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The real secret to making good employees better


When you see employees struggling with an aspect of their job, repeatedly coming up short in the same area, or falling behind co-workers, it’s natural to want to help them do better. You may try to find a way to correct the problems they’re having through motivation, training or some other method, but chances are you’ll end up disappointed when you find it’s not working – because it often doesn’t.

Fortunately, though, there’s something else that does work: stop worrying about employees’ weaknesses and start focusing on their strengths. This is what we try to do at MyITpros, and I never cease to be amazed by the great results we get. I’d like to share a bit more about how we do this, both at the individual employee level and throughout our company culture, and why I think it works so well.

Why trying to “fix” a weakness doesn’t work

Everyone has weaknesses and strengths; the question is where you want to spend time and energy seeking improvement. As with any business decision, you have to look at the payoff. In my experience, there’s a limit to how much value you can realize from trying to “fix” a weakness.

Here’s an example. I’m not the most organized person in the world. In fact, disorganization is probably one of my greatest weaknesses. When I graduated from college and entered the workforce, I was determined to get better at being organized. I even bought a book and tried to follow the advice in it, but I didn’t have much success. Years later, someone recommended a book on the subject and I followed their advice, determined to try again.

That’s when my wife pointed out it was the same book I’d bought in the first place, all those years ago.

It just goes to show you: Sometimes, if you’re not inclined a certain way, there’s simply no changing that fact. Your mind won’t be open to it, you’ll resist your own efforts and you’ll end up feeling dejected when you fail. You’d do better to spend just enough time to make sure the problem isn’t going to completely derail you, and then move on to focus on your strengths.

Focus on Strengths

The big payoff that comes from investing in strength

I can guarantee that when you invest time in building up someone’s strengths at work, you get a far greater return than when attempting to fix their weaknesses. First, though, you have to identify what those strengths are.

A good place to start is with an evaluation tool called the Clifton StrengthsFinder. It measures individual strengths, or natural talents, and categorizes people accordingly – as “achievers” or “learners,” for example. (In my case, I’m “futuristic,” which means I’m a lot better at long-term, big-picture thinking than I am at, say, finding the PowerPoint file I was working on 15 minutes ago.) We use the StrengthsFinder method at MyITpros all the time to see what people are naturally talented at doing. Then we document each employee’s talents in a clear and concise way, communicate with them about what those talents are, and work together to identify ways to nurture and leverage their abilities at work. It’s all part of our employee development process, which is intended to help every person who works here realize their full potential.

Simply put, you achieve greater improvements when you work from strength rather than weakness. Let’s say you have someone who is about “7” on a scale of 1 to 10 in being analytical, and a “2” in being adaptable. When we put someone like that in a position to put their analytical skills to work, it’s not unusual to see them ascend to a solid 10 on the scale. But if we put them in situations that require them to be flexible and adaptable, they may improve, but it’s only going to be by a little – from, say, a 2 to a 3.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have an employee learn to draw upon a talent a whole lot better than to improve only a little in an area of weakness.

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Creating a culture of strength at work

When you’re trying to help people get better at what they already do well, it’s important to have an organizational culture that supports those efforts.

For example, when we work on employee development plans at MyITpros, we make it a goal to identify three strengths for every weakness. That sends the message that we value strength more. Even the forms we use to document strengths and weaknesses reflect this mindset, with a lot of space to describe areas of strength and only a few lines to document weaknesses.

We also always start our regular staff meetings by calling out people for good things they’ve done. It’s all about building a culture where people feel appreciated and supported for what they do well, rather than fearful and stressed about what they don’t do so well.

I can’t say enough about the business impact you can achieve by recognizing the strengths of each and every employee and giving them opportunities to become even stronger in the areas where they excel. I hope you’ll explore this approach in your organization and, as always, I welcome the opportunity to speak with you about this or any other business topic.

Bill McCharen MyITprosBill McCharen, President

The purpose of this blog is to answer the questions you ask! Check out my related posts about small business management here, or feel free to email me with any comments or questions. To learn more about MyITpros and what we do, visit our services section!

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