In the business world, it’s that time of year again: time to update our personal business goals, our individual development plans, or whatever our workplaces call it.
It’s also time to meet with managers to discuss our “strengths” and “areas for improvement.” I’ve always thought we’ve handled this process in an odd way.
When we discuss things we’d like to improve, we’re supposed to follow them with suggestions for actions—ways we can focus on improving what needs to be improved. And yet while we also discuss strengths, we don’t actually do anything differently with them; we don’t take any new actions as a result of exploring them.
Is this really the most beneficial approach to individual development? Will we ever really overcome our supposed “weaknesses” or get “good” at something we’re naturally “weak” at?
It seems to me like our strategy should be to capitalize on our strengths.
What if we followed the same advice we typically give to businesses looking to become more effective?
A business that struggles to make awesome user interfaces but excels at software engineering should produce more code. It should hire top software engineering talent. And it should outsource the work of UI design to more passionate experts, because that work isn’t one of its core strengths. This isn’t just a “business function issue”; it’s a culture issue, too. An organization intensely focused on coding will tend to attract programmers who have been coding for quite some time—and they won’t easily understand or appreciate the new UI hires. Those UI hires, in turn, won’t be able to develop what they need to make miraculous user interfaces, making the coders justified in their scorn. The whole thing will fail (I’ve seen this several in my nearly-20-year career in the software industry).
The business should just stick to its strengths.
Why not just accept our individual shortcomings in the first place, and allow someone else with an interest and passion in other areas to take charge where we’re weaker? The point isn’t to eliminate all weaknesses; the point is to know what your weaknesses are, then figure out different ways to deal with them. You can either confront and struggle with them (which is what we are often encouraged to do) or let someone else do what you don’t do well.
Quite likely, you’ve heard innumerable times that we all need to accept ourselves for who we are. It’s so true—much in the same way that businesses need to accept themselves for what they are. Accept that you have strengths and weaknesses, and use the strengths to deveop professionally. Don’t let jealousy or envy determine your development plans simply because you see a weakness and want to be great at something you aren’t great at (that’ll require so many precious resources!).
As you reflect on your goals for the year, don’t skip too quickly through an analysis of your strengths. Instead, look for ways you can expand and share them in the coming months (through coaching, for example, or workshops, or information sessions, and more).
After all, our strengths are where our interests and passions lie, which is why we are so good at them.