Most of us got to where we are by being pretty good at solving problems. So, when we eventually ascend into the management ranks, that problem-solving behavior naturally stays with us. The problem is, when it comes to people, you can’t really fix most weaknesses using those same skills.
The traditional model most managers follow is to assess what people are not doing well and give them training so they can do it better—the competency model. While skill training does certainly have value (it’s a big part of what our company sells), it only works well when you are teaching skills that match a person’s natural strengths (their innate talents).
For example, you probably know by now whether you can sing or not. If you’re like most people, the answer is not. Do you believe you could be on American Idol if you took enough voice lessons?
We both know the answer, don’t we?
The Remediation Myth
Why do managers and training directors persist in attempting to figure out what a person doesn’t do well and then to try to fix it? The remediation myth has become a fixture, almost a bedrock belief, of managers everywhere. But all it does is waste the time—and burn the patience and goodwill—of both the manager and the salesperson. The old TV character Alf knew what to do with that information: “Find out what you don’t do well—and don’t do it.”
A better strategy is to find out what a person does do well and set them up to do a lot more of it. We can get ten times better in an area of natural talent, but only ten percent better when we try to improve in area not supported by natural talent.
Plato said around 425 BC, “More will be accomplished, and better, and with more ease, if every man does what he is best fitted to do, and nothing else.”
What does managing strength look like in practice?
Discover the innate behaviors of the people who report to you. People have all sorts of natural talents. Some people establish rapport very quickly and make people feel very comfortable. Others are exquisitely organized and amazingly efficient. Still others love to solve complex problems and can think of alternatives no one else could imagine. The manager’s observations are helpful, but a validated talent assessment offers more insight.
Set each of your direct reports up for success by assigning projects, tasks, and work that allows them to use their strongest talents more frequently. You’ll see improvement like nothing else you’ve ever tried.
Instead of trying to fix weakness, work around them. If your direct reports are not very creative, pair them up with someone who is, or help them with creativity yourself if that is one of your natural talents. This will be a lot more productive than sending them to a brainstorming class to become more creative (which they will probably hate).
Is the remediation myth real? If you don’t think so, then why haven’t you taken those singing lessons and tried out for American Idol?
Interested in learning more about managing strengths instead of trying to fix a weakness? Download "30 ways to turn talent into performance" today.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published March 13, 2014, and has been updated.