Put them in their area of Strength


I am a fan of Marcus Buckingham and his book, Now, Discover Your Strengths. Before his book I used both DISC and MBTI instruments to help me discover people’s natural temperament “bents” and help them find where in the organization they could be effective. If you don’t do this, I strongly suggest you make it a practice.

Right after college I entered a rigorous management-training course with Sears. In those days Sears was the number one retailer in the world and they had a tremendous retail training program and management opportunity. Shortly after my training ended I received my first assignment as manager of Boys and Students clothing.

In this position I inherited Viola. She was a quiet person who basically just showed up for her shift. Again, in a different retail age, we actually helped customers and sold on the floor and Viola’s daily sales were not where they needed to be. I did notice that she had tremendous attention to detail so I asked her to do something different. I gave her responsibility for our staples area (sox, underwear, belts) and our Boy Scout shop (which at the time needed attention). I told her to make sure every day that these important areas were fully stocked, inventoried and clean. I decreased her sales quota and trained her on inventory systems and merchandising techniques.

Viola took to the assignment as a duck takes to water. My sales of staples began to leap ahead of prior year performance and within six months of her assuming this role BSA recognized our Boy Scout department as a model store. Suddenly, we had people driving miles to shop our Boy Scout store and we used that draw to sell more regular merchandise. I was promoted in two years to a new assignment and part of that success was Viola (and others) who were working from their strengths.

Here are some ideas to help you put people where they can be most effective not only for you but for themselves:

1. Understand yourself. Take some time to really come to grips with your talents and strengths. Then seek to hire people who fill in your weaknesses with their strengths.
2. Understand your people. Read Buckingham’s book or use some other tool to understand your people and what kind of responsibilities will compliment their strengths.
3. Stop trying to fix people’s weaknesses. I would much rather maximize a person who is an 8 in some area to a 10 than start with a 1 and try to reach 3. In other words, you need to be aware of people’s weaknesses, but don’t fix them. Focus on their strengths and build a balanced team that covers each other’s weaknesses.
4. Reward great performance. When a person is in their strength they will do well. What serves to motivate them is a word from you that recognizes their performance. This simple act builds momentum.

You may have discovered some other ideas that work for you, please share them with us.

Viola also received a promotion. I lost track of her, but when I left her she was a valued employee who continued to grow as she focused on her strengths.


2 Responses to “Put them in their area of Strength”

  1. These four recommendations are great. I particularly like #1 which is about understanding yourself.
    One of my colleagues recently blogged about David Ogilvy and how at the age of 38, he decided to start his own agency with very little experience.
    His secret: “Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.”

  2. Don Bowlby says:

    These 4 points are terrific and understanding yourself is a great place to start. Just out of curiosity, which did you prefer, DiSC or the MBTI? I’ve taken both but it’s been quite a while since I took the MBTI. Today we use DiSC primarily.

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