Competent to Mediocre, or First Rate to Excellent?

I wonder how many of you reading this can answer yes to the following? “In our organisation we take the time to understand our people as individuals, what their strengths are, and how we can get the best out of them?” And what about this statement: “In our organisation we don’t just spend our L&D budget on generic training, but on training that is specifically tailored to each individual.”

This is what happens in a high performing environment. Is it what happens in yours? 

Focus on Strengths, not Weaknesses

Some readers may have heard of Martina Navratilova, one of the greatest female tennis players of all time.  She wasn’t always that great. When she defected to the West towards the start of her career, she certainly hadn’t distinguished herself by that stage.  So what caused the change? What transformed her career? Well, Martina worked out what her strengths were, and worked hard to enhance and leverage them.  She realised she was naturally athletic and strong, and so she focused on building up her strength and fitness. No woman had ever trained on those areas to the extent that Navratilova did, and it brought her incredible success; and at the same time she changed the face of women’s tennis.

We know from our knowledge of working across sport and business that this is an area where sport trumps business hands down.  Athletes are generally much better at recognising where their strengths are, and leveraging them.  Partly this is helped by the data that is available, pretty much immediately, on performance.  However, it’s also helped by a mindset that knows the benefit of doing this.  Another story from the 80’s era illustrates this well.  Daley Thompson, GB decathlete, was determined to win a second gold medal in the 1984 LA Olympics. Chased hard by Jurgen Hingsen, he knew that there was only one event, the 1500, that he was vulnerable in. So he went to see a world-renowned coach, and asked him about improving his performance in this weak event. The coach thought about this offer and told him that he wasn’t prepared to help him improve at the 1500m. What he would do was help Thompson become so strong in the other 9 events that the 1500 would become irrelevant. The strategy paid off. In LA Thompson entered the final event, the 1500, knowing that as long as he finished, he had already won gold.

Peter Drucker, the renowned management consultant, educator and author, has said that we should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy and work to improve from competence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence – and yet most people in most organisations concentrate on making incompetent performers into mediocre ones.

Understanding what you are good at, and placing more emphasis on this than on any weaknesses is also of course a central tenet of positive psychology.  It leads to elevated vitality and motivation, a greater sense of direction and higher probability of goal attainment, not to mention increased self-confidence and productivity.  (Clifton & Anderson, 2001-2, Hodges & Clifton 2004, Peterson & Seligman 2004).

How can this work for you?

So how can you take this concept and apply it to your organisation?  We use a simple but hugely effective process:

  • Identify your people’s strengths by using a robust and easy to take behavioural profile which is British Psychological Society-registered. The profile focuses on behaviours at work and provides a fantastic insight into how people operate and what strengths and value they bring to their roles.

  • Design a training programme, focusing on individual needs, with an emphasis on leveraging strengths. So we might provide some of your team with training on listening skills, others on effective delegation or presentation skills, and so on.

To finish with a more recent example from sport, how about this from Joe Root, arguably England’s best batsmen at this moment in time. Talking about the 12 month period where his performance really moved up a gear, he had this to say: “Peter [Moores] definitely got the best out of me, along with the rest of the coaching team.  When I came back from Australia I realised that a lot of the time I was trying to work on things I was not good at, putting all my energy into that rather than spending more time strengthening the stuff I am good at.”

For those of you reading this and saying “but what about the things we are not good at, but that are really important for our roles…?” Joe Root’s story has an answer to that as well – invite us in and we will tell all! 

Catherine BAKERComment