Forget their Weaknesses, Improve their Strengths to gain.

I just finished reading a Harvard Business Review Tip of the Day, Adapted from “How to Gain Credibility When You Have Little Experience,” by Andy Molinksy and Jake Newfield. These authors say that if you are young and new to the job you should “Start earning your colleagues’ respect by conveying the value you bring. Think about your strengths: In which areas do you do your best work?” I think this is great advice, not only for newbies in the working world but for all of us. We bring value to our organizations, not through our weaknesses, but by our strengths. Managers need to look for and bolster those strengths rather than wasting time on weaknesses. Weaknesses are things that need to be improved, but more value is derived by concentrating on helping employees do what they are good at that bring value to the job. The following material was published originally in 2013, but it is as relevant today.

Focus on an employee's strengths an not their weaknesses.
Focus on an employee’s strengths an not their weaknesses.

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 thing
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 photoshopping. 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.
Management guru Peter Drucker is also a fan of strengths. From his book The Effective Executive, as quoted in The Daily Drucker, “Effective executives make strength productive. They fill positions and promote based upon what a person can do- not to minimize weakness but to maximize strength.” There is danger in that approach.
So as you review your employees, whether in the annual event or during more regular “pulse” feedback sessions, spend your time on what your employees do well rather than what they do poorly.

5 thoughts on “Forget their Weaknesses, Improve their Strengths to gain.”

  1. Mike,
    Fantastic post! I have been doing quite a bit of research and reading on the changing view of reviews and am attempting to change a traditional culture toward exactly what you are articulating in your post. Many benefits to this approach to include engaged employees, higher morale and productivity.
    Thanks for the insight!

    • Greg:
      Thanks for reading and your comments. I wish you luck on changing that culture. Many would think this would be an easy change, but it is not. Most of us are more use to pointing out what people do wrong and paying no heed to what they do right.

  2. In conversations with HR leaders and employees, the talent management process that suffers from the most disdain around the world is the performance appraisal. It’s one of the few processes that even the owners of the process dread.

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