Play to Your Strengths, but Don’t Ignore Your Weaknesses

I always thought it was interesting when, from a people management perspective, there’s all this focus on finding your weaknesses and fixing them. For example, let’s say I took an ability assessment and scored super-way-high 10-out-of-10 on Coding, but super low 1-out-of-10 on Giving PowerPoint Presentations. What do you think a typical manager’s response would be? “We’d better get you some PowerPoint Presentation Training!”. Or even more interesting, “Let’s have you give the PowerPoint presentation, so you can get some practice and get better at it.”

I mean, why? Why not just make use of my awesome coding skill and let me code, and go find someone else who scores 10-out-of-10 on PowerPoint Presentations and let them go give the presentations?

I have a lot of respect for the job of a sports team coach, especially at the professional level (bear with me, this is relevant). They are not there to play around with unproven managerial concepts. The bottom line, the coach’s job is for the team to win, to perform the best possible. So when the coach needs a quarterback, what does the coach do? Finds a great quarterback! You don’t take the defensive end and try to train them to be a quarterback. You play the team you have in the best way possible.

Focusing on Your Customers Means Using Your Strengths

What is your ultimate goal? It is to serve your customers, to deliver them the best value and quality you can, and receive compensation for it. Your customer deserves (and pays for and expects) the best coder you can give and the best PowerPoint presenter you can give. You are doing your customer a disservice by having someone who is not that good at giving PowerPoint presentations give the presentations.

You want to give your customer the best you can. And that means putting people into the positions that they are good at and want to do.

But Focusing on Your Long-Term Strategy Means Focusing on Your Weaknesses

But don’t lose sight of the long-term vision. Going back to the coaching analogy, what happens when it’s the fourth quarter and you are winning by five touchdowns? You don’t play your first-string, best quarterback. You put in the other quarterbacks so that they can get some reps in, get some experience.

In the same way, you can’t just find that one awesome PowerPoint Presenter and just let things be. There is still strategic value in having people do training and gaining experience in skills they are not good at. You need to work on your bench for multiple reasons, including scalability (to meet demand when your organization’s work grows) and depth (in case your expert gets sick, or finds another job, or wins the lottery).

So Manage Your Bench Appropriately

I’m not saying do away with training, or never letting people gain experience by working on something that they are not strong at. But be very mindful, as a leader and manager, on where people’s strengths and weaknesses are, and the sensitivity and importance of the various work tasks, and make sure you have the right people working on the right tasks. If you have a critical project, and there’s a critical task on the project, don’t be apologetic about putting the superstar on the task, even if it means matrixing or moving some people around. You’re not here to worry about hurting someone’s feelings, you’re here to deliver quality to your customer. I’m not saying be mean about it, but don’t be afraid to say, “This person has more experience with this task, so we are going to have them come into the project and help out with this task.”

This, of course, leads to another interesting topic, which is how you get the people with those strong skillsets. Do you invest in training and getting people experience and growing those resources? Or do you recruit and hire people with the existing skills and experience? But that’s a topic for another day.

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