Focus on Strength Not Weakness

“I’m not hear to tell you what you’re doing well, but to focus on where you need to improve.”

This was the opening sentence from my manager at Microsoft when we met for my first review meeting. The logic seems obvious, right? If you’re already good at something, why spend a lot of time talking about that. Instead, focus on where you’re weak and make a plan to get better.

This became my de facto standard for being reviewed and doing reviews. Not any longer. I recently read Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive. He wrote that the review process should focus on a person’s strengths and how to better utilize those within the organization.

Let me start by saying that people shouldn’t ignore areas of weakness. Poor communicators or time managers should work to become passable in those areas. Just don’t spend a huge amount of time on those improvements or strive to become great at them. With extremely rare exceptions, you won’t become great at a current weakness, and remember: “rare exception” means you will likely not be an exception.

The most likely outcome of working hard on a weakness is to become average or slightly above average at it. A company of average people is an average company and average companies do not excel in today’s world.

Contrast that to a company that encourages its employees to build on their strengths and finds the best ways to deploy that strength in the business. This creates a company where people are exceptional at their jobs.

This is how you build a great company.

The next time you’re conducting a 1-on-1 or doing a performance review, think about spending the bulk of the conversation on a person’s strengths and, just as important, how the company might be able to best utilize that strength.

In other words, say this at your next 1-on-1 or review meeting:

“I’m not here to tell you what you’re doing wrong, but to focus on what you’re really good at and how we can use that to make you and this company great.”

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