Just think about this for a moment: if you got an A and an F on your report card, which would you focus on? Probably the ‘F’ because we want to fix everything, right? Now which subject do you think you are more likely to succeed in? Kids are taught that to be successful you must be well rounded and it sticks with us into the working world.
However, the thinking is flawed. It overlooks what school is really about. School is and should be about exploring subjects and finding things you love and truly excel in. Only by finding your strengths can you ever be fully committed and willing to offer unwavering commitment.
It is one of the best pieces of advice you see given to emerging entrepreneurs, “as soon as you can, outsource your weaknesses and focus on what you do well”. But does that actually work for employees and what’s so wrong with tightening up your weaknesses?
Shoring Up Weaknesses Dents Productivity
Entrepreneurs are told to outsource weaknesses because that is what holds them back. Shedding the administrative, sales or other frustrating tasks allows them to focus on what the business does. It is no different for employees.
Focussing on fixing your weaknesses is a performance and productivity killer. It means you are applying time into an underperforming pursuit rather than developing where you deliver quality.
In a study of 19,000 employees and managers, Gartner found that a focus on employee weaknesses during feedback sessions brings a 27% decrease in performance. With all that said, is our advice to just abandon talking about weaknesses? Absolutely not.
It just shouldn’t dominate feedback or workload. Where weaknesses include being late, poor at communicating, or challenging to work with, feedback should be clear and actionable. However, where the weakness is a demand of the employees role whilst other areas are thriving, focus should remain on their strengths.
Realistically, if the employee does not show any interest in this facet of the job, they will not willingly become experts. It becomes a waste of time and causes disengagement.
Why should you use a strengths based approach?
1. You Improve at Your Job Quicker
In 2016, Gallup conducted a huge study on strengths-based approaches and found that sales, profits, safety records, employee and customer engagement all increased drastically. Profits in some companies soared as much as 29%.
Employees who routinely use their strengths every day are up to 6 times more engaged. That means they are working harder, take less sick days and are more committed to the company mission.
This is because using your strengths is satisfying.
We are happier doing something that we are good at and more willing to learn and improve on our own. This allows us to specialize quickly as our appetite for knowledge is far greater than if we are just doing it because it is our job.
2. Career Prospects Grow
Society nowadays demands more career development and prospect growth opportunities. People want to be working towards a promotion into a field they would love to grow. Focusing on your strengths begets better prospects.
Firstly, research shows that focusing on your strengths brings success. Those who are most successful in their given fields will typically focus on the areas where they have the most talent and learn the complimentary skills by proxy. They grow to be uncommonly good in certain areas while absorbing the necessary information to be proficient in other areas.
Secondly, using your strengths consistently at work aligns your areas of growth with your career goals. It provides a clear pathway to the success you are aiming for. You show up to work every day in pursuit of your career goals rather than to satisfy extrinsic motivators like salary and status.
Lastly, as performance improves due to engagement, you become much more visible to the leadership team. You are in a position to confidently contribute new ideas, eradicate errors and concerns and play an active role in decision-making. This level of knowledge opens the doors to promotions and leadership positions.
3. Your well-being improves
One of my favorite Einstein quotes is:
“If you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it is stupid”.
Think about it. Focusing your attention on an area you know you struggle is demoralizing. Your confidence in your abilities dwindles and you don’t get regular opportunities to feel or demonstrate competence. In addition, not using strengths is likely to encourage feelings of stress, anger, sadness, worry and even physical pain according to research. In fact, 52% of employees who use strengths for less than 3 hours a day are more likely to be stressed.
Conversely, using our strengths inspires energy and self-esteem. We get into a flow state easier. We become fully immersed and perform our roles without any friction. We are also less likely to miss work due to mental health and physical fatigue related issues.
Employees who use their strengths work in a positive cycle of reaffirming confidence and encouraging growth. The employee benefits noted include:
- Laughing more
- Feeling well-rested
- Having enough energy to do everything they want
- Becoming less stressed
- Becoming more interested in their work
- Feeling more valued and respected
- Having an increased sense of purpose and belonging
How do you focus on strengths when everything needs work?
First things first, you need to know what your strengths are and what you enjoy doing. What aspects of your current or previous roles did you most enjoy? What do you feel yourself drawn to? If you were to specialize in those areas, what would your career path look like and would you be happy with it?
Learning your strengths leads to some big questions. It can help to take an aptitude test to find out where you comparatively excel. One Smart World 4Di is a handy tool for investigating your thinking preferences and the Clifton Strengths Test from Gallup may also offer you some direction.
Mostly it is about understanding what you do differently and successfully. Focus on your natural way of thinking and where you experience the most success.
Look at ways within collaborative projects that you can centre your role on your strengths.
Ask your peers, colleagues and management what they believe are your strengths and how you could incorporate them into your role? If you meet resistance, explain the business benefits and that people who focus on their strengths are at least 12.5% more productive.
For decades the working world has been a means to an end for most. You provide your skills and abilities in return for a living wage. There was very little conversation about what boosts performance and what drives employee engagement but that has all changed.
We are far more nuanced in our understanding of how employees can boost performance and satisfy personal goals and aspirations. It is up to the employees to dictate the narrative and argue the business benefit to a strengths-based approach.
If you want to transcend your current role into a space that leverages your abilities the best, you need to find a way to focus on your strengths. Your prospects and mental health will stagnate if you languish in a role that doesn’t allow it.
Most value in any market accrues to the top players, to be in the top bracket, you need to play to your strengths.
So what areas of your work do you need to let go of? What should you let others take off your plate and what strengths and unique contributions do you need to focus most on?