By Chris Atkinson, HR Consultant, Organizational Strategy, CPS HR Consulting
At work, do you think it is more important to focus on improving your weaknesses or leveraging your strengths? The conventional wisdom would indicate that truing up your weaknesses would lead to higher employee engagement and productivity. However, research from Gallup would indicate the opposite. They found that people who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs.
The employee engagement survey question that Gallup used to assess the extent to which employees were using their strengths was “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day." Having an opportunity to do "what I do best," every day, is tied to the integration of a person's talents (naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that can be applied well), skills (what he or she is able to do), and knowledge (what he or she knows). Talents are the patterns that can't be turned on and off at will; they are ingrained in us. Without natural talent, a lot of hard work will yield little return. Therefore, when considering where to invest one's focus, Gallup research indicates that the best place to start is in an area of strength.
When employees are using their strengths at work the work itself is naturally more intrinsically rewarding. This intrinsic reward leads them to work harder which in turn leads to higher productivity.
To the extent possible, leadership needs to create a culture where employees can regularly be working in their areas of strength and further developing those strengths. Here are some things that leadership can do to help employees live in their strengths:
- Create an inventory of employees' abilities, experiences, and goals to better understand the needs of individual employees.
- Ensure that managers/supervisors discuss with their employees how their skills and abilities can best be used. This can be part of a performance management/evaluation discussion.
- Consider approaches such as reorganizing work groups to better use the unique skills and abilities of employees.
- Provide opportunities for employees to work on tasks that are slightly outside of their job description if they have skills they would like to develop, and there is an organizational need.
- Provide opportunities such as job rotations to allow employees to use their full range of skills and abilities in different jobs.
While the focus should be on encouraging employees to work in and develop their areas of strength, weaknesses should not be forgotten entirely. Weaknesses should be managed so that they do not sideline employees.