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Want More From Your Team? Forget Weaknesses & Focus on Strengths

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We all want to get the most from our teams. But how to do that still eludes many managers and corporations.  No matter how good an employee is, he can’t be good at everything.  Rather than focusing on areas of weakness as areas of improvement, as is typical in corporate America, we suggest a flip in the approach.

Design What You Want or Deal With What You Get

Designing what you want starts long before you ever hire an employee.  What if you designed your open position to laser-focus on not a list of duties but instead what you want that role to accomplish?  Then, as you interview for that crucial team member, evaluate him or her for what strengths they could bring to the role to help your company achieve those defined accomplishments.  Once that employee is hired, spend some time on the front end doing everything you could to set that employee up for success.

In other words, what if long before a performance review where a list of “areas of improvement” are developed, you took the time to evaluate what your team members are really good at, and figure out a way to leverage their strengths?

At Decision Toolbox, we have structured our team so that everyone focuses on what talents they have naturally.  Our team approach allows each member to do exactly what he/she is best at and enjoys the most. When employees are doing what they are good at, their performance is higher, and when performance is high, customer satisfaction and company profits follow.

Your Mother Lied to You

In his book, StrengthsFinder 2.0, Tom Rath shares his personal example of the misguided maxim our mothers have told us for generations:  “You can be anything you want to be, if you just try hard enough.”  He practiced shooting hoops for hours on end as a child, and attended basketball camps every summer – all with the dream of becoming the next Michael Jordan.  No matter how hard he worked at it, though, after giving 100% of his effort for more than five years, he couldn’t even make the junior varsity team.

You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.
~Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0

The Disengagement Epidemic

Gallup has spent decades researching and analyzing how talent can be applied across a variety of roles, including variables such as culture, country, industry and position.  Their findings indicate that the vast majority of people don’t have the opportunity to focus on what they do best.  What does this mean for their employers?   It means these employees are six times less likely to be engaged in their job.  When they’re not able to use their strengths at work, chances are that they:

  • dread going to work
  • have more negative than positive interactions with colleagues
  • treat customers poorly
  • tell friends what a miserable company they work for
  • achieve less on a daily basis
  • have fewer positive and creative moments.

Yikes.  So what’s a manager to do?  As the chart below illustrates, ignoring the problem is enemy #1, but focusing on the employee’s weaknesses as a means for improvement is also a shoot-yourself-in-the-foot tactic.  Gallup’s research strongly suggests that the most effective way to improve employee engagement is to focus on strengths.

employee strengths engagement


Get in the Strength Zone

One of the biggest obstacles to this approach is that most people aren’t entirely sure of their true strengths.  Prior to our last All-Staff meeting, we sent every member of the DT team a copy of the Strengths Finder 2.0 book, which included an individual online assessment to help us identify our top strengths.  We then had everyone bring the list of their top 5 strengths to the meeting so we could compare notes and create action plans to build on each team member’s strengths.

As an interesting exercise, we compiled charts for each individual team and the company as a whole.  It was an important visual lesson.  This taught us not only where our strengths lie, but also areas of weakness…not so we could focus on them, but so we can figure out ways to avoid potential roadblocks.

DT Strengths Finder

As an example, if you find you’re not great at measuring details, it opens several doors for working around that lesser talent.  The first question to ask yourself is whether it’s necessary for you to operate in your area of lesser talent at all.  If it’s possible to simply avoid doing detail-oriented work, by all means, move away from the area.  Of course, most of us don’t have the luxury to simply stop doing necessary tasks just because we aren’t naturally good at them.  When you must attend to details, you might need to establish systems to manage your lesser talent and keep things on track.

Another strategy is to partner with someone who has more talent in the areas you are lacking.  If you know you lack the Includer strength, it can be easy to assemble a task group without considering everyone involved and can result in people feeling left out.  So partnering with a team member with the Includer strength can help make sure people who might not have been considered are included, which can result in uncovering people’s hidden talents and build a stronger team.


The key to turning this focus on strengths is to put a plan in action.  At that same All-Staff meeting, we had each employee pick one of her top strengths to focus on building, and share her plan.  Every week, we send out that team member’s plan to the rest of the group.  Here’s an example:

DT Team Member: Kate

My Top 5 Strengths

• Connectedness
• Developer
• Input
• Consistency
• Responsibility

The strength I would like to work on is developer. I find myself naturally wanting to encourage others, especially those I interact with on a regular basis. I’m genuinely interested in how people around me are doing because I truly care about them.

One thing I enjoy, which coincides with my strength of input, is reading sourcing news and trying out new sourcing techniques. I can’t help but share with them with the sourcing team. I can make it more of a point to do this. I can also help out with more DTSU sessions, or even co-lead one.

I really enjoy helping others and this also is true with the recruiters I work with. I like providing them support that comes from my sourcing skill set, sharing what I’ve seen when sourcing on a particular position and offering suggestions. I will make more of an effort to do so as it will help the “developer” in me, but also help my partnership with them grow.

Room for Improvement

There are always ways to improve on what we as employees, managers and companies are doing.  But rather than identifying weaknesses as the best opportunity for growth, there is much more potential for impact if you start with improving on the strengths that are already there.  In doing so, you’ll find your employees are more engaged, more passionate about their jobs, and in turn, your business success will follow.

For more information on Decision Toolbox, please Contact Us.  We’d love to hear from you!

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2 Responses to “Want More From Your Team? Forget Weaknesses & Focus on Strengths”

  1. June 17, 2014 at 11:15 am, David Shriner-Cahn said:

    There are many situations where we focus on strengths in an organization, such as selecting partners based on individual strengths, having departments for specific functions, etc. It is only logical to focus on strengths in an individual.


  2. June 19, 2014 at 11:24 am, Kelly Graham said:

    Excellent point, David. Thank you for weighing in!


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