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Lessons from SHRM San Diego 2010


Lessons from SHRM San Diego: Do You Know Your Employee Strengths and Weaknesses?

The annual SHRM national conference was held in San Diego, CA this year from June 27 through 30. The national SHRM conference is a great way to network with other HR professionals from all over the world, and also learn from industry leaders and experts. SHRM announced its new theme which is “HR knows next.” In a future post, I’ll share some of the ideas about how HR can live up to this brand. Today, I’d like to focus on the conference by starting at the end.

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The closing session was a presentation from Marcus Buckingham, New York Times best-selling author, who wrote one of my all-time favorite management books “First Break all the Rules.” Marcus is a powerful and engaging speaker who made some important points about what he calls “strength-based management.” I took away three important points in his talk about creating a more effective way to view employee development and management.

3 Keys to Developing Employee Strengths

1. Strengths vs. weaknesses. Marcus clarified the differences between employee strengths and weaknesses. Strengths are not just what we are good at and weaknesses what we are bad at. Instead, he asked us to think about those tasks that bring you strength versus those things that make you weak. He said that it’s very possible that some of the things you are good at are weaknesses because they make you feel weak. They are the tasks on your to-do list that drain your energy and therefore you procrastinate doing.

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He suggests that we focus on finding what our employees find strengthening. And, that we find ways to bring those opportunities their way instead of focusing on the tasks that the employee dislikes doing. With this approach, both the employee and the organization function better.

He did clarify that we can’t get rid of everything that makes us weak – we all have to do things that we don’t want to, but he suggested that finding ways to minimize this in work is important.

2. Focus on strengths. Marcus said we spend too much time (especially in the United States) focusing on managing our employee weaknesses. We always want employees to improve on things that we think they are not good at. We write development plans, send them to training and have them work to improve what they are weak at.

He asked the audience to consider for a minute the power that could come from spending the same amount of time focusing instead on people’s strengths and find ways to bring more of those opportunities into their work. He gave a great example from his own life. He told the audience that one of his strengths is the ability to interview people. He loves (and gets strength) from sitting down with someone he admires to learn more about them. He also admitted that one thing he hates to do is “mingle.” He was once invited to a party with a very accomplished list of attendees and they had the opportunity to “mingle.” He said he hated every minute of it, even though he was very good at it, and thought if I don’t like mingling here, I won’t like it anywhere.

Because he is aware of these strengths and weaknesses, he has learned to work around his weaknesses by approaching “mingling” situations as an interview. He comes up with a few questions that he will focus on asking people at the event. This makes the situation more like a strengthening activity than a weakening activity.

3. Fit the job to the person. Marcus asked all of us HR folks to think about creating jobs around employees instead of vice versa. He recognized that this is a controversial point. We like to create template job description and fit people into these roles. But, if you believe in this concept – you instead of have to think about creating jobs around 1) what employees are strengthened by and 2) what are the needs of the organization. If you can find a way to match those two things up across the organization the impact can be huge.

I found this session especially invigorating because it aligns with my personal beliefs about management and driving performance in the organization. I think all of us can benefit from thinking about “strength-based management” and finding ways to incorporate this into our organizations.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more thoughts and ideas from 2010’s national SHRM conference in San Diego.


Stacey Carroll
Director of Customer Service and Education

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