To improve performance, focus on strengths

Most leaders get it wrong. If an employee is doing 70% of their job description really well and 30% marginally or worse, what do you do? If you said, “focus on their strengths,” you were right! Most of us have a tendency to want to “fix” what isn’t right. Here is the downside of focusing on what isn’t working:

  1. You are swimming upstream. Most likely, the employee has challenges in those areas not because they don’t care but because they aren’t as good at them. Trying to improve a weakness takes much longer and sometimes just isn’t doable.
  2. You over-invest time relative to return. If it takes longer, be sure it is worth it at the end. Are there easier and quicker solutions? The answer is usually “yes” (and it is not firing them, read on).
  3. It takes energy from what is most important. Since there is a huge resource restriction called time, and only so much of it to go around, chances are this is not the best use of yours. When performance IS modified in a positive way in a few areas, will it drastically improve output or performance for the entire department or company? If not, what will? That is where you need to invest time.

So what to do? Experts like Marcus Buckingham in his book, Now, Discover Your Strengths and Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 suggest that great leaders put people in jobs where they can be successful. So find a better fit for the person or re-craft the job description to fit their strengths and re-assign what doesn’t fit. The benefits?

  1. Employees want to succeed; this teaches them to achieve, not focuses on their failures. Success breeds success.
  2. The multiplier effect. How much impact can be gained when all employees are performing 90-100% of their jobs well (as opposed to only a few excelling at that level)? If there is a task no one does well and it is not critical to the competitive advantage of the company, outsource it. If it is mission critical, that implies a hiring process challenge.
  3. Focus on what matters. Now, as the leader, you get to lead instead of manage. Your time is freed to craft a plan for the future and motivate a high performance team to achieve it.

One caveat, if the employee is not a fit attitudinally, or marginal in general, they are slowing the team down. Find a better fit inside or outside of the company.

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