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Why You're Thinking About People Development Wrong

Amanda Sollman

Why You're Thinking About People Development Wrong

What if I told you that you're thinking about people development wrong? That fixing weaknesses, hiring for skill, assigning tasks based on schedule capacity – it's completely ineffective? And that, the way we're doing it now, we're creating an ongoing cycle of disengagement, dissatisfaction, poor leadership and employee turnover?

Would you want to hear more? Better yet, how we can start to change that cycle?

Read on, my friends...

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The Problem With Focusing on Weakness

Let me tell you a story:

In the 1950s, researchers in Nebraska did a study to look at the reading level of children. They gave everyone a reading test and found that poor readers read at approximately 90 words per minute (wpm), while good readers read at about 350 wpm. They gave all students a course to teach them how to improve their abilities and then re-tested both groups to see if anything had changed.

What would you guess were the results?

If you're like most people, you'd probably guess that the poor readers got better. And you'd be right. The poor readers went from 90 wpm to about 150 wpm – good improvement. But what about the kids who were already good readers? Most people will assume that they stayed the same, got slightly better or maybe even got a little worse. But here's the reality – those kids who were already reading at 350 wpm? After going through the course, they improved their reading speed to over 2000 wpm! By investing in growing an existing strength (instead of trying to improve a weakness), their abilities grew exponentially.

But yet, isn't the improvement of weaknesses what we tend to do in the workplace every single day?

How many training courses have you gone to in an attempt to "fix" something you're just not – and will never be – good at? How many performance review comments have been logged telling you what "areas of development" or "opportunities for improvement" you should work on, when they're either a) not necessary to be successful in your job, b) something that actually sucks the life out of you so you'll never work on them anyways, or c) adequately executed by someone else on your team to fill your gap?

Pretty sure all of us can relate to something in that.

A study by Dale Carnegie Training found that 45% of the workforce is not engaged in their work, while 26% of the workforce is actively disengaged – that's over half of employees not engaged in what they do and how they do it. Here's the harsh reality: how we've been approaching people development – by focusing on improving weaknesses – is fundamentally wrong and, frankly, hurts your employees and your organization. 

Shifting to Focus on Strengths

Our team sees the impact of this weakness-focused mindset in many of the clients we work with in our coaching and training sessions. They're burnt out, stressed, panicked, lacking confidence and unsure of their goals – and, selfishly speaking, it makes the task of helping them move them from surviving to thriving astronomically harder. So we asked ourselves:

Could there be a better way?

And the short answer is this: YES. We need to reject the traditional "improve your weaknesses" philosophy, because, at the end of the day, taking a strengths-based approach to work – or any area of life – is the ONLY way to truly thrive.

And let's take that a step further: we believe that strengths should not only be those things you're talented or skilled at. If you're like me, you can think of at least a few things you're good at but which you ABSOLUTELY hate. Instead, we believe strengths are those things that give you energy, light your fire, excite you!! They're the things that you could do day-in and day-out because you just love to do them. To reference the earlier story – those are the 350s that we should be investing in to create exponential results.

Strengths_Definition_-_Two_Circles_Diagram.jpgAs an example, one of my strengths is Detail Orientation. I love it – making sure everything is done well, not missing anything, juggling lots of balls in the air at any given time. Executing on the details gets me excited and I could do it every single day.

On the contrary, one of Mark's strengths is Strategic Mindedness. He LOVES vision-casting and idea generation and brainstorming about what we could do to reach our goals and help clients. He gets a huge amount of energy from that big picture thinking.

Now, if you tried to spend all your time and performance review on making me better at strategy or trying to make Mark a more organized planner, you might make a little progress. You could turn our 90s into 150s perhaps. But I will NEVER be energized by strategy, just like Mark will never be excited by the details.

Instead, by focusing on investing in the development of our strengths (and, in some cases, using our strengths to build non-strength areas), we could both take our abilities to exponentially higher levels.

A Tool to Shift to Strengths-Based Development

 So, we liked this idea of stepping away from "fixing" weaknesses and instead developing strengths, but that begged the next question: what tools are out there for us to help our clients make this tangible?

Several of us at MJST had used some strengths or personality assessments before and, while they're fun and give you good cocktail party descriptors for yourself ("I'm a WOO!" or "What are you? I'm INTJ."), they felt very stagnant and flat. I know this thing about myself – so what?

Then we found Strengthscope®.


Strengthscope is a tool that helps us look not just at talents or descriptions of our behaviors, but actually what gives people energy.

The first step – individual assessment – helps you put a name to the top seven strengths that energize you. Then, through coaching and other tools like team and 360 assessments, we can help you make progress by actually taking advantage of the things you like to do.

Strengthscope is the tool we'll use to help you:

  1. Identify individual strengths and areas of energy
  2. Look for ways to develop in those strength areas
  3. Create a plan to minimize time spent in weakness areas (what we call "drainers")
  4. Develop teams that put together the best mix of strengths for success

We truly believe that Strengthscope takes those other strengths and personality assessment tools – and puts them on steroids. It's not one more thing for you to do – it's the way to make everything you already do better.

Strengthscope – Coming to a training or coaching session near you!

We are so excited to start using this tool! The idea of strengths-based development lines up perfectly with The Survivor's Guide to Thriving approach – what if the driving effort you need to put in to thrive could actually be more fun and energizing?! – and we are confident that this tool can take you and your organization to the next level. Keep an eye out for this addition to:

Want to talk about how Strengthscope, training and coaching can help your organization shift how you think about people development? Give us a shout – we'd love to talk more!

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