By Rich Wellins, Ph.D.
I just got back from Manchester, England and I had the opportunity to introduce two workplace thought leaders: Marcus Buckingham (of Gallup and Strengths fame, whose bestselling book titles that include First Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths) and Daniel Pink, author of yet another blockbuster, Drive. Both spoke about a different type of workplace, one that is based on trust, high autonomy, intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) motivation, self mastery and using one's strengths.
A timely topic after two miserable years.
I conducted my semi-annual "in-the-air" survey with a dozen people on the way over from the U.S. Thirteen out of the fifteen people I bothered on the flight felt the workplace was tougher and far crueler than two years ago. How bad? I asked them to choose between the worse of two evils: flying or going to work Monday mornings. Sixty percent hated work more than flying!
What got me thinking again was Buckingham's appeal again to design work around strengths. Engagement scores worldwide have gone nowhere. Buckingham says it’s no wonder considering that, on average, we spend less than 15% of our time working on things that relate to our strengths.
I gave some thought to that on the way back related to how our talent management approach can either hinder or accelerate a strengths-based approach. My thinking is that we are still far too focused on fixing "weaknesses" under the guise of development opportunities.
Here is a set of questions to get you thinking about strengths-based talent management systems:
- If you are in a leadership position, have you helped those working with you to clearly get in touch with their strengths so you all know what they are in the first place?
- Where possible, are you designing individual jobs to maximize the use of a person's strengths?
- Does your succession planning system try to match a person's competencies and "personality profiles" to the specific strategic goals your company needs to execute upon. One size executives for one size roles does not hold water anymore. Different strategic priorities require different sorts of leaders.
- Does your performance management/developmental planning process focus on fixing weaknesses (e.g. you need to be better at this) or maximizing strengths (you are really good at this, how can we make you even better)
- When you design a leadership curriculum is it around a needs analysis that gives priorities to group deficiencies? Are you trying to make poor coaches into better coaches or good coaches into excellent coaches?
It really hit home to me that our talent management systems are unfavorably balanced on the side of fix -it. Perhaps a real change would be welcomed by the workforce—drive higher levels of engagements in tough times, and ultimately drive the performance of our organizations.
Rich Wellins is senior vice president at Development Dimensions International (DDI).