by | Dec 7, 2015 | Leadership, Management

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I recently had a conversation with a bright young woman about her deep need to realize her own potential and play to her strengths. Her current job was a fit for her skills, talents and needs in some ways, but she felt underutilized in others and that several of the job requirements weren’t a good match. She loved the company she worked for but she believed that her immediate career path was limited because there wasn’t a clear role for her to move into. It was hard for her to see the possibilities of what didn’t yet exist. No job description, no open position, no job, right?

But the fact is that new jobs are created every day. At companies across the globe, jobs are being established as leaders implement new strategies, enter new markets, create new business models, and develop new technology. And forward thinking companies are creating new roles that are designed specifically for highly capable people, fully utilizing their talents and helping them reach new potentials.

Early in my management career, I was inspired by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s book “First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently.” In their book, Buckingham and Coffman explain how the best managers select an employee for talent rather than for skills or experience and motivate him or her by building on strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses. This leads to high performance, deep engagement, and what I like to call “rock star” employees.

This message resonated deeply with me. There was nothing I wanted more than to be a great manager and create an environment where “rock stars” could invent themselves and thrive.  To do this, I had to learn more about my employees. What motivated each of them? What parts of their job did love? Hate? What were their personality styles? What caused them to step up and take on new challenges or the opposite, retreat? At what did they excel and when did they underperform? What would be the perfect role? Over the last 9 years, I have been able to train myself to see the talents of others and ask the right questions to reveal fears, desires, talents, capabilities, motivations, and weaknesses.

With this knowledge I can then either tweak or create new roles that fit their unique set of talents and better guide them as they grow in their careers. This has not only led to new opportunities within the organization, but we have happier, more engaged employees who enjoy their jobs because they get to do what they are good at every day. Engaged employees help to cultivate positive culture and it’s well known that great workplace cultures lead to higher productivity and retention. Here’s a great HBR article with a lot of data on the subject.

I am a big believer in designing roles for my employees, especially those who have high potential and demonstrate the desire to grow personally and professionally. I have seen how powerful it can be when a person who is highly capable but under performing due to a talent-job mismatch is moved into the right position. Over and over, it has made a profound impact on the company’s performance and the employee is happier because he or she is thriving, motivated, engaged, and doing tasks that are enjoyable….well on the way to rock stardom.

All of this sounds great, right? But how do you do it? How do you deeply understand your employees and position them in the right roles? Here are some of the things I do:

  • Use personality and work style assessments to help recognize motivators, strengths, talents, and preferences. We use social styles as a basic foundation because the styles are easy to remember and understand. There are four basic styles: analytical, driver, amiable, and expressive. Social style tendencies are easy to spot and you can do some fun team building around them. We also use the Predicative Index which is an incredibly powerful tool that summarizes primary personality characteristics that describe, explain, and predict day-to-day workplace behaviors. It is uncanny how well this report describes people. When I read mine, I was dumbfounded at its accuracy. The Predictive Index is rather expensive…you must train at least one person how to analyze and present the data…but it is worth every penny.
  • Get to know your employees personally. Understanding their personal motivations, goals, struggles, and family situations aids you in seeing them more holistically. It will give you deeper insight to strengths and weaknesses, helping you to steer them into ideals roles. Plus, when you have a strong personal connection, it’s easier to transition someone into a different position because there is more trust in the relationship.
  • Help your employees (and yourself) determine and understand their strengths and talk about how their current positions fit those strengths. Most people don’t know what their strengths are (and neither do their managers) so I recommend using the Strengths Finder assessment to start the process. Obviously, we all have parts that our job that aren’t as satisfying as others and the goal isn’t to create jobs that are filled only with enjoyable tasks. But you do want to look for evident talent-job mismatches. Do you have a highly analytical person working in a job that requires her to live in the gray area? Do you have an empathetic peacemaker in a role that requires him to play devil’s advocate? Do you have a person who gets tongue-tied when giving performance reviews in a management role? Do you have a strategic thinker doing repetitive tasks? Do you have a person who thrives on connecting with her coworkers in a role that doesn’t interact much with others?
  • Take the time to evaluate the performance of each employee and do it often. Observe them in action, review the quality of their work, get feedback from peers and direct reports, and listen to their communication tone and style. Discuss these observations regularly, guiding them to find what they truly enjoy and course correct issues in real time. This brings more awareness to strengths and weaknesses and allows you to openly discuss which duties and responsibilities best make sense for each employee.
  • Don’t be afraid to modify job descriptions. It’s tempting to have a standard job description and tell yourself that you must find the right person to fit that exact role. But this is hardly realistic nor sustainable. The nature of each role changes as the company changes so be flexible in ways that make sense for the company and the employee. This does not require that you create unique job descriptions for each individual on your team. It simply means having an open mind to modify some responsibilities to better match people’s strengths. In some cases, it might make sense to create a whole new role. Good talent is hard to find and if the job is a poor match, it’s better (if possible) to craft a new job to keep a person rather than watch him or her get frustrated, fail, and leave.

It takes time, commitment, and some trial and error to really get to know your employees, especially in the context of true strengths. I’ve had great success in developing employees by modifying and creating roles…but also some failures. I have become too emotionally invested in helping struggling employees find the right roles within the organization. It’s painful on both sides when it’s time to admit that there just isn’t a fit that mutually works. But the time, energy, and emotion spent is worth it. Having engaged and happy employees in roles that play off their strengths and talents makes the employee, organization, and you better. I believe there is no worthier use of my time than spending it to sincerely understand and appreciate the strengths and talents of my team, helping them to become rock stars.

Like this blog? Check out this one on ways to be a better manager.

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