Companies spend millions training and developing their employees. But does it really pay off? Sure, such investments can enhance skills and boost effectiveness and innovation. But far too often, leaders and managers overlook a crucial element: complementing employees' knowledge, skills, and experience by maximizing the power of their innate talents.
Managers must ask themselves: Do employees clearly understand the priorities in their day-to-day work?
Toward a strengths-based solution
Not everyone can excel at a particular task, regardless of training and effort. Though training can help people improve, most employees won't achieve excellence performing a task unless their talents make them naturally inclined to perform that task at excellence in the first place.
Gallup research shows that people who know and use their strengths -- and the companies they work for -- tend to be better performers. In a study of 65,672 employees, Gallup found that workers who received strengths feedback had turnover rates that were 14.9% lower than for employees who received no feedback (controlling for job type and tenure).
Moreover, a study of 530 work units with productivity data found that teams with managers who received strengths feedback showed 12.5% greater productivity post-intervention than teams with managers who received no feedback. And a Gallup study of 469 business units ranging from retail stores to large manufacturing facilities found that units with managers who received strengths feedback showed 8.9% greater profitability post-intervention relative to units in which the manager received no feedback.
Companies that want to boost productivity and innovation must help employees apply their natural abilities to the day-to-day requirements of their role. Implementing a strengths-based approach often demands a fresh mindset; the old ways won't do. The questions below can help employees figure out how they can best apply their talents in their role -- and can help managers and leaders learn how to use a strengths-based approach to boost company performance.
Employees: If you're involved in activities that you're already naturally inclined to do well, your attitude toward work is different and you contribute more to your workplace compared with someone who may have similar skills but less natural ability. Doing what you do best is essential to being a star performer at work.
As an employee, you should ask yourself these questions:
Do I know what I do best every day?
What do I enjoy most in my day-to-day activities at work?
How much time do I spend doing what I enjoy most?
What part of my current role energizes me?
What were my greatest accomplishments in the past six months?
Can I connect my talents to my accomplishments?
Do others know what I do best every day?
Am I communicating to the right people about what I do best?
Have I gathered input and feedback from the right people on how to apply my talents in my role?
Is there a career path that my manager and I can agree on that builds on what I do best?
Managers: You have a different challenge: to embed strengths into your workgroup's culture and everyday process. Managers who want to capitalize on employee talents must first understand that employees are unique and bring distinct talents to their role. But to gain the most benefits -- and to significantly boost productivity and profitability -- you may need to discard some long-held premises.
As a manager, you should ask yourself these questions:
Do employees clearly understand the priorities in their day-to-day work?
Are there information flow barriers in your company? Do workers have the resources and support they need from teams outside their workgroups? This is crucial to superior performance.
Do people feel comfortable asking for help and giving opinions? What channels of formal and informal communication can they use to voice opinions and share ideas across the organization?
How can you use everyday points of contact to talk with employees or teams about increasing productivity and efficiencies?
Last but not least, leaders have an opportunity to transform an organization's culture by implementing a strengths-based approach to employee development. But transformational change requires more than providing training to current employees. It demands a strategic approach to identifying the best performers in a role and finding more employees who are like the very best.
As a leader, you should ask yourself these questions:
Does your company have systems in place to study your best performers and replicate excellence and high performance across the company? Do you have a scientific way to identify the unique and differentiating talents of high performers? Once identified, can you integrate those attributes with workforce planning, career progression, and succession management to ensure that the right people with the right talents are in the right roles?
Are you providing opportunities for star employees to grow in their roles? Are you building, appreciating, and communicating excellence at all levels?
As an organization, are you providing the right opportunities to people based on their natural abilities? Are you promoting the right people into management and leadership roles?
Employees, managers, and leaders must answer these questions as candidly as possible. Whether at the individual, workgroup, or company level, the solutions you arrive at will be influenced by the questions you ask, your willingness to walk away from the old ways of developing employees, and your ability to transform your culture to realize real competitive advantages.
You can bet that your competitors are relentlessly pursuing innovation, technological advancements, and best practices. Your competitors are working day and night to make their companies better and stronger. What will give your company its edge is people who can truly work faster and better.
Helping employees apply their talents in their roles is just a first step on the road to your company's continuous improvement. In the long run, selecting and training the right employees will be much more productive than training the wrong ones.