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Managers should focus on employees' strengths

Leadership expert:

By Kevin Baldeosingh

Managers will get better productivity by focusing on their employees' strengths rather than by trying to fix their weaknesses.

This was the message from leadership expert and researcher Marcus Buckingham, who gave the feature address at the 2013 Distinguished Leadership and Innovation Conference hosted by the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad) in Port of Spain yesterday.

Buckingham, a psychologist who has worked with the Gallup Organisation and who has written seven books on leadership, said his research focused on successful people and why they were successful.

"I look at whether successful people talk differently from other people and, if they do, what does it mean?" he told the audience of managers and executives from the private and public sectors.

Among the attendees were Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine, who took part in a panel discussion later, and Chief of Defence Staff Major General Kenrick Maharaj.

Buckingham noted that successful managers usually had the same answers to the same questions. When asked how they knew they were listening properly to someone, for example, good managers gave variations of "The other person keeps talking."

Buckingham also said there were no great companies.

"It's a journalistic fiction, a financial fiction."

In any company, he pointed out, you find ranges in performance between one team and another, whether measured by profits, customer satisfaction, employee turnover, etc.

He provided data on a company with 3,000 retail outlets which he had researched, where some branches within similar socio-economic areas performed at vastly different profitability levels.

Buckingham's data revealed that the key factor which accounted for this was the manager.

"Great companies are built by local managers," he said. "All organisational cultures are local, so decision-making must be pushed as far down the organisation as possible."

Buckingham said his research had found just three questions which identified 92 per cent of the variance in performance between teams within the same company.

The third question was: "Are my colleagues committed to quality work?" But quality, he emphasised, had to be defined so clearly that, as Buckingham put it, it would "repulse some people".

The second question was: "Do I know what's expected of me at work?" and he pointed to the importance of real-time feedback as distinct from annual performance appraisals.

And the first question, which by itself explained 83 per cent of variance, was: "At work do I have a chance to do what I do best every day?"

This was the key to good management...focusing on employees' strengths and building on those, rather than focusing on their weaknesses and trying to repair them.

Managers who create this kind of environment for employees will have more successful teams and more successful organisations, Buckingham recommended.

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