Help Your Employees Develop Their Strengths—Not Their Weaknesses

Deliberately Assist Your Employees to Regularly Practice Their Strongest Skills

Develop your employees' strengths, not their weaknesses.
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A management philosophy, that flies in the face of conventional thinking, compels you to help employees develop their strengths by deliberate practice. This is a substitute for helping employees develop their weaknesses, a concept more traditional in management thinking. But does helping employees develop their weakest areas of performance ever make any sense? Not really.

This theory was proposed by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in "First, Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently" as a result of the Gallup organization's interviews with 80,000 effective managers. (They also identified the twelve most important factors for employees to become or stay engaged at work.)

On top of trying to complete their daily work and achieving their annual goals, employees have a finite amount of time for development. Spend the time on what matters. Develop employee strengths—not weaknesses, and in the process, train your management philosophy and company culture.

Using myself as an example, I'm good with people and good at conveying common sense, applicable information. I'm not very good with mathematical story problems though I can add columns of numbers like a speed demon. No matter what, I will never be good at solving complex mathematical problems. Could I get better? Probably. But, why not spend my time honing my strengths? I'll bet you have a parallel in your life?

Yet, the traditional approach to developing employees, one of the critical factors in employee motivation, has been to identify weaknesses, often during an annual performance appraisal meeting. The employee is then sent to training or just told to "get better" at whatever his or her weak area is.

Now, if the area of weakness is critical to the employee's job success, developing the weaker area might make sense. But, more likely, the employee is in the wrong job. Consider matching the employee's best skills to your company needs in a different job.

In another personal example, I have always been a good writer. But, strengthening that skill over the past nineteen years, writing online and for publications, every day, has made me a better writer and a faster writer. Writing is a skill that you can develop if you approach it with deliberate practice a number of times a week.

Once I started writing every single day, with hours of practice and a deliberate commitment to growth, I continued to develop the strength. I still work on my writing every day. I'm sure you have an equivalent example in your own life—or you could. What skill should you develop daily for your own career development and your employer's needs?

Why Develop Employee Strengths With Deliberate Practice?

Experts and people who have studied the topic of helping employees develop their strengths as opposed to their weaknesses provide analysis about why this practice is important and worthy of your consideration.

Stephen J. Dubner at the Freakonomics blog weighs in with these thoughts:

"A while ago, we wrote a 'New York Times Magazine' column about talent—what it is, how it’s acquired, etc. The gist of the column was that 'raw talent,' as it’s often called, is vastly overrated and that people who become very good at something, whether it’s sports, music, or medicine, generally do so through a great deal of 'deliberate practice,' a phrase used by the Florida State psychologist Anders Ericsson and his merry band of fellow scholars who study expert performers in many fields."

In the column cited in the quote above, Anders Ericsson concludes that:

"…the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers—whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming—are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.

"Ericsson's research suggests a third cliché as well: when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love—because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't 'good' at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better."

So, it seems there is truth to the power of developing your strengths and deliberately practicing the areas you want to improve. I also liked their plug for love your work, a concept I discuss frequently because of its power to impact your work life. Do you agree?

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