Focus on strengths to up your game

Strength based development is not new and is gaining traction in the workplace. The key driver for this shift in management style is employee engagement.

I was reminiscing and reading about the Springbok win at the Rugby World Cup in Japan last year. Not to digress but I have an Irish mother and a South African father so when it comes to international rugby, I support both green teams! One article profiled the performance coaches and consultants behind the scenes on the Springbok rugby squad. And it got me thinking that in sport there is always a focus on strengths to win the game.

The support behind the elite teams

Apart from the Springbok team coach, the rest of the coaching line-up includes the kicking coach, the forwards coach, the special skills consultant (who may focus on the highball or the lineout), the defence coach, and the attacking consultant. These important roles focus on one thing – developing an individual players’ specific strengths, and ultimately preparing the team to win the tournament. 

It’s not just rugby – name any professional sport and you will find that players are selected and coached based on their strengths. These strengths are fine-tuned so that players can participate at the highest level in their game.  

But what about the corporate world?

Many organizations hire employees based on their strengths, but then invest a lot of management effort developing their weaknesses to create better all-rounders. You see this all over employee personal development plans. Often managers will list key weaknesses as areas for development and then over-index their time on trying to improve on these weaknesses.

I disagree with this thinking. Much like in professional sports, organizations should be shifting the emphasis to developing employee strengths and organising teams based on the complementary strengths that each team member brings to the table.  

Why focus on strengths vs weaknesses?

According to the Gallup Organization in their 2017 State of the Global Workplace report, we learn that 85% of employees worldwide are disengaged in their jobs. This is based on comprehensive survey data that Gallup continually collects across 150 countries.

Employees are more likely to be engaged, happy and fulfilled if they are able to focus on their strengths. This results in higher productivity and profits for companies. More importantly it’s the positive intervention by managers that becomes the catalyst for this change. This is backed up by one of the survey questions in the report:

“Gallup analytics find that ‘There is someone at work who encourages
my development’ is one of the best survey questions that separates enthusiastic, high-performing workers from low-performing, miserable ones.”

Global Workplace Report

Now I believe that there needs to be a balance: during your early education you should develop a breadth of capabilities and skills. It’s the same when you first enter the workplace, creating a solid foundation to build on. Then shift your focus to strengths-based development. No player will make a rugby team if they cannot catch a ball properly, so develop your all-round capabilities first.

Finding your strengths

How do you know what your strengths are? Do you freeze when asked to do a presentation in front of a large audience? Do you thrive when you are asked to focus on a deep research project?

Asking yourself how you handle a situation or project may give insights into your key strengths. There are many tools and surveys available to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are.

One such tool is the Clifton Strength Finder questionnaire, which I discovered when reading a 20 year old book called Now Discover your Strengths written by Marcus Buckingham. The updated Strength finder questionnaire presents 177 scenarios which are answered in quick succession. The top five strengths are presented in a report. With 34 themed strengths there are up to 33 million top five combinations that any individual can have. So, these combinations of strengths become quite important to the overall development as an individual.

My results

After completing the Clifton Strength Finder (which turns out to be part of the Gallup Organization mentioned above), I was surprised at some of my own results.

I have always been curious and an avid reader. I ask a ton of questions and wasn’t surprised that curiosity ranked in my top strengths. But one of the strengths that did surprise me at first, and then made a whole lot of sense was Individualisation.

Let me quote part of my strength finder report on Individualisation for you:

“…you instinctively observe each person’s style, each person’s motivation, how each thinks, and how each builds relationships…..Because you are such a keen observer of other people’s strengths, you can draw out the best in each person. This Individualisation theme also helps you build productive teams. While some search around for the perfect team “structure” or “process,” you know instinctively that the secret to great teams is casting by individual strengths so that everyone can do a lot of what they do well.”

extract from author’s Strength-finder report

This has been a hidden strength that has helped me in my career. Now that I’m more aware of it, I can develop these characteristics further and play to this strength.

Golf Anyone?

To give a good example on why you should not focus on your weaknesses let’s get back to another sporting example. This extract from a review of Marcus Buckingham’s book in a CNN Money article outlines Tiger Wood’s preparation for the 2000 British open and how he ignored his weakness to focus on his strengths. 

“Tiger Woods has a weakness in his game; he’s 61st in sand saves. If he worked in corporate America, they would label his weakness in sand saves an area of opportunity, and he and coach Butch Harmon would work on that weakness in the off-season.

They didn’t do that. They got to the point where the sand saves were good enough so that they didn’t get in the way. Then they spent the whole off-season rebuilding his swing, which was his most dominant strength.

Now, what’s interesting about that is, Tiger Woods won the British Open last year at St. Andrews. St. Andrews has more bunkers than almost any other course. There was only one golfer during the four days that didn’t get into one of them: Tiger Woods. His swing was so long and so accurate, he didn’t have to work on his sand swing. He was never in a bloody bunker! Not once.”

Marcus Buckingham

So why is it important to focus on strengths?

Strength based development is not new and is gaining traction in the workplace. I’m seeing more of this type of management in conversations with my network. In most cases the key driver is employee engagement.

As an individual it is good to reflect on your strengths and identify ways to improve them. You could seek a mentor who shares the same attributes. If you are analytical and like to take action, then look for those opportunities in your workplace and get stuck into them. If you need to build on your strengths then consider creating a new habit that you can stick to and practicing that habit.

As a manager, identify the strengths of each player in your team, and invest in those strengths. Suggest mentors that can help develop these strengths. Embrace the diverse strengths in your team and let your employees start playing to their strengths. You’ll end up with a more engaged team that will produce results.

If you are looking to up your game or need help navigating change in your organization, then please get in touch with us.

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