I was born left-handed and no one had problem with it except my first-grade teacher. In her mind being a lefty was some sort of a condition that needed to be fixed. With overwhelming enthusiasm, she was “investing” in me, forcing to use my right hand, especially for writing. As a result, I lost the ability to write with my left hand and my right hand-writing is still a total disaster. It happened a few decades ago and now no one will even think to cause such a misery to a lefty kid. But unfortunately, I recognize the same approach time after time while having the conversations with HR personnel or mid level managers. Often after the performance review season is over, they are asking me the same question: what did we do wrong? After last year review we pointed at employee’s weaknesses, we provided him/her with additional training, we had numerous conversations, but this year review shows how little change has accrued. The manager is frustrated, the employee is losing confidence and motivation, and overall atmosphere in the organization is getting worse.
Why? Because all the energy and resources have been used to overcome a weakness instead of enhancing a strength.
Under-performing in certain areas usually have three main reasons: lack of knowledge, lack of experience and personal quality. First two should not be considered as employee’s weaknesses, as they are completely external. If organization wants its employees to grow as professionals, it must provide necessary training and create an environment where employee can use a new knowledge and gain the experience.
It is a completely different story when it comes to an employee as an individual. We are who we are and change it, especially forcefully, is almost impossible and often has an opposite effect.
You have an excellent machine operator, with many years of experience, reliable and hard working. You’ve decided that he will be a perfect team leader. What you forgot to consider is that he is also quiet and shy guy. After a while you see that his team doesn’t perform any better. You put him through leadership training, had a few motivational conversations, gave him very good articles to read. Now he has no time to keep being an excellent machine operator, as he is constantly working on his leadership skills. And being the same quiet and shy person, he always was, he is not getting any closer to becoming an effective leader. As a result, your organization lost twice: no valuable employee, no good leader.
Bottom line, don’t ask an accountant with zero imagination but incredible eye to the smallest details to provide you with continuous improvement ideas; don’t expect an introverted engineer to make an irresistible sales pitch about a new creation; forget about converting talkative employee into a silent statue.
Focus on employees’ strengths, find the way to use it to an employee and a business advantage.