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Don’t Ignore Your Weaknesses (but Focus on Your Strengths)

· SmartWork GreatWork

We’re all familiar with the dreaded routine: it’s annual review time (Judgment Day), and we anxiously enter our bosses’ office.

“Jill, you have a great relationship with the clients. Everyone on site has the best feedback with your deliverables and disposition. However, spreadsheets seem to be a major weakness. Let’s focus on those. I want you to complete additional trainings and ask Jack to show you how to start….”

And then we shift our focus away from our stellar client relationship management to improving spreadsheets. And sure, that could be important – it could be a critical function to the work and in an ideal situation, we could continue to allocate the same energy and effort to client relationships and work harder to find energy and effort to dedicate to improving our spreadsheets.

However, neuroscience research suggests that this isn’t realistic. The brain is unable to multi-task, and cognitive energy is limited (specifically, the ability to switch rapidly between tasks, decision-making and willpower) and tends to wane throughout the day.

Given that, how logical is it to pull back on what we’re good at to focus on what we’re not? If the weakness was indeed critical to the role, many would argue that it’s the most logical choice.

But imagine this alternative scenario:

“Jill, you have a great relationship with the clients. Everyone on site has the best feedback with your deliverables and disposition. Skills like that are hard to teach, and you seem to have an innate talent. However, spreadsheets seem to be a major weakness. I gave it some thought, and I think I want to take spreadsheets permanently off of your plate so you can reinvest that energy and time into further developing the client relationships. Jack is going to take over the spreadsheets – he loves crunching the numbers and is skilled in this area. My thought is that readjusting your respective workloads will allow you both to flourish greater. Let’s plan to check in on that effort in the upcoming weeks.”

What can we gain from focusing on enhancing and expanding our strengths? What do we lose when we shift attention away from strengths to focus on perceived weaknesses?

The Case for Strengths-Based Work

· A 2003 study by Clifton & Harter found that when people build on their talents, they make greater progress than when they make comparable efforts to improve their weaknesses.

· A 2000 study by Druker confirmed: “Understanding our strengths, articulating our values, knowing where we belong…are essential to improving the abysmally low productivity of knowledge workers. ...Effective organizations put people in jobs in which they can do the most good. They place people — and allow people to place themselves — according to their strengths.”

· A 2002 study by Harter, Schmidt & Hayes determined that the opportunity to use one’s strengths (or to do what one does best every day) is a key predictor of workplace engagement, which in turn is a key predictor of a variety of positive business outcomes.

When we examine the body of research as a whole, strengths-based work has been demonstrated to:

· Lower employee stress levels

· Increase engagement

· Increase productivity

· Increase organizational bottom-line (including financial outcomes)

· Improve progress on goals

· Enhance employee well-being

· Improve absenteeism

· Improve retention

If improving upon a particular weakness is a must, consider reframing: discover the conditions that lead to success in the strengths-area, and replicate them to improve upon the weakness.

Do you know your strengths? How can you capitalize on them more in your current day-to-day activities?

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