cover photo Reflect Blog
Ingo Kallenbach

Personnel development: focus on strengths or weaknesses?

The German saying "Stärken stärken und Schwächen schwächen" (strengthening strengths and weakening weaknesses) is one of the most common bonmots in the personnel development scene. What lies behind this? What is truth – what myth? Particularly the Germans seem to get pleasure from “healing” the weaknesses of others, even if it hurts. Is that really the most effective path to success? The renowned Gallup Institute investigated this question and carried out a study with 1003 employees. They had to decide which of the following statements they agreed with more: “My supervisor focuses on my strengths“ or “My supervisor focuses on my weaknesses“. All those that could not agree with either statement, were assigned to the catergory “Ignored“. The outcome speaks for itself. Although negative attention is still better than no attention, a positive focus leads to a dramatic increase of employee engagement. The number of committed employees was doubled if the managers concentrated their attention more on the strengths of their staff.
More positive effects besides the increased working enthusiasm were the result: Those employees who were able to introduce their own strengths into the assigned work to a big extent felt less stress, anger, worries and physical pain. The overall energy level rose. A focus on individual talents seems to make life easier. For the individual employee as well as for the complete company. This confirms the hypothesis: Strengths orientation is effective!


Fig.: Building on strengths or weaknesses?


Strategic personnel development

How can the positive consequences be concretely brought forward? Once more executives play a key role in this:

Step 1: Jointly identifiying the strengths of your employees. Often they are not specifically aware of them.

Step 2: Jointly formulating targets on the basis of their talents, thus, hepling them to bring their strengths closely into line with their role. Of course some degree of phantasy is required in the usual "Top down"- goal setting processes. In most cases the aims themselves can’t be influenced, but the way to achieve them can. Leaders can focus on the strengths regarding the "how" and can initiate corresponding development processes.

Step 3: The team perspective shouldn’t be ignored. Managers should demonstrate how the different strengths in a team are capable  of complementing each other. The more specialised the roles are, the more difficult it is to be realised. Nevertheless: By means of reflection and creativity sucesses can be achieved.

Step 4: For a sustainable implementation "talent advocates" should be established in the company to help employees to ideally apply their own strengths.

Classically, HR people play a key role here. Also conceiveable would be personnel diagnostic instruments that are given to managers and employees for support.

To bring it down to the point: It is worth building on the strengths of the employees. The weaknesses should only then be focused on if a competency increase for carrying out current or future work demands is really necessary. If not, the following holds true: By means of concentrating on strengths, performance and productivity are increased and absences are decreased.