I almost fired an extremely valuable employee this year. I had raised her into a position that provided better pay, hours, and a less strenuous workload. But as soon as she got into the role, she floundered. No matter the amount of training and one-on-one coaching I provided, she wasn’t improving. I was about to drop the ax and cut my losses when someone close to me said something that stopped me dead in my tracks.

“Instead of concentrating on how to improve on weaknesses, focus on how you can play to your employees’ strengths.”

This person was right. The employee had been stellar before I placed a mantle on her that wasn’t in her so-called wheelhouse. It wasn’t the employee’s fault that she was struggling. It was mine. I was about to fire one of my highest-performing employees because of my mistake. It was sobering. And enlightening.

All too often, we go to work trying to improve our employees’ weaknesses instead of amplifying their strengths. We are actively damaging those who don’t fit our definition of well-rounded. To lead a top-performing team, we need to do more than direct and delegate workloads. We need to identify the strengths of our employees and optimize their natural gifts. 

Today we are going to explore the ways you can identify, build, and play to your employees’ strengths and curate a team that is performing at their utmost potential.

Identifying Strengths

Don’t assume that you know your employees’ strengths due to the work that can be categorized as either “good” or “bad”. Perhaps, even more important, don’t assume that your employees know their strengths either. People often take their most powerful talents for granted.The biggest problem with assumptions, of course, is that we can often miss out on the most talented and gifted aspects of another person.

Meet individually with your employees and discuss how they view their core competencies and strengths. You may discover new facets and passions of your employees that can be utilized in areas of the workplace you never realized. Also, consider having your employees take a StrengthsFinder test, so that you can easily identify their top 5 most powerful characteristics. Capitalize on your findings.

Being able to identify and zero in on your employees’ strengths provides focus and higher output. By moving away from the mindset of improving weakness, we can amplify the very best of what an employee has to offer. In fact, individuals who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job and are less likely to leave their company . Employees who can operate out of their strengths create a better culture, higher performance, and stronger engagement.

Moving Away from Weakness

Working in janitorial, I understand how difficult it can be to curate an environment tailor-made to the strengths of others. Cleaning is cleaning, right? Well, yes and no. There are many roles within my organization that a person can fill. I have to understand that I may have put an employee in a position or role that doesn’t play to their strengths. Instead, I may be amplifying their weaknesses by the role I’ve assigned them. All of that to say, even if you believe you have all the right people on the bus, it’s important to make sure they’re in the correct seat too.

It’s important to look at the scope of work you are doing and drop your employees into the roles that will give them the most satisfaction. I have employees who work incredibly well alone and prefer the ability to work at their own pace. Placing them in a leadership position or in a facility that has a lot of people has the potential to move them away from their comfort zone. I also have people with strong communication skills and keeping them behind a mop handle all day is squandering their gifts. It’s not just filling an open position. It’s looking at what an employee has to offer and where they are best suited.

You don’t have to rework everything within your organization in order to play to your employees’ strengths. It’s really the awareness of where an employee thrives and moving away from their weaknesses. If an employee is terrible at spreadsheets, move away from that work and give them things that they are good at. Employees who feel confident in their work are going to be more engaged and fulfilled.

Hone Their Strengths

So many times, people don’t know what their strengths are. Most people identify it as they either like something or don’t. Try investing in courses or programs that hone skills and identify and optimize the strength of your team members. This type of training may be something your HR department can deliver, or you might find training outside your organization.

We’ve posted about Workplace Burnout before, but burnout is a key indicator that we aren’t playing to employee’s strengths. Burnout disappears when people feel invested in and cared for. By instituting programs that identify and build your employee’s skills, you will see the dividends of that investment through engagement, happier employees, and confident work. 

Don’t make the mistake of cutting a good employee because of their weaknesses. Move away from weakness in your organization by identifying and honing your employees’ natural gifts and talents. When you play to your employees’ strengths, you may not have a team of well-rounded employees, but I can guarantee you that those around you will be focused and deliver the high-performing results you desire.