Training Strategy

Placing a Focus on Emphasizing Strengths, Not Overcoming Weaknesses

If you think about the typical performance evaluation, where does the focus generally lie? When evaluating employees on a scale of 1–5 (where 5 is high), do managers tend to spend most of their time talking about the items they rated 4–5, or the items they rated 1–3? Most, perhaps unfortunately, tend to focus on the areas rated lower, exhorting employees to consider ways to improve their performance.

That seems logical. However, there is research to suggest that focusing more on strengths might be a better use of managers’ time and a better source of inspiration for success for employees.

Martin Seligman, known as the “father of positive psychology,” started this movement back in 2002, when he recommended that people should “use your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are.” The Gallup Foundation and Marcus Buckingham, a British author and business consultant, built on this work. Buckingham is the coauthor of “First, Break All the Rules,” along with Curt Coffman (Gallup Press, 1999) and “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” along with Donald O. Clifton (Gallup Press, 2001). The premise for both: we can achieve greater success by leveraging our strengths than by perseverating over our weaknesses.

In fact, as Seligman suggested, individuals find greater reward and feel a strong sense of accomplishment when they’re doing well. The opposite is true when they’re not doing well. We’re gratified when we succeed and often devastated when we fail.

That’s an important lesson for training and development professionals as well. Too often, organizations’ efforts are designed to coach and train employees to overcome flaws:

  • Improving Customer Services
  • Improving Communication Skills
  • Improving … the list goes on!

Of course, it’s important to ensure that employees have the skills they need to perform effectively in their jobs. However, too often opportunities for employee development are overlooked when the focus is not on what they do well but on areas where they are weak.

As Marcus Buckingham wrote in a post for Harvard Business Review, “If we want employees to take responsibility for their own performance and development, what better place to start than with their particular strengths?” He adds, though, that this doesn’t mean we should ignore areas where employees have opportunities to improve. “It simply means acknowledging that my weaknesses are actually my ‘areas of least opportunity for growth.’”

Take a look at the training programs and resources you’re offering to employees and at your performance evaluation processes. Are you overly focused on the negative? Is there opportunity to instead find ways to help employees build their areas of strength?

What might your training and development program look like if you placed a greater emphasis on enhancing employee strengths?