Raise Productivity – Build on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

Raise Productivity – Build on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

by  Andrew Cooke, Growth & Profit Solutions

Raising ProductivityToo often in business we focus on our business’ and staff’s weaknesses.  The reasoning is that by addressing our weaknesses we can improve.  This is a fallacy.  The only way that you can improve and raise performance on a sustainable basis is by building on your strengths.

Let’s look at it diagrammatically.

 

Building on Weaknesses

In this first chart we are looking to address a weakness.  This weakness means that we are currently performing below the level of performance that is expected.  We spend time, effort, resources and money on this and we raise the level of performance – but only to the expected level of performance.  The risk here is that, despite your best efforts, this may not be sustainable as once the pressure is off the individuals they may revert to their old habits

Building on Strengths

In this second chart we are looking to build on and leverage a strength.  Currently we are operating the level of performance that is expected.  We spend time, effort, resources and money on building  this and we raise the level of performance – to a level of performance significantly above that which is expected.  As this is a strength, and a good habit that is in place, it is likely that this improvement will be sustainable – even when the pressure is off the individuals.  Here people are working smarter, not harder, in a way that is aligned with what they do well making it on-going.

The Implications

So what does this mean for us as leaders and managers?

Firstly, invest more effort, time and resources in developing your best people – not your mediocre people.

Secondly, and this many seems counter-intuitive,  but it pays to assign the best workers to the best bosses because that strategy results in the largest productivity gains.

For example, if 75% of your business’ value/productivity comes from 25% of the workforce then getting a 10% improvement from your top 25% means you’ve increased organizational value creation by 7.5%. Not bad. Your remaining 75% would have to boost their collective productivity by 30% — triple the top performer’s rate — to match that 7.5% net increase.

What’s the better and more rational bet? That top management can get a 10% spike from their top people? Or that they can get the demonstrably less talented, less capable, less productive three-quarters of their enterprise to dramatically increase their value outputs by almost a third? Which group would you invest in? I know where I’d put my money.

So What Do You Do?

Firstly, leverage your business and key performers’ strengths and make it into a virtuous cycle.  Secondly, don’t ignore the weaknesses – but remember it shouldn’t be the squeaky wheel that gets the oil and the attention.  You have limited resources; use them to the best effect.  Thirdly, look at how you can remove the weaknesses – either by changing people to roles where they are better suited, training (if it can produce sustainable improvement and after investments in your areas of strength), or removing them (take out the dead wood and non-performers).

A recent piece of research entitled The Value of Bosses from the National Bureau of Economic Research empirically argued (unsurprisingly) that bosses matter. Better bosses generate better results. Underlying this were two findings:

  1. That the most significant impact bosses had didn’t come from their motivational skills, but from teaching workers how to be more productive, i.e. capability building. That’s important.  Research showed that replacing a supervisor from the bottom 10% of the pool with one from the top 10%  increases output about as much as adding a 10th worker to a nine-worker team. Not only that, but about two-thirds of the productivity boost from working under a good supervisor persists even after the worker switches bosses.
  2. The second finding is that the most efficient structure is to assign the best workers to the best bosses rather than have the best bosses bring the weakest workers up to speed.

So to raise productivity on a sustainable basis build on your staff’s strengths, in doing this the business’ leaders and managers need to be able to teach their teams how to become more productive, and to cascade this skill and associated capabilities throughout the business.

What are you doing to enable your leaders and managers to practically develop these skills, so that they can develop them in others?  For ideas, insights and any questions please email me or comment here.

Share your knowledge, share the wealth!

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

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2 thoughts on “Raise Productivity – Build on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

  1. Afraid Mr Cooke I cannot agree with your recommendation. From my experience we simply cannot afford to overlook our wekanesses and concentrate solely on strengths. This has been a proposition put forward many times, mostly from HR folk who are addressing the concern about Staff reactions to having their weaknesses dealt with.

    I have always believed a weakness is an opportunity in waiting. See, you can have the greatest product or service ever envisaged, with distribution lines to die for, but all to no avail if your credit control is not up to standard………..or your Staff do not have the best ineterests of customers as their man focus.

    I am further encouraged in this thinking by the countless examples from everywhere, reminding us of how a weakness overcome can result in a strength in itself. Product and service evolution does this………we find a compeltitor with a better productg or service than ours [a weakness]………so we address that by doing or making something better.

    By all means look to our strengths first, to get involvement. Staff are always happier working with something that is successful, but once they have engaged it is imperative they then move to making improvements where things are not so successful. This serves as a valuable learning/growth opportunity for Staff in helping them deal with………..not perhaps adversity………difficult situations. After all as Bill Gates said at a High School presentation, life is not fair,never was. Get used to it. Helping folk work through ‘tricky’ times can only be beneficial to all.

    Cheers.

    1. The key point here is about how we can achieve sustainable growth and improvement. Often the focus is too much on what we need to correct to improve, rather than what we do well. We often see this in management where staff are frequently told what they need to improve but rarely ‘caught doing things right’ and told what they are doing well. We need to have balance in this, as you rightly point out, but we do not have it at that moment – we focus on weaknesses rather than strengths.

      Weaknesses do have value and use – but they do not provide the foundation in themselves for building a robust and sustainable business. What we do see, with successful people and organisations, is their being able to identify the root cause of the weakness, address it and innovate on it so that it leverages their strengths or they build/acquire the strengths to do so – but they are not building it on the weakness but on the solution.

      Ongoing improvement to what you are doing well is essential. I am a great advocate for continuous improvement, otherwise we run the risk of stagnation, being passed by our competition or becoming irrelevant – but it needs to be practically realistically focused. Being a better manufacturer of horse whips at the turn of the twentieth centurt would not necessarily help you when competing against the nascent and rising car industry. As such, we need to know our strengths and how to leverage them to achieve further strengths and opportunities.

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