yourself from other feedback sources: performance appraisals, multi-rater assessments, comments from colleagues, etc.?
2. Analyze your current job.
When do you use your strengths? In what ways might you start using your strengths?
Not to foment a rebellion (even though I do want to start a Strengths Revolution) – but, if you do not use any of those top five strengths in your job, then I think it is time for you to look around for work that is more suited to your talents.
3. Talk with your manager about opportunities to use your strengths on the job.
Look around. Does your team need to build relationships with other teams? If your strength is one of “winning others over”, then suggest that you become your team’s relationship building liaison. If your strength is in details/research, suggest that you lead a data-driven project.
Use your manager’s influence to help create opportunities to develop your strengths.
4. Seek opportunities to use your strengths outside of the organization.
Think outside of the workplace. Volunteer opportunities and hobbies also become havens for us to exercise our passions. (And, you guessed it – within those passions one can find his/her strengths.)
5. Assess your progress.
As you work within your strengths-set, examine how your performance has increased. Also, observe your energy and your optimism. Focusing on strengths changes outlooks.
A Strengths Caution!
Beware of the “strengths-on-steroids” syndrome. At times, we overuse our strengths to such an extent that our performance is negatively impacted.
For example, the ability to speak one’s mind and have managerial courage or the Command strength could very well turn into overly aggressive behavior and the lack of empathy, if overused. This “strengths-on-steroids” behavior results in an inability to build relationships and work collaboratively with others.
Take caution that those behaviors and tendencies that make you unique don’t become derailers on your path to success.
As Terence, a comic playwright of the Roman Republic said, “Moderation in all things.”
Your Call to Action
It is time to reignite our “Strengths Revolution”! And I invite you to join me.
For the first three respondents to this invitation, I offer a complimentary “strengths” consultation. Using the Strengths Finder, the Simmons Personal Survey, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, we will analyze your strengths and discuss ways in which you might further use and improve upon these talents. If you are interested, please send your contact information to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will respond with instructions on how we get started.
I look forward to collaborating with you as we spread the news regarding the power of strength-based development.
The following Lee Hecht Harrison online poll results were published in the August 2012 issue of T+D magazine. (Poll conducted in May 2012 with more than 450 respondents.)
Do you feel your manager is interested in your professional development?
- Mostly – 22%
- Sometimes – 27%
- Rarely – 26%
- Never – 26%
Some questions for you …
- Are you a people manager?
- Are you responsible for an outcome that requires teamwork?
- Do you spend time talking with your team members about daily tasks, quarterly objectives, and meeting your customers’ needs?
- Do you spend time talking with team members about their development and desired career path, and how each member may achieve the direction in which he/she wants to travel?
Just a guess here … but I would imagine that those of you who answered “yes” to number one, also answered “yes” to numbers two and three. But – some of you may have answered “no” to number 4 … or at least your answer may have been “not as much as I should.”
“Developing Direct Reports and Others” is one of 67 competencies included in the KornFerry/Lominger Leadership Architect competency set. Thoroughly grounded in research, these 67 competencies describe the behaviors that are resident in successful, high performing organizations around the world. Using their global research, the Lominger team has ranked the 67 competencies in order of most to least skilled. With the normative data group totaling more than 7,500 learners, the absolute bottom ranked competency – worldwide – is Developing Direct Reports and Others.
The good news for those of you who said “no” to number 4 above – you are not alone. The bad news for all of us is that our team members are not provided with the opportunities and assistance that will allow them to achieve their personal goals. (And – if they cannot achieve their personal goals, are they able to engage in achieving your team goals or the organizational goals?)
Why are we so bad at developing others?
I am sure that we can list many reasons. Some of those may be:
- “I don’t have time. I have work to do.”
- “I am concerned that the employee will assume an entitlement attitude and expect to get the job upon completing the development plan.”
- “The team member is not performing well in their current job – so why should the employee be developed for a future job?”
- “I don’t have the budget to send the team member to class.”
- “I don’t know what to suggest for development.”
Aren’t these reasons really just excuses for inaction on our part? As managers, we must realize that participating in the development of our team members is a critical role for us. Developing Direct Reports and Others is our work.
Employee development correlates with performance, engagement, productivity, and improved business results. Study after study corroborates this information. What can be done to banish these excuses and increase our skill and comfort level with regard to Developing Others?
Start with a conversation.
Individual one-on-one conversations with team members provide the opportunity to get to know each person’s development needs and dreams.
- Begin with a conversation about today. What is working? What is not working?
- Depending on the relationship you have had with your team members up to this point, one or more might be hesitant to be upfront. Explain your purpose behind asking these questions. You really want to help them develop and grow, don’t you? Be transparent. There are no guarantees regarding future employment – but there is great benefit and opportunity in developing new knowledge and skills.
- And be patient. Even if your team members hesitate to comment, subsequent tries at this conversation may result in true sharing. Remember – declare your intent to be a partner in each team member’s development.
- Ask about each team member’s career desires. (The old “what do you want to do when you grow up” question.) Listen to the answers here. In some cases you will get a “position” answer. In some cases, you will get an answer that includes “responsibilities.” And in some cases, you will get an “I don’t know.”
- With a “position” answer, withhold your immediate reaction. (The “you aren’t ready” or “that position is filled” or “we don’t have that position in this company” responses are apt to quickly slide off the tongue.) Instead, probe deeper. What is appealing about that position? What tasks or responsibilities seem challenging?
- If the position truly does not exist, talk about the responsibilities and opportunities that position would present – and why the person is interested in pursuing that type of work. Again, with this type of conversation, you are getting at what really ignites excitement in the team member.
- With a “responsibility” answer, you will unearth potential developmental content. Focus on the “why” with regard to the responsibilities so you may uncover the person’s driving passion.
- With an “I don’t know”, you have the opportunity to help this person create a path. Assign your team member the task of thinking deeply about his/her interests, goals, and desires. For example – When you are at your best, what are you doing? What are your contributions? About what are you passionate?
- Decide on one or two items for development. These items might be team member strengths or areas for improvement or areas that venture into unknown territory. Key point – the team member should be the one who identifies the developmental topics. Your role as manager is to coach, suggest, guide … but leave the choosing to the one who will be developing.
Two Different Discussions – Performance versus Development
Don’t confuse a performance discussion with a development discussion.
- The Performance discussion focuses on current tasks associated with the team member’s current job. The objective is to look at results and then identify those that meet expectations and those that do not. Regarding those results that do not meet expectations – the conversation moves to bridging the gap between non-performance and performance.
- The Development discussion focuses on building skills and knowledge for the future – either in preparation for expansion of the current job or for new opportunities. The objective is to help your team members engage in tomorrow and embrace new challenges.
Performance discussions lift up team members to meet today. Development discussions elevate team members to face tomorrow.
A development focus has been identified. Now what?
Investigate development options.
A course or workshop may be your first thought. However, that is not necessarily the best way to meet development needs.
Most development occurs through on-the-job experiences. How do you create or find those experiences?
- Look at your department and your role. Is there an opportunity to provide the team member with a “special project” that will help build the specific skill? Or would you be able to delegate one of your tasks to this team member to help him/her gain hands-on experience?
- Ask a colleague for help. Is there a person who is a role model in exhibiting the specific skill? If so, tap into your network and ask this person to assist. Arrange a discussion over coffee or lunch where the role model shares insight with your team member. Or your team member may shadow this person for a period of time. Your colleague will also suggest alternative methods for developing that specific knowledge or skill.
- Do some research. Are there books, journals, or conferences that address the skill to be developed? If so, encourage the team member to begin development with some background research.
- How about a coach? Is the team member in a position where coaching would contribute to the developmental path?
- Or how about a mentor? Is there someone who would be a suitable mentor for this person?
- And of course, many workshops exist to help build skills and knowledge. If this option is selected, have a conversation with the team member before AND after the workshop. Sandwich the workshop/learning event with a pre-workshop discussion that clearly outlines where you want the team member to focus (expectations) and then a post-workshop follow-up conversation to discuss how this learning will be applied to future developmental growth.
Support and follow-up.
This is important to repeat: As a manager, one of your primary responsibilities is the development of your team.
Once you have determined the developmental needs and helped the team members decide on the developmental options … your job has just begun. Continual reflection and discussion with your team members is key.
- It is not real unless it is written. Encourage your team members to document their development plan – including objectives and milestones. Suggest the notation of incremental measures of success. A great way to do this is to look at quarterly timeframes. What will be accomplished in 3 months, in 6 months, in 9 months?
- Schedule periodic one-on-one conversations to discuss developmental progress. These don’t have to be long, cumbersome meetings. Length is up to you and your team member. Make sure you schedule the time and then remain committed to keeping that schedule.
- What do you talk about during these developmental one-on-ones? Some conversation starters:
- What have you learned since we last met? (What a great question to jumpstart a conversation about development and growth!)
- What progress has been made on your development?
- What do you not know that you would like to know?
- What obstacles are you facing as you develop? And how will you overcome those obstacles? (Notice – the focus is on the team member’s ownership of the development plan).
- Be alert to changes (or lack of action) with regard to the plan. Investigate why and assist the team member in adapting the plan.
- Be supportive – be transparent – be realistic – and be available.
As we look back on our careers, we remember those who challenged us and helped us to grow. With these memories in mind, I have two wishes: May you be the person that others will remember as the catalyst to their career growth AND may the next Lee Hecht Harrison survey report “Mostly” as the majority response.
All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.
– Albert Einstein
I am a great believer in strengths-based development. As a matter of fact, a colleague and I attempted to start a “Strengths Revolution” a few years ago. (Let me say, the proposal did not garner a lot of upper management support … but we certainly had the revolutionary passion!) I believe that we gain much more productivity through focusing on strengths – as opposed to trying to correct weaknesses. As a matter of fact, I believe that your weaknesses are nothing more than your “strengths on steroids.” So, strengths-based development allows you to understand how your strengths can turn into weaknesses … therefore resulting in awareness and improvement of weaknesses.
Reading the strengths-related works of Marcus Buckingham, Curt Coffman, Donald Clifton, Paula Nelson, Tom Rath and Barry Conchie are well worth your time. And I particularly enjoyed taking the assessment in the StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. The result was a detailed analysis of my top five strengths: Activator, Strategic, Adaptability, Connectedness, and Futuristic.
I am also a believer in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. I have often used this assessment to help with individual self-awareness, team building, and organizational effectiveness improvement. I always find enjoyment in the discovery process as I watch workshop participants come to the “aha” moment where they say, “Yes! That really is me.” I enjoy pairing opposites and allowing them to share their differences, thereby reinforcing their learning about Type® and preferences. I am an ENFP. For those unfamiliar with Type®, that would translate to Extravert, Intuition, Feeling, and Perceiving. In short, I get my energy from the external world, enjoy seeing the big picture, initially think about the human impact when making decisions, and can be open-ended and spontaneous.
Knowing what I know about my strengths and knowing what I know about my Type®, I have been wondering – is there a correlation between the two? I believe there is. Let’s see if you agree.
- The Activator strength is described as one of action. Activators make decisions, take action, look at the results, and learn. As Rath says, “action and thinking are not opposites.”
- I correlate this strength with my Extravert preference. In Introduction to Type®, Isabel Briggs Myers describes the MBTI® Extraversion preference as one where people learn best through doing or discussing and readily take initiative
- Rath describes the Strategic strength as a perspective that allows one to see patterns where others simply see complexity. As Rath states, “Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, ‘What if this happened?’”
- The person with an Intuition preference in the MBTI® is continually asking, “What if?” Myers listed “Focus on the patterns and meanings in data” as one of the characteristics of the Intuition preference.
- Adaptability focuses on living in the moment and being flexible – one “who can stay productive when the demands of work are pulling you in many different directions at once.”
- The MBTI® Perceiving preference results in similar descriptors: flexible, adaptable, changing course, feeling energized by last-minute pressures, liking things loose, and being open to change.
- StrengthFinders 2.0 lists Connectedness as one of my strengths. Rath relates connectedness to human connections. “If we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves. … Your awareness of these responsibilities creates your value system.”
- Reflecting on the Feeling preference, one with this preference is guided by personal values, strives for harmony and positive interactions, and always assesses the people impact of his/her decisions.
- Finally, Futuristic. As the word implies, the future is the focus of this strength. Being a dreamer, seeing visions of what could be, and describing those visions in vivid terms – those are the descriptors Rath used.
- Again, we turn to the Intuition preference as a comparison. With an orientation to future possibilities and imagination coupled with verbal creativity, the Intuition preference seems to mirror the Futuristic strength.
So – in short – yes, I do see a correlation between my strengths (as defined by StrengthsFinder 2.0) and my Type® (as identified through the MBTI®).
How about you? Have you taken each of these assessments? Do you see a correlation between your results?
Let me know if you find a connection between the two. I look forward to your thoughts.
- Myers, Isabel Briggs (rev. Linda K. Kirby and Katharine D. Myers). Introduction to Type®, Mountain View, CA: CPP, Inc., 1998
- Rath, Tom. StrengthsFinder 2.0, New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2007