Do I Have an Opportunity to Do What I Do Best Every Day?

I read Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton many years ago. I was listening to a podcast about managing your directs’. The podcast talked about developing your directs’ strengths. It mentions this book, so I pulled it off the shelf. Below is excerpt from the book about opportunities.

The more you ponder the question “At work, do I have an opportunity to do what I do best every day?” the more Now Discover Your Strengthscomplex it becomes. There are many reasons that a particular employee in a particular role might say no. He might genuinely feel that he lacks the talent to do the job. Or perhaps he possesses the talent, but the organization has overlegislated the role so that he has no chance to express his talents. Perhaps he feels he has the talents and room to use them but not the necessary skills or knowledge. Perhaps objectively he is perfectly cast, but subjectively he feels he has much more to offer. Perhaps he is right, or perhaps he is deluding himself as to where his true strengths lie. Perhaps he was perfectly cast in his previous role but was promoted into the wrong role because the organization couldn’t think of any other way to reward him. Perhaps the organization sends signals that it is a “pass-through” role, and thus no self-respecting employee will ever say he is well cast in it even if he knows he is.

At first glance this complexity can be overwhelming. To address all these possibilities and thus ensure that your employees say “strongly agree” to the question, you would have to attend to many different aspects of each employee’s working life. To address his fear that he lacks the talent for the role, you would have to be careful to select people who seem to possess talents similar to your best incumbents in the role. To avoid the overlegislation problem, you would have to hold him accountable for his performance but not define, step by step, how he should achieve the desired performance. To overcome his fear that he lacks the necessary skills and knowledge, you would have to construct coaching programs that help him develop his talents into genuine strengths. To address the “delusion” issue you would have to devise a way to have every manager help each employee discover and appreciate his true strengths. To avoid the “overpromotion” problem you would have to provide him with alternative ways to grow in money and title other than simply climbing the corporate ladder. And, finally, to deal with his perception that he is in a “pass-through” role, you would have to send the message that no role is by definition a pass-through role. Any role performed at excellence is genuinely respected within the organization.

Listed back to back like this, the challenges associated with building an entire organization around the strengths of each employee appear almost incoherent, “try a bit of this, do a bit of that.” But dwell on them for a moment, and you may soon realize that all these challenges cohere around two core assumptions about people:

1. Each person’s talents are enduring and unique.

2. Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of the person’s greatest strength.

As you can see, we have come full circle. We presented these assumptions earlier as insights into human nature that all great managers seem to share. What we are saying now is that as long as everything you do is founded on these two core assumptions, you will successfully address the many challenges contained in the question “At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?” You will build an entire organization around the strengths of each employee. Why? Let’s play out these two assumptions and see where they lead:

  • Since each person’s talents are enduring, you should spend a great deal of time and money selecting people properly in the first place. This will help mitigate the “I don’t think I have the right talent for the role” problem.
  • Since each person’s talents are unique, you should focus performance by legislating outcomes rather than forcing each person into a stylistic mold. This means a strong emphasis on careful measurement of the right outcomes, and less on policies, procedures, and competencies. This will address the “in my role I don’t have any room to express my talents” problem.
  • Since the greatest room for each person’s growth is in the areas of his greatest strength, you should focus your training time and money on educating him about his strengths and figuring out ways to build on these strengths rather than on remedially trying to plug his “skill gaps.” You will find that this one shift in emphasis will pay huge dividends. In one fell swoop you will sidestep three potential pitfalls to building a strengths-based organization: the “I don’t have the skills and knowledge I need” problem, the “I don’t know what I’m best at” problem, and the “my manager doesn’t know what I’m best at” problem.
  • Lastly, since the greatest room for each person’s growth lies in his areas of greatest strength, you should devise ways to help each person grow his career without necessarily promoting him up the corporate ladder and out of his areas of strength. In this organization “promotion” will mean finding ways to give prestige, respect, and financial reward to anyone who has achieved world-class performance in any role, no. matter where that role is in the hierarchy. By doing so you will overcome the remaining two obstacles to building a strengths-based organization: the “even though I’m now in the wrong role, it was the only way to grow my career” problem and the “I’m in a pass-through role that no one respects” problem.

These four steps represent a systematic process for maximizing the value locked up in your human capital. In the pages that follow we flesh out this process. We offer you a practical guide for how to use those two core assumptions to change the way you select, measure, develop, and channel the careers of your people. Needless to say the individual manager will always be a critical catalyst in transforming each employee’s talents into bona fide strengths; consequently, much of the responsibility will lie with the manager to select for talent, set clear expectations, focus on strengths, and develop each employee’s career. Taking the ideas found in First, Break All the Rules a step further, however, we have aimed this practical guide at the challenges facing larger organizations as they strive to capitalize on the strengths of every employee.

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