We have companies come to us all the time to fix their "broken" team instead of understanding that, most of the time, their team isn’t broken. Instead, it's how they're using them that's broken.
We're at a crossroads, folks. We have supply chain issues, inflation, increasing prices, worker shortages, and more. As a result, companies are under pressure to do things more efficiently to avoid astronomical price hikes, and they're asking their employees to take on work outside of their job scope.
It's not uncommon for companies to ask more from their employees. Helping employees perform is part of leadership. But, as we’ve talked about before, the Great Resignation is here. Employees have the power, and many are choosing to leave a company if they feel taken advantage of.
This power shift has led many companies to look for the "perfect" employees with the belief that if they could just find the Swiss Army Knife of people, they'd be set. Everyone's just looking for top talent in hopes it will solve their issues.
New Employee Perfection Doesn’t Last
But, employees are never as good as they are on the first day they walk in the door. Too often, companies hire employees for all the extraordinary skills and experience they have, and then they use them to perform jobs outside of that skill set.
Not to mention, even the best employees are human. They make mistakes, and they don't always possess every skill they need to succeed. Yet, as companies and leaders, we're programmed to focus on what employees need to improve rather than how to leverage what makes each employee great.
A standout leader draws on what a person is naturally good at and uses other resources to fill in gaps. But, this isn't the way most organizations work.
If you want to be successful right now, try shifting your mindset to break this futile cycle of trying to improve efficiency by focusing on your employees' weaknesses.
But how? Well, it starts by understanding your brain's role in all of this.
Why Our Brains Are Wired to Focus On Employee Weaknesses
Our brains love patterns and habits, and for decades, we've learned and worked in environments that focus on how we need to get better instead of how our strengths can be explored. As a result, focusing on "fixing" people's problems is engrained.
These patterns and habits aren't just happening on the individual level, either. The entire collective brains of organizations are often wired to these same patterns.
Organizations are made of multiple human brains, and all those brains are hardwired to prefer habits. If those patterns are centered around focusing on weakness, then you'll be working against cumulative patterns and not just your own.
Changing patterns is difficult because our brains perceive change as a threat. If you've never thought about the difference between broken people versus broken processes, then you may not even know how to think about it… and that's scary for your brain.
Beyond that, your brain's goal is survival, and going against the grain of company culture isn't exactly playing it safe. So, your brain will fight you on changing your perspective, especially if it believes that it's unsafe.
And here's the thing: most leaders aren’t intentionally malicious. Wanting to "fix" their employees is often rooted in self-preservation. If we need to hit a certain number or solve a particular issue, we do what we need to do to make that happen.
Our brains always start with our own needs. We're wired to take care of what we need before considering others. It's not until we open our awareness and practice that we can learn to pause and see things how they really are versus through our brain's lens of safety.
3 Tips for Overcoming Patterns and Leveraging Strengths
How can you overcome these barriers and start to work towards leveraging your employees' strengths? When dealing with organizational patterns, you might not be able to dismantle the entire wheel, but you can take that first step to break the cycle.
1. Really understand what makes your employees shine.
Start by taking inventory and creating a list of all your employees. Then, write down their strengths, and if you aren't sure, ask them! Most employees are happy to talk about their strengths. The list doesn't have to be fancy or formal. It's simply an opportunity for you to focus on the areas where your team members shine.
You might find that your people have talents you didn't know about. For example, maybe your accountant is an artist outside of work. This knowledge could come in handy when you need some creative thinking or branding ideas.
Don't limit your list to just on-the-job strengths, and use this as an opportunity to really understand what strengths you have to work with inside of your employee toolbox.
2. Do a toolbox assessment
Now, take a look at what you have in your toolbox and what's missing. If you have some gaps, work with HR to fill them. Then ask yourself if you know how to use all the tools in your toolbox.
Maybe you realize that you have a bunch of screwdrivers in your toolbox, but you've only ever used a hammer. If you aren't sure how to best leverage your people's strengths, reach out for help.
For example, perhaps you discover that your customer service specialist is incredibly analytical and great with numbers, but their job is just reading off customer service scripts. As a manager, you may not know how to put their skills to use.
In these instances, consider finding a mentor or partner or brainstorming with colleagues. Take some time to be creative about how to best leverage your employee's strengths.
3. Use your resources like a master craftsperson!
Start identifying ways to leverage the strengths of your team members. Remember, what you focus on is what you work towards, so make sure you're focused on using strengths instead of fixing what's broken.
Rather than using your screwdriver as a hammer here, focus on using the tools you have in the most appropriate way, which is also the best way for your team. It might require some learning and practice to get right, but it's possible.
Also, know that you aren't going to be perfect. And it's not about being perfect. It's about learning to be a master at leveraging your people's strengths. Changing your mindset and way of doing things can be really tough. Take small steps everyday to build this new habit.
Learning to Use Your Tools
It's time we start challenging what we think we know about business. Running a successful organization requires playing to your strengths rather than focusing on your weaknesses. It's the same for employees.
By taking the time to understand your employees’ strengths and working to utilize them, you can overcome those brain blocks.
Plus, using employees' strengths not only benefits you as a leader and the organization, but it also benefits the employees because they're more satisfied with their work, more engaged, and happier to be working at something they're good at.
If you're curious and want to learn more about changing your mindset from fixing broken people to properly using the tools you have, our coaching services can help.