A few years ago I was talking with a golf course superintendent at a professional golf event when his cellphone rang. On the other end was a panicked television producer asking if a tree limb could be trimmed to allow for a better camera angle.
The superintendent hung up, exhaled a bit in exasperation and chuckled. He told me he would have his assistant, who is much better in those situations, handle it. It was a gallows humor-like reaction, as if he was exiling his staff member to Siberia. For the longest time I thought the superintendent was being nice because he did not want to interrupt our conversation. However, after a few years I came to realize that in this situation, and in others I encountered with him over the years, this particular person was doing what the best managers do — whether they know it or not.
This became clear after I read the book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. Rather than focusing valuable resources on improving one’s weaknesses, organizations should put their people in positions where they can utilize their strengths for the success of all. This is not to say there shouldn’t be a baseline of knowledge for a particular job. It suggests that rather than dedicating time to improve a skill where you move the needle just slightly, you can better use that time on a task where the results will be more significant and beneficial to the organization.
I’m not a shill for the book. You can do enough research on the Internet to get the gist of the concept. However, the book offers an online assessment that is evaluated and returned to the person with their top five strengths identified and mapped out with behavioral examples. The test is based upon years of research. For example, why am I so engrossed with those YouTube home fix-it videos? As the profile revealed, one of my strengths is lifelong learning. (I found the behavioral example to be quite humorous — noting that people with this strength enjoy the journey from ignorance to competence.)
From an organizational perspective, I often hear or read of managers hiring people that “are just like me so that we get along and they can do my work when I am gone.” That’s exactly the wrong reason to hire someone. This goes back to the pitfall of the lack of diversity, whether it be in our investment patterns, diet, work-life balance, etc. It only makes sense that all things being equal, a team with diverse talents would be more effective than a team whose members all had the same narrow skill set.
This isn’t to stay a person shouldn’t work on his strengths. Actually, the research indicates the greatest room for growth is in the areas of his strengths. A few weeks ago I had a superintendent tell me that he considered himself to be a good superintendent when it came to chemistry. However, he said the time he spent working for a chemical company in the industry made him more effective and efficient.
So, what is the moral to this story? First, look at your team and identify their strengths when it comes to executing work. Is one a better communicator? More diplomatic? Better at planning staff assignments? More attentive to detail? Second, identify your team’s weaknesses. Third, align staff so you’re utilizing their strengths as much as you can, while not putting them in a position where their weaknesses are exposed (this also means that during the hiring process you should look for candidates with skills your team doesn’t possess).
I admit this might seem like a foreign concept. For much of our lives we have been programmed to fit into nice boxes where we have all of the same competencies and skill sets. Unfortunately, many organizations still do that despite what the data tells us. Every individual is unique. We should embrace that and find a way to harness those talents to an even greater benefit and performance.