“There is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest: They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it. Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess.”
The quote above brilliantly encapsulates what a good manager must do. Indeed, the best managers aren’t those who just efficiently organise, delegate and supervise work; they are those who identify the unique strengths of each person they work with and think of ways in which they can deploy these strengths most efficiently.
Managers who identify each team member’s unique strengths and skills and organise work around it ensure improved employee performance and engagement and increased productivity and profits, says research. It’s no surprise then that developing a strengths-based organisational culture is seen as key to the future of work.
This playbook is intended to be a step-by-step guide on how to build employee strengths. Be sure not to skip the research section – unique to all our playbooks – that is packed with interesting insights about the benefits of using the strengths-based approach at work.
How to build the strengths of your team members. This playbook covers the following five steps below:
Step 1: Help employees identify their strengths.
Step 2: Assess each team member’s strengths as a manager.
Step 3: Get team members to understand each other’s strengths.
Step 4: Give employees opportunities to deploy and develop their strengths at work.
Step 5: Organise training on building strengths for you and your team.
Most of us tend to use the terms “strengths” and “skills” interchangeably but there is a subtle difference, say experts. Let’s put it this way: All strengths are skills but all skills aren’t strengths.
Strengths are skills that are innate – something we are naturally good at, that we hone along the way, and really enjoy using. A skill is something we can learn and master if we practice it often enough. To understand what your strengths are, ask yourself: Am I good at this? Do I enjoy working on it?
60% of employees say the ability to do what they do best in a role is ‘very important’ to them. This was ranked higher than ‘significant increase in income’ and stability and job security.
64% of employees in American workplaces believe building on their strengths will make them more successful at work.
Simply learning about their strengths makes employees 7.8% more productive, and teams that focus on strengths every day have 12.5% greater productivity.
“Employee satisfaction and engagement are related to meaningful business outcomes at a magnitude that is important to many organizations and that these correlations generalize across companies.”
Employees have several options to assess their strengths, ranging from easy to complicated and free to paid. The most popular formal tests are the VIA Strengths Assessment (free for a basic report) and Gallup’s Clifton Strengths assessment (paid). Others include a personal SWOT Analysis and a one-on-one meeting with team members where managers ask them to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses and then monitor their development over time.
Listing strengths is more difficult than one would imagine because many of us take our strengths for granted, choosing to reproach ourselves for our weaknesses instead. To ensure that the list of strengths you list is balanced, ask your manager, close friends or trusted colleagues to honestly list three of your top strengths and add them to your list.
Examples of strengths are: strong communication skills, problem solving skills, high emotional intelligence, collaboration skills and so on.
If you aren’t sure about what your weaknesses are, think about things you avoid at work, or look for hints in feedback from your boss or colleagues. Are you always the butt of jokes for always being late or disorganised? Perhaps you can list those as weaknesses.
Like you did with strengths above, ask your boss, close friends or trusted colleagues to honestly list three of your weaknesses so that you have a balanced list.
Examples of weaknesses are: procrastination, fear of addressing large groups of people, being disorganised or a lack of technical skills.
Opportunities and Threats are external factors that individuals cannot really control. An example of a Threat could be a decrease in sales because of unforeseen global factors (such as the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 or the development of a sudden trade war like the one that broke out between the US and China in 2018) or the introduction of new technology by a new competitor (for instance, how Netflix destroyed Blockbuster).
An example of an Opportunity could be an internal training program to brush up your technical skills or sales training. A colleague who is more qualified than you could also be a threat to your career advancement in the company. In this context, you can seize the opportunity to take weekend or online classes to bring your qualifications up to speed.
Whether or not you face threats from more qualified colleagues or new technologies, it’s never too late to learn something new. Learn new skills with these 5 online courses (and more).
It’s not enough for employees to list their strengths. Managers must also be aware of the strengths each team member brings to the table because this will allow them to leverage these insights to connect better with team members and harness their strengths most efficiently in order to meet the organisation’s goals.In doing so, managers will help improve teamwork and employee engagement and increase productivity and profitability.
Here are some ways managers can acquaint themselves with each team member’s strengths and weaknesses.
a) Log into MuchSkills, type in the team member’s name and look at the data visualisation of their Job Focus, Soft Skills and Technical Skills.
Remember that MuchSkills has defined “Job Focus” for its users as:
A bigger skill bubble in ‘Job Focus’ indicates that the employee considers themselves proficient in this skill and also enjoys using it.
MuchSkills users also grade their Technical Skills on a three-point scale where they (and their managers) can keep a track of its growth over time.
b) Reflect upon the employee’s achievements and failures so far. Pay attention to what each employee enjoys doing and what they struggle with. How have they performed tasks and projects assigned to them? Are they team players or lone rangers? Do they jump at the chance to work on a new project or do they hang around at the back at meetings, hoping they won’t be noticed? Are you always annoyed with them for being disorganised or late to meetings? Answers to these questions will help you form a strengths and weaknesses profile of this team member.
c) Ask them to list their strengths and weaknesses during the quarterly one-on-one meetings held to support their personal and professional development. In fact, asking them these two questions at such meetings may give you excellent insights on what their strengths and weaknesses are:
Take notes and over the course of the year see if they have developed their strengths further or overcome their weaknesses.
d) Hold workshops where you ask team members about each other’s strengths and weaknesses and discuss how they help or hold people back from success in their jobs.
“71% of employees who believe their managers can name their strengths feel engaged and energized by their work…”
Team members who are aware of each other’s strengths work better as a team, says research.Let’s take a fictitious example. Team member A who is more vocal about what they bring to the table may resent that the less vocal team member B doesn’t seem to be contributing enough to the team. However, if A comes to know that B has strengths that are critical to the projects they work on but hasn’t been broadcasting it, A will value B better, leading to improved team cohesion. Appreciating each other’s strengths always makes for stronger and happier teams.But how exactly do you get team members to acquaint themselves with each other’s strengths and skills? Here are a few ways you can do it:
Skills visualisation tool MuchSkills makes it easy for team members and managers to map and view everyone’s skills in three categories – Job Focus, Soft Skills and Technical Skills. Upgrade to the Pro Version and add and manage skill categories exclusive to your organisation or team like ‘Domain Expertise’, ‘Functional Expertise’, ‘Hardware Expertise’ and more.
Here’s how you can create teams on MuchSkills and invite people to join them so that they can create their visualised skills profile:
Hold team strengths meetings designed to get team members to recognise each other’s strengths and skills. There is no template for these meetings. Its content and flow depends on the culture of each organisation or even preferences of the manager (such as whether it should be formal or informal), but here’s a rough guide.
The idea here is to get people to acquaint themselves with each other’s unique skills and strengths and encourage everyone to talk about these strengths and how they can be utilised in different areas.
If you read the research section above, you’d know that 60% of employees say the ability to do what they do best in a role is ‘very important’ to them, according to Gallup's State of the American Workplace report 2017. This was ranked higher than ‘significant increase in income’ and stability and job security.
It is a manager’s job to assign employees to tasks and projects where they can use their strengths in the best possible way. This is why good managers are critical to an organisation’s effort to increase employee engagement.
If you’ve followed steps 1, 2 and 3 above, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to assign tasks and projects to your team members based on their strengths.
Having said that, it isn’t enough to just assign work according to strengths.
Managers must also:
Because of the nature of their work, managers play a crucial role in building employee strengths. Managers who recognise the strengths of team members and place them in roles where they utilise their strengths – allowing individuals to develop their strengths – help contribute to happier, more engaged and committed employees…and stronger organisations.
While more experienced managers already know how to coach employees on building strengths, others may need training for it. As a manager, if you feel you need help with getting employees to do their best work, ask your organisation for training assistance.
Similarly, if you feel your team could benefit from strengths training, organise it.
Organisations committed to building employee engagement will prioritise providing managers and employees with strengths building training. Such organisations should also recognise managers who build team strengths consistently, because that sends a loud message about the values it is committed to.
Employee engagement experts have said that individuals (and organisations) must focus on building strengths because that is more effective than attempting to improve weaknesses. This advice is supported by research.
Gallup, for instance, has found that “developing people’s strengths helps them become more confident, productive and self-aware” and leads to 7% to 23% higher employee engagement while attempting to improve weaknesses leads to “A negative employee experience, mediocre performance improvements and employees who are less engaged.”
Similarly, a 2015 survey found that employees perform better when managers focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
But people should still be aware of their weaknesses because that knowledge helps people be self-aware of the traits that are holding them back so they can take steps to mitigate its effects or even improve them for their personal satisfaction (never mind what research says).