For fun, let’s start (warm-up, if you will) with dispelling a couple myths about strengths-based talent management that have been around for quite a while.
Myth #1: A strength used to excess can become a weakness.
Truth #1: Strengths are strengths. They become bad (ineffective) only when used with negative intent, to gain power or control, or cover-up for a true weakness.
Have you heard this one? You know “a strength used to excess can be a weakness”. That hogwash. (Not Hogwarts, hogwash.) A strength used to excess doesn’t somehow magically transform into a weakness, rather, it shows our lack of discernment, a negative intent, or simply a lack of situational awareness. The strength doesn’t become a weakness (it’s still a strength), the overuse of it simply exposes a weakness of a different kind.
For example, let’s say – totally hypothetically – I were to use my incredible good looks to distract your attention away from my lack of performance. The weakness isn’t my stunning good looks. Rather the weakness is my intent to distract you and/or my lack performance. So, keep using your strengths!
Myth #2: The strengths movement says to just ignore weaknesses…(’and that’s just unrealistic’).
Truth #2: The strengths movement says to focus on your strengths and mitigate your weakness.
I’ve been hearing critics say for decades – yes, I’m that old and this has been around a long time – that in talent management ‘the strengths movement says to just ignore weaknesses…and that’s just unrealistic’. Most of the time I just smile and ask a few probing questions. Because I’ve found that the people that say that either have the desire to not change and just keep doing what they’ve been doing (and getting the average results they’ve always gotten), or they simply haven’t read/learned very much about the strengths movement.
Actually, while the strengths movement (most publicly led by the Gallup organization and Marcus Buckingham) focuses primarily on strengths, it doesn’t ignore weaknesses. Rather, it seeks to mitigate them, so that a person’s strengths can shine. So what we’re really saying is, let’s focus on strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses. Or, said a little differently, let’s focus on leveraging strengths, which drive performance, rather than wasting time trying to repair weaknesses – which just get in the way of using our strengths to get results.
Please understand. Let me be clear. I’m talking here about capability weaknesses, not character weaknesses. If someone likes to lie, cheat and steal (character weaknesses), that needs to stop (or the person should go into politics…ouch!), and not just be ‘mitigated’ as I talk about here.
Okay, so now, what are those mitigation strategies? Well, in order of effectiveness, here you go.
The 4 primary practices to effectively mitigate weakness:
1. Position away from the weakness.
While this sounds rather obvious, it’s honestly surprising how often it is not done. The excuse used is that ‘it’s part of the job (requirements)’ to do it. Well, do you think it’s easier to change the requirements or to change the person? If someone isn’t good with numbers, don’t have them work with numbers. You really don’t need to make it your ‘mission’ to make them learn to be good at it! Just find someone else that’s naturally good with numbers (it’s their strength) to do that work. Oops, that’s next!
2. Partner with someone who can offset your weaknesses (‘cover for you’).
This approach works very well when you can allow people to work together who have counter-balancing strengths. For example, the ‘starter’ and the ‘finisher’; or the creative person and the one who can get the idea to market, etc. And, it doesn’t need to be a ‘forever’ partnership. I’ve worked with Vice Presidents that aren’t very good at budgeting, and they know it. But, many believe they still must do it. No. That’s not true. They can get someone else to do the work. The VP is still responsible for it, and ‘owns it’, they just don’t do it. Honest.
3. Leverage tools and/or technology to improve capability.
The classic example here, is the disorganized or ‘absent-minded’ person who gets an app on their phone that allows them to organize their to-do list and notifies them when items need to be completed (or they need to be across town in 30 minutes). This can also include a salesperson that adopts a standard sales process to help them more effectively work with prospects. The key here is that we are equipping the person with additional tools to perform the activities, not necessarily improving the person’s capabilities.
4. Training (adding knowledge and skills) in the area of weakness.
This is the one most people jump to (and critics claim is ignored), but it is too often used without discernment. What I mean, is often times the training isn’t clearly providing specific knowledge and/or skills. Instead, it is attempting to change the person. For example, it’ not very effective for training in strategic planning to attempt to teach people ‘think more strategically’. People either think strategically, or they don’t.
The key here is to plan to ‘grow’ (add to) the person, not ‘change’ them, provide them with new or additional knowledge and skills. I do this constantly in the leadership development programs I provide. I don’t try to change someone’s leadership ‘style’ (or challenge their ego), instead I provide them knowledge and skills in the principles, practices and behaviors of great leadership and let them grow their leadership abilities with that new information. This adds to their talents.
After these are applied and you find they don’t effectively mitigate the weaknesses, there are other situation-specific techniques that can be used. But those would take longer to discuss than the space available here.
The important – and often overlooked – 5th practice if not effectively mitigated:
5. Accept it as a weakness.
Why is this so important? Because if you’re not going to do anything about it, you need to accept it. Otherwise, it will fester as an issue, constantly hurting the self-image of the individual along with the attitude and performance of the team around them.
Okay, this might be a silly example, but it does make the point. When I was younger (waaaay younger), I played a lot of soccer and the position I played typically takes what are called ‘goal kicks’ – where the defense kicks the ball 60-70 yards or so up field, hopefully to their own waiting teammates. The only problem…I couldn’t kick it that far – even downhill with a stiff (hurricane-force) wind behind me! Unfortunately, no one else on the team was any better. The solution we used, was rather than continuing to stand 60-70 yards away and wait for me to get it to them, my teammates simply went 50 (okay, maybe 40…35?) yards away. They ‘accepted’ my weakness as reality and simply acted accordingly, rather than constantly expecting me to overcome it. Make sense?
The strengths-based talent management approach doesn’t ignore weaknesses, it simply sees the value of not focusing on them. Instead, it uses these 4-5 techniques to mitigate weaknesses to let the power of strengths truly shine!
Questions: What approaches do you or your organization use to address weaknesses? How effective are they?