Leaders recognize that human capital is one of the most valuable and dynamic resources available. However, with recent studies showing that more than 70 percent of employees are feeling disengaged in the workplace, it is vital to position play your key talent.

This is a core concept for any sports coach. It is why the coaching staff will assess their players based on natural ability, skill and a host of other attributes. Their priority is to place the key player in the key position in order to succeed.

Can you recall a time when a talented individual – a colleague, a boss or you – was cast in the wrong role? How did it work out? I am sure the results were not great, and the person’s experience was much the same! But why? The simple answer is that he or she (or you) was trying to climb a tree when he or she was actually made to swim!

This scenario is illustrated in a popular cartoon where an elephant, monkey, penguin, seal, fish, dog and bird are lined up in front of a tree before a human, who is seated behind a desk. The human looks at the animals and says, “For a fair selection everybody has to take the same exam: Please climb that tree.” The monkey smiles, while the other animals all have faces of dismay.

Engagement and Strengths

According to the VIA Institute’s 2015 study on character, employees who believe their managers can name their strengths are 71 percent more likely to feel engaged and energized. The institute’s chairman, Neal H. Mayerson, Ph.D., said, “There is an important trend occurring in the American workplace that can be characterized as ‘moving from what’s wrong to what is strong.’ In increasing numbers, employees and managers are recognizing the importance of building upon their strengths as an important pathway to better performance.”

A 2014 Gallup study showed that people who used their strengths every day were six times more likely to be engaged on the job. The study also found that only 3 percent of respondents set weekly goals for themselves that reflected their strengths. Worse yet, their managers and organizations weren’t supporting efforts to build their strengths either. A Gallup writer said, “When employees feel that their company cares and encourages them to make the most of their strengths, they are more likely to respond with increased discretionary effort, a stronger work ethic, and more enthusiasm and commitment.”

Finding That Groove

Leaders must invest energy to consciously recognize a team member’s authentic groove. Does this process take time? Yes. Does it mean taking a more holistic and integrated view of a team? Yes. Is it easy? No.

Why does it matter? Because while showcasing individual talent is good, harnessing individual talent across a team is phenomenal. It will not only yield better results, but it can also boost employee retention, which, according to the 2016 SHRM/Globoforce employee recognition survey, is HR executives’ greatest concern.

How can you help your team reach that authentic spot? Here are three steps to consider.

1. Inventory

Inventory is a two-step process. The discovery phase includes regular conversations with your team members to discuss their strengths, understand their natural abilities and then consider how best to deploy them. The second step is field observations to see how those strengths are applied and how they can be amplified or refined. The key is to observe objectively, not critically. The goal is to understand the individual’s strength, put him or her in a position to use it, and then see how it integrates with the rest of your team.

2. Empowerment

The leader’s responsibilities are to outline the vision and objectives, assemble a capable team, provide resources, and then empower the team to complete the job on time and within budget. Among those responsibilities, empowerment is critical to the long-term loyalty and satisfaction of employees who are best positioned by their strengths. This empowerment demonstrates trust and appreciation for what each of your team members brings to the table.

3. Consistency

Change rarely occurs because of one singular event but rather through the course of numerous consistent actions over time – consistent communication, feedback, planning, or even role positioning for projects and assignments. Remember that spikes of managerial interest and focus will only deliver spikes of employee performance and engagement.

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