Focus on the employee's strength
27. August 2020

Why focus on employee’s strengths rather than weaknesses?

By Riccardo Giacometti

You have to improve, this is insufficient, there is still a lot to do. Have you ever considered how demotivating it is for employees to emphasize and highlight weaknesses? And that there are much better ways?

What is the difference between popular and professional sports?

In popular sports, the winner is the one who makes fewer mistakes. In top-class sport, the winner is the one who has maximized special strengths.

And what about the weaknesses? Weaknesses must not hinder strengths. It is not necessary to reduce them further. In areas that do not have their own strengths, “good enough” is the performance goal, paying attention and using time to develop talents into strengths and to build on strengths

  • Use 80% of attention and time for the development of talents into strengths and for the expansion of strengths
  • 20% for the reduction of weaknesses

Those of you who have been following my blog will now know that I like the 80/20 rule very much.

Qualification discussions and feedback conversations.

The coworkers experience the evaluation discussions often primarily as criticism discussions. They face them with discomfort and often even with fear. The often typical weakness and deficit orientation is one of the main reasons, why employees experience evaluation discussions as demotivating. Constructive and above all more motivating, however, is the opportunity to look forward to finding out how to develop and use skills and talents even better.

Unfortunately, this weakness also becomes apparent in the everyday life of management, for example in feedback and appreciation, in that it is too often taken for granted what employees can and do well and which strengths and talents they use and show in the process.

Overemphasis on deficits

Many managers over-emphasize the weaknesses and deficits in qualification discussions far too much. As a result, employees are too preoccupied with supposed weaknesses, do everything they can to eliminate them, and in doing so weaken their self-confidence. But the better and right way is to focus on talents, on strengths and on core skills. Neuroscientific research also shows that learning and development are particularly successful where strengths or talents are developed through recognition, use and repeated application.

Strengthening strengths is more efficient

Making good things even better and developing them further is much more efficient than spending a great deal of time and effort trying to reduce weaknesses, the results of which can often only be average. In addition – and this is particularly important – the use of talents and skills is extremely motivating and often makes top performance possible in the first place.

The reason is simple: Whatever you do and can do particularly well will always lead to a sense of achievement. And these motivate like hardly anything else. But how is this to be realized in the evaluation discussion? High-level personnel should discuss future developments and perspectives with the evaluation discussion above all also with questions like the following:

  • Why has he or she done this or that task well?
  • Which abilities led to the top performances?
  • What talents did he or she show in this project?
  • What were the reasons for the particular successes?
  • What was his decisive contribution to the achievement of the objectives?

In human resources development, as many further training measures as possible should therefore neither be regarded as a gap-filler for knowledge deficits nor as an operation to repair and eliminate employee weaknesses. Where the promotion of qualified employees, the recognition, deployment and further development of talents, the strengthening of strengths or the optimization of competencies are in the foreground, personnel development is not only much more efficient but also much more motivating.

Guide to self-observation

A good way to identify strengths is also to guide employees to self-observation and to have them prepare the assessment with the following questions: “Where have I been particularly good recently”, “When was I particularly easy to do something,” “What is particularly successful, when was that and how can you replicate it again and again?

But the questions can go even further: What should his field of work look like so that employees can develop their skills and talents even more, what new tasks should be added? Or, at best, the consideration that another position, job or function will allow talents and strengths to develop even better. Employees become top performers above all when they (can) promote and strengthen their talents.

Now some of you may think that we have to praise our employees all the time and maybe should not even focus on the topics that need improvement. That is wrong! You need to make sure that you have a high performing team that compliments each other. And for sure, if the performance requirements are not met you have to work on an action plan to close the gap.