From the Archive: Forget their Weaknesses, Improve their Strengths

Would you praise him for what he could do or the fact that he had a weakness?
Would you praise him for what he could do or the fact that he had a weakness?

I am away on some personal time so I wanted to repost this from November 2013. It was pretty well read, which means that others found it interesting, you might too.
It is a general consensus these days that performance appraisal is broken. Managers hate to deliver them, employees hate to get them and HR is just tired of dealing with all the moaning and groaning associated with them. The general criticism is that they are poorly done and don’t really do anything to improve employees. I am not one of those people however that call for getting rid of performance appraisal. I think employees do want to have feedback. I think that we can improve performance appraisal by concentrating on what employees do well and forgetting their weaknesses.

We focus on the wrong things

It is an unfortunate aspect of human nature that a large percentage of us tend to focus on the negatives and this is as true of managers as anyone else. Some managers feel they need to concentrate on an employee’s weaknesses and to try to improve them. We want the employee to be better rounded. This is a good thing if the weakness of the employee truly is a hindrance to them being effective in the performance. But I think a key question to ask is “Does this weakness truly affect this person’s performance?” Are they not making as much money for the company as they could be? Or is this weakness a “nice to have” aspect of their performance? If their weakness genuinely affects their ability to be the most productive and profitable employee they can be then by all means focus on the weakness.

Focus on their strength

In his story of his personal situation writer Erik Decker tells about a manager that wanted to make sure he was better technically. Decker protested telling the boss he was a marketer and not a techie. It was not necessary for him to be technically savvy on the product, he needed to be able to sell it better. He needed to be able to communicate. He needed to be better at copywriting, web design and photo shopping. He did not need to know the backside of the product. But his boss insisted it would make him a better employee. Unfortunately it did not improve his marketing and it did not improve his sales ability and that was what his job was.
I think too often managers do the same thing with their employees. They try to round out an employee. They focus on making the generalist when in reality they should focus on making them better what they are already good at – the stuff that helps make the company more money and be more productive.
The next time you are getting ready to review an employee’s performance sit down first and think “how does this person help us make money?” Then focus on that aspect of their job.

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