The value of inquiry, or powerful questioning, is well established and becoming even more relevant in today’s hyper-competitive, fast-changing, and unpredictable business environment.
The advantages are numerous and include:
However, studies show that leaders still use far more advocacy (i.e., putting forward arguments and imposing their own views), rather than engaging in questioning. This is frequently reinforced by the culture of the organization which encourages top-down ‘tell’ approaches to getting things done rather than listening, exploration and questioning. Leaders commonly fall into the “trap or illusion of expertise”. This happens when they feel they possess superior expertise and should have all the answers by virtue of their position and/or experience.
In his book “Humble Inquiry”, leading business author and psychologist, Edgar Schein, defines inquiry as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” This definition underscores the importance of being curious and asking open-ended questions to help improve the quality of problem-solving, overcome challenges and unlock a growth mindset.
In my coaching and leadership development work over several decades, I have observed many leaders make huge strides in the way they lead and influence others through focusing more time and effort on questioning rather than advocacy in regular 1-1 check-ins with employees, team and project meetings, coaching conversations, negotiations, customer interactions and other common interpersonal situations.
Asking powerful questions is natural to all of us, it’s something young children discover early on to facilitate learning and growth. However, adults (including leaders) often neglect this skill when they move beyond childhood. The good news is that it can be re-learned if practiced consciously and regularly.
To master the art of powerful questioning, you first need to build up your arsenal of powerful questions. In doing so, the following principles are important to keep in mind:
To help improve your questioning skill and behaviours, we have listed below examples of powerful questions you can ask in different situations.
Planning a new strategy
Onboarding a new hire
Developing your leadership effectiveness
The art of powerful questioning is at the heart of effective leadership. It enables leaders to unlock the ideas, perspectives, and talents of those they are seeking to lead. It also helps leaders build strong relationships of trust, candour, and openness. So, if you want to be a great rather than a mediocre leader, start asking more powerful questions today.
Challenge yourself to improve your questioning skills and behaviours in a week with our 7-Day Powerful Questioning Challenge. You can access it here.
The technological revolution and speed of innovation is transforming the workplace at a rapid rate. Within this disruptive landscape, organizations are managing myriad challenges from global supply issues, rising operational costs and inflation to a talent shortage.
1. Facing a talent and skills shortage and an economic crisis
Post-pandemic, there have been record numbers of job vacancies. This has increased competition in the job market for employers, as skilled and experienced workers can be highly selective about their next move. Offering higher pay and benefits is one tactic to secure top talent, however, it is financially unsustainable and could make existing employees feel underpaid. Compensation has a role in talent strategy, but organizations need to use different levers, other than pay to attract and retain talent. One of the most effective incentives is work that offers development and challenge as it increases workers’ value and gives them an opportunity to meaningfully improve their lives at work and beyond.
This approach can also… [Download full version to read more]
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you as my successor as team leader for the Engineering team here at NetFlo.
It has been a great privilege to lead the team during the past 2 years. As I mentioned during your hiring process, the team has some formidable challenges ahead as the business scales and moves into new global markets. I thought it would be helpful to leave some guidance and principles that I’ve learned during my time in the role, having started as a new team leader myself. I understand of course that you will have your own aspirations, ideas, and style that you will be bringing to the role, however, I hope that this guidance may be useful to you as a relatively new team leader.
As my mentor, Helen, always says “teams typically fail because the leader fails to provide clarity”. When I started, I wasn’t explicit enough about my aspirations and standards for the team. I also assumed roles were clear, but it turned out that they weren’t clear enough. This created uncertainty, confusion, and in-fighting early on. Fortunately, Helen helped me to understand that clarity is a prerequisite for high-performing teams. One exercise she had me do was to write down what I expected from the team as a whole and from each team member. I then shared these expectations with individuals and the team, inviting feedback on any areas that were still unclear. During 1-1s, I created SMART (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and timebound) goals with each team member. The team did a similar exercise, during which we also clarified areas of responsibility. This flushed out several points of overlap and tension that we discussed and resolved together.
Give people something big and exciting to aim for
At the recent training I attended, we spoke a lot about the need to provide exciting and inspiring goals for the team. The trainer showed us an excellent video called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” by a really inspirational speaker called Simon Sinek. This explains why it’s so important to provide a meaningful purpose for people to aim for. Helen added another concept that I love as it’s got a very memorable name. She says I need to ensure the team has a BHAG, a Big Hairy Audacious Goal! The team loved this concept and we have started exploring how we can create even more value for NetFlo’s customers by integrating the latest AI technologies into the platform. The team seem very excited about this opportunity.
We’ve started to discuss the idea of our purpose as a team, however, we haven’t completed this work so it’d be great if you could pick it up with the team. We are using a straightforward tool called a Team Shield & Charter that the trainer on my leader program shared with us. I’ve attached a copy of this below. I hope it’s as useful to you as it’s been to me.
Promote a safe environment of challenge and candour
About a year ago, Raj (my boss at the time) shared a fascinating article about the research Google did on the drivers of high-performing teams. They called this Project Aristotle, and you can read the piece here. They found that the most important factor behind great teams is what they called “psychological safety”. This sounds like a fancy concept but is actually quite straightforward. It involves creating a safe environment where team members feel they can express themselves candidly without having to worry about saying the wrong thing or feeling they are undermining their colleagues. Of course, creating such an environment is harder than it sounds but I have learned that the leader needs to set the tone. You can do this by ensuring all team members have an opportunity to have their say on important topics and encouraging them to be totally upfront about what they really think and feel. This takes time, particularly with quieter, more risk-averse team members. However, the more you encourage and promote candour and constructive challenge, the more they will trust the team and share openly.
Invest in developing and stretching team members
Megan, our Chief People Officer, is passionate about developing people. She has taught me a great deal about the importance of developing team members during my time with NetFlo. She helped me understand the importance of setting aside regular time to meet with team members to discuss their development goals and support them to find motivating pathways to achieve these. Each team member now has a personal development plan and I have met with them quarterly to discuss progress and ways I can help them develop. Megan advised me to do this as a separate process, outside my regular performance dialogues. This ensures there is dedicated time set aside to focus on everyone’s career and development priorities. I have also learned the importance of helping people cultivate a growth mindset, or the belief that abilities can be improved through hard work and continuous learning. I used to hate failure myself as I’m a bit of a perfectionist. However, I now understand that failure is an essential part of everyone’s growth journey. I have explained this to the team, and we have openly discussed our failures and what we have learned from them.
Another lesson I learned from Helen is that people relish challenge, provided it plays to their strengths and career motivations. Challenging people in areas they really aren’t energized by can cause negative feelings and demotivate them. I, therefore, try to create regular opportunities for team members to put their strengths and skills to the test in ways that are motivating for them. This encourages everyone to move beyond their comfort zone so they can continue to learn and become better.
Be like Yoda
I used to fall into the trap of what Helen calls the “illusion of expertise”. This happens when leaders feel they possess superior expertise and should have all the answers by virtue of their position. However, I have now learned (the hard way) that I cannot possibly know everything. The real expertise and know-how rests with my direct reports and the broader team. To get the best out of people, I now empower them using active listening, questioning, and coaching.
Powerful questions have become my leadership superskill, as they enable me to be a better coach, communicator, and influencer. They help me to draw out others’ ideas and perspectives about how to tackle challenges, deal with change and deliver on customer needs. By listening carefully rather than telling them what to do or trying to persuade them that my approach is best, I also get to better understand their problem-solving skills, ability to learn and potential.
Some particularly powerful questions I now regularly use with the team include:
During the leadership training, we learned to apply a coaching method called the GROW Coaching Model. GROW is a mnemonic for Goal, Reality, Options, and Way Forward (or Will). Apparently, it is the most widely used business coaching approach and I can see why! It’s easy to apply and very effective in helping people become better problem-solvers, overcome challenges, and take ownership for coming up with good solutions. I thought that coaching would be very time-consuming, however, I’ve found that with a bit of practice, coaching conversations can be quite efficient and save me time later. You’ll find a more detailed explanation of the GROW approach here.
A year or so ago, Helen encouraged me to practice coming up with new questions to use with the broader team every week. It’s been a fun challenge and based on my last 360-degree feedback survey, has made me a much better leader and coach.
Provide constructive feedback
I used to really struggle with tough feedback conversations. In fact, I always tried to avoid these conversations hoping that the problem would resolve itself. However, this tactic invariably led to the underperformance getting worse and resentment building among other members of the team.
During a training program last year, I learned a great new approach that I have been using with team members. It’s called the SBI (Situation, Behaviour, Impact) feedback method. It is relatively straightforward to apply although requires a bit of practice before you can use it effectively. Use the following questions to guide your feedback:
Just remember to ensure you provide an opportunity for the person to respond to your feedback and commit to any change they want to make as a result.
You can also use this approach to give positive feedback so it’s super versatile which is one reason I like it so much.
Provide regular recognition and praise
Like many leaders, I am not very good at spotting and recognising effort and achievements in the team. After a very insightful feedback session with Raj, I realised the importance of giving regular recognition and praise. He taught me that everyone needs to feel valued and acknowledged, particularly those who are lacking in confidence or are new to the team. I am now learning the art of conscious observation to spot less obvious improvements in effort and behaviour, as well as more obvious achievements. I use my 1-1 check-ins and team meetings to recognise and acknowledge these successes using a variety of no and low-cost approaches, some of which you can find here. I also start each team meeting with a quick-fire round from each team member about the successes they have achieved since the last meeting before we dive in to talk about our challenges and problems. I find this lifts the mood in the room and raises our motivation and productivity during these meetings.
Encourage experimentation and adaptation
Given how fast everything is changing, I have encouraged the team to develop a growth mindset and be ready for change. To make this practical, the team has come up with the following ideas and principles that we now apply:
Manage your energy and time skilfully
I could tell when we met that you are clearly enthusiastic to get started. To help you avoid the mistake I made at the beginning that almost caused me to burn out, I would like to caution you about the high workload and conflicting demands you will face in this role. It can easily become all-consuming if you don’t manage your workload and boundaries effectively. Raj is a great boss but can be very demanding at times. Managing 8 direct reports also requires a lot of time and mental energy. So, make sure you create clear work routines and boundaries from the get-go. Allow yourself enough time for thinking, building relationships, and learning, especially during the first 3-6 months, when you are still learning the ropes. To maintain your energy and well-being, you will also need to prioritise and protect time for holidays, rest, and to be with your family.
I will miss the team but know they’ll be in great hands with you as their new leader. I think your enthusiasm, experience with some of the latest technologies and great communication skills will enable you to do a great job. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you want any additional insights or simply a sounding board to explore options and ideas. It’ll be great to stay connected.
Wishing you everything of the best,
Note: The company and all characters in the letter are fictional.
If you want help building peak-performing teams, contact us to arrange a meeting at email@example.com
As Liz Truss, the UK’s new Prime Minister, starts her challenging role amidst multiple crises, it is worth reflecting on the principles underpinning effective leadership transitions.
Leadership transitions are becoming increasingly common. They occur when executives or leaders move to new jobs in different organizations or when leaders are promoted in their current company. However, in today’s hyper-competitive and volatile environment, successful moves are increasingly challenging, even for the brightest and most experienced leaders. The failure rate of new leaders is high and growing. For example, McKinsey found that 27-46% of executives who transition are regarded as failures or disappointments two years later.
So, what are the key guiding principles behind successful transitions:
Start before the person joins
Onboarding programs vary in scope and effectiveness, but many start the process too late, when the leader has already joined the organization.
To accelerate integration of the leader into the organization, it is advisable to start the process before day one. Steps companies can take to do this include providing new hires with:
A thorough onboarding and transition plan for the first 3-6 months and inviting input from the leader on specific questions they have that they’d like addressed.
Leaders starting a new role, especially those who are external hires, need a clear understanding of what is expected of them by different stakeholders and constituents. To expedite this process, HR departments can provide new leaders with an up-to-date organizational chart and stakeholder map, reflecting other key stakeholders that will be crucial to the leader’s effectiveness. They should also ensure new leaders have an opportunity to meet their superiors, peers, and other key stakeholders as quickly as possible. Ideally, responsibility should be delegated to an executive assistant or senior administrator to arrange these meetings as a matter of priority.
It is also important for HR to include a 1-1 session with the leader in the first week to talk through key HR policies, the employee handbook and any implicit expectations, norms and beliefs related to the company’s culture. This will help the leader understand what is expected of them, including all the unwritten rules and standards that don’t appear in the handbook and policies.
Provide a structured journey to support effective integration
Studies show that ramp-up time for external hires is typically six to nine months. This time can be accelerated with well-designed onboarding and integration programs. But an effective integration program will also reduce costly mistakes and U-turns, minimize staff morale and turnover problems, and promote strong relationships with the leader’s new team and stakeholders. Specific areas that the program should cover are detailed in the diagram below. Key aspects include:
Be clear on the development support and resources available
Together with an attractive remuneration package and supportive boss, access to engaging development and career opportunities is the factor most likely to motivate and retain talented leaders.
It is therefore important to clearly signpost development resources and program that may be of value to the new leader when they join. These should be aligned with their development goals, learning style and career aspirations. During the first 3 months, the leader should have an opportunity to sit down with their boss for a high-quality career dialogue. The purpose of this is to identify specific development goals and a Personal Development Plan to guide their development and growth. The leader should ideally also be offered an internal or external coach and mentor/s to support their development. This highly personalised approach to development has been found to be particularly effective for leaders and executives in transition.
Plan regular check-ins and feedback
It is important to schedule regular HR check-ins with the new leader at least every month to check on progress and share any feedback you and your team are hearing. Similarly, the leader’s line manager should ensure they maintain a cadence of weekly or fortnightly meetings with the new leader to discuss progress, answer any questions they may have and provide appropriate guidance, coaching and feedback.
These check-ins and review points are also a good opportunity to invite feedback from the new leader on their experiences, observations, and feedback, including suggestions to improve the team, business and onboarding process.
Provide expert coaching
New leaders can often feel isolated, and feelings of anxiety, fear and confusion are normal. Expert transition coaches understand these feelings and create a safe space for leaders to reveal their fears, limiting beliefs and vulnerabilities. They can also provide a neutral, non-judgemental sounding board for the new leader to test out ideas and alternative courses of action before taking significant decisions.
By providing a structured process, support, and regular check-ins to discuss progress, organizations will significantly improve success rates for external hires and newly promoted leaders. This will avoid the considerable financial and non-financial costs (including declines in team morale, unwanted turnover, customer losses and reputational damage) associated with transition failures.
If you would like to find out more about our transition support and coaching for new leaders, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Typically organizations work extremely hard to identify and hire new talent…but then rely on hope when it comes to making their investment successful.”Scott Saslow, Institute of Executive Development
One of the unexpected outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a great many people re-evaluating their careers, their current roles and the activities which are meaningful to them resulting in what is being called ‘The Great Resignation’. We now live in a culture that must embrace transition as the norm and the greater transience of the workforce means that more leaders than ever are changing roles and companies, hence the issue of successful leadership transition becomes even more important.
But why is it important? It is a shocking fact that around 40% of executives are pushed out, fail, or quit during their first eighteen months in a role, and two years after executive transition, between 27-46% are regarded as failures or disappointments (https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/successfully-transitioning-to-new-leadership-roles). This is perhaps not surprising once you realise that typically, 90% of the total cost of hiring a new executive is spent on the front end with only 10% spent on the back end such as structured onboarding and coaching support (https://www.veruspartners.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Successfully-transitioning-to-new-leadership-roles-web-final.pdf). The war for talent is on, meaning that identifying, acquiring, and retaining talent is of key importance.
Many of us feel the impact of the past two years whilst living through a pandemic, when everything that was familiar changed and we had to flex and adapt to new ways of doing things; the landscape was recognisable, but at the same time, the way of living in this landscape was different and new. This is a great analogy for the executive taking up a new role; the skills and competencies needed are recognisable, however, the application within a different environment needs time, agility, and support. McKinsey defines executive transition as ‘the period (which can last up to 18 months) after an executive has assumed his or her new C-level responsibilities’, confirming that transition is not a single event, but a process.
A successful transition process is one that enables new leaders to become swiftly effective in their new role and to integrate successfully into the organization, it supports letting go of the old to identify and make way for the new. Without the right pillars in place, the transition process can easily be derailed and result in failure. The impact of a failed transition is not easily contained and ripples out to affect many areas. Firstly, there is the cost; research shows that a failed leadership transition can cost from 2.5 to a massive 20 times the executive’s yearly compensation (https://hbr.org/2017/05/the-biggest-mistakes-new-executives-make; https://www.ddiworld.com/blog/executive-transitions). This includes the investment in search fees, possible relocation expenses, signing bonuses and issuing of stock grants and options. In addition, a failed executive transition can have an impact on the business which lasts years, and when you consider the potential damage to the client base and brand reputation, and the impact on employee morale, not to mention the detrimental impact on the executive involved and the potential damage to their career trajectory and personal wellbeing, you have a situation which demands a solution.
The good news is that research shows that transition-acceleration coaching can halve the time required for new executives to become fully effective in their roles, and an experienced transition coach can increase the likelihood of successful transition by a massive 50%. (https://wabccoaches.com/2009/09/senior-leadership-transitions-what-makes-them-work-and-what-causes-them-to-fail/).
If you would like to find out more about our transition support and coaching for new leaders, contact us at email@example.com
Recent studies show that 30-50% of new executives and leaders fail within the first 18 months. There are huge direct and indirect costs associated with such failure. The price of a failed leadership hire is estimated at 200% of first-year earnings and includes costs such as wasted recruitment fees, the cost of rehiring, poor productivity and lost customers. The toll for departing leaders is also very high. It includes damaged career trajectories, lost earnings, a decline in self-confidence and significant stress. The blame for leadership failure often lies with organizations that fail to provide effective support, guidance, and onboarding to new leaders. However, the reasons can often arise from the mindset, behaviours, and missteps of the incoming leaders. Some of the more common traps we see are as follows:
Failing to build strong relationships
When leaders transition into a new organization or business area, they often invest too little time getting to know their stakeholders and building a strong foundation of trust, respect, and openness. There are often good reasons for this, including getting pulled into resolving urgent challenges and crises by their boss and a desire to achieve early wins and maximum impact. However, this trap is often the one that undermines a leader’s effectiveness the most. They lose important insights about the organization or business area they are joining because of their failure to connect with and understand the expectations, perspectives, and styles of key stakeholders. By under-investing in relationship building, they will also be less effective in gaining the support and commitment of colleagues, direct reports, external advisors, and other constituencies who are essential to their success.
Arriving with fixed assumptions and beliefs
Leaders often fall into this trap as they are keen to prove their worth quickly by applying their experience to achieve quick wins in their new role. However, what’s worked in one context often doesn’t translate well to another. Although leaders may be able to get away with coming up with answers based on their past experiences during the initial weeks, this approach is likely to backfire if it becomes a regular pattern of behaviour. People soon tire of being told by the leader how things should be done based on what they’ve done in the past. They will start to question the leader’s judgement and commitment to the team and business, thinking to themselves “if it was so great at your previous company, why don’t you just go back there!”.
Many new leaders are keen to make people happy and win their backing and loyalty quickly. This trap is aptly illustrated by what we are seeing with many politicians today when they make lofty promises to their constituents that they can’t ever hope to meet. Such behaviour causes leaders to underdeliver on promises (often unintentionally) because these commitments are based on unrealistic optimism, poor assumptions, and an inadequate understanding of the realities. This self-sabotaging behaviour can quickly confuse people and leave them disappointed, undermining their integrity and damaging important relationships.
Forcing through change too quickly
Occasionally, leaders need to act quickly and be highly directive in the first few months in their new role. This typically occurs in turnaround situations where fast change is necessary to save the business. However, such situations are fortunately rare. Most leaders have time on their side during the first 3 months to learn about the business and understand the different options available to achieve the expectations of investors, employees, the board, and other key constituents. However, many leaders still jump in too quickly. They try to put their unique stamp on the organization by notching up some quick wins. They don’t establish clear priorities, overextend themselves and fail to achieve anything meaningful. To avoid this trap, new leaders should prioritize impact over action, establish a few key priorities for the first 3-6 months and defer complex decisions that require in-depth knowledge and insight. By taking more time to understand the priority challenges and aligning key stakeholders with the change agenda and process, leaders are more likely to succeed in delivering strong results.
Listening only to the loudest voices
Any new leader faces a multitude of different views and inputs from diverse stakeholders. The leader’s natural tendency will often be to listen most to the loudest voices, especially if these people are highly influential board members or investors. It is important for new leaders to resist this temptation and remain neutral until they understand the political structure and dynamics of the organization. To do this, it is important to meet with representatives from all key stakeholder groups, including direct reports, front-line employees, peers, their manager, customers, and key suppliers. This input will enable the leader to make better decisions based on the diverse perspectives they hear and better understand the alliances they need to build to deliver their strategy.
Inadequate discovery of the context and culture
As mentioned before, most new leaders don’t need to make big decisions on things like strategy, people, and products until they have gained a good understanding of the organization and are relatively confident in their knowledge. Specific areas leaders should prioritise understanding during the initial 90 days include:
As well as asking for all data and records that are important to aid this discovery, leaders should use their initial months to ask open and clarifying questions to understand different stakeholder perspectives. During this time, they should remain curious, non-judgemental, and critically minded so they can capture the full range of views and insights while surfacing questionable assumptions, biases, and flawed thinking.
Where it is evident that an external perspective would be helpful to make a better decision about an issue that is complex or requires specialist expertise, the leader can solicit the advice or guidance of an external advisor.
Context is crucial to the success of any new leader. Most leaders have a unique opportunity in their early months to undertake this discovery process in a thorough and systematic way, something that won’t be on offer once they’ve settled into the role.
Failure to adapt strengths, style, and approach
Leaders have different strengths, styles, and ways of working. Most develop well-established routines and habits in the way they use these, particularly if they have been in a role and/or organization for many years. But they need to avoid the trap of assuming what has made them successful in the past will guarantee success in future, as this is rarely the case. When taking on a new role, they need to ensure they adapt their strengths, style and approach to the specific challenges and needs of the organization. For example, if they have been leading a relatively new team and are taking over a well-established, high-performing team, they should adapt their style to ensure it is more participative and empowering. If they tend to be naturally decisive, opinionated and controlling, they may have to intentionally dial back on these strengths to avoid them being overdone with a more autonomous and experienced team. By adapting their strengths and style to the needs of their context, leaders can avoid getting trapped in past routines and habits that no longer work.
Becoming stressed and overwhelmed
New leaders often rush into their new job with a high degree of energy and enthusiasm. Because of their desire to make a positive impact as quickly as possible, they put in long hours and invest a great deal of physical, mental, and emotional energy in their new role. The competing pressures and conflicting demands on their time can quickly become all-consuming. If the leader neglects the warning signs, they can become overwhelmed, stressed, and even burned out. It is therefore important for leaders to decide early on how they wish to manage their workload and what boundaries they’ll establish between their work and personal life. This involves creating routines, boundaries, and productivity principles, including allocating sufficient time for planning, building relationships, and learning. To maintain their well-being, they need to prioritise self-care, including maintaining sufficient rest, regular exercise, and a healthy diet. Additionally, it is important to allocate and protect time for their favourite leisure activities and to be with their loved ones.
By helping new leaders become more aware of these common traps and providing them with a well-structured, supportive, and professional onboarding and transition experience, you can mitigate the risks of leadership failure during the first year, when the stressors and stakes are greatest.
If you would like to find out more about our transition support and coaching for new leaders, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch the video below to discover how TalentPredix™, the next generation talent and strengths assessment system, transforms the way you hire, develop, and engage talent, enabling you to improve talent outcomes and unleash the full potential of your people.
Do you like what you hear? Sign up for our next training program here or request your free trial here.
Listen to what a few of our TalentPredix™ users and practitioners have to say about this next generation talent and strengths assessment system and our training program.
Do you like what you hear? Sign up for our next training program here or request your free trial here.
Your role in helping people achieve their full potential
A key part of your role as manager is to coach and guide your team to help them understand, clarify, and progress their career goals and achieve their full potential. Coaching is a collaborative and supportive relationship involving mutual trust, reflection and exploration. Through a process of discovery, goal setting, and focused action, it can facilitate extraordinary outcomes.
Specific ways you can support team members include:
Key Coaching Skills
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Against the backdrop of a tougher economy and market for talent, one of the biggest challenges for today’s organizations is how to optimize the talents, skills, and contribution of their workforce. To stay competitive and sustain growth in these complex and fast-changing times, organizations need to find smarter ways to improve not just the performance, motivation, and commitment of their employees, but also their intrapreneurship, creativity, and adaptability.
Yet studies show that most employers are generally not good at optimizing people’s talents, strengths, and potential. There are various reasons for this, however, some of the more common ones include:
Below are 5 ways employers can make better use of the talents, strengths, and skills of their people.
Discover people’s unique talents and strengths
If you don’t know what qualities really energize your people, then trying to help them perform at their best becomes a matter of guesswork and trial and error. Managers often think they can work out what energizes individuals by observing what they’ve good at. Based on these subjective and biased observations, they make assumptions about what type of work people will enjoy and be good at. However, there is sometimes a big difference between what people have learned to do well and what they enjoy. One of my first managers assumed I was good at detail because I had learned to do this well. She loaded me up with detail, which quickly demotivated me and became overwhelming, as detailed work really drains my energy. Because so few people truly understand their talents and strengths, the best approach is to get them to complete an accurate and scientifically validated assessment profiler such as www.talentpredix.com . This will reduce bias and provide people with personalized insights about their talents and potential, including tasks and assignments that are likely to boost and deplete their energy.
Align skills development with people’s talents
For an innate talent to be fully optimized and be called a true “strength”, people need challenging learning and stretch opportunities to develop skills and behaviours in their areas of greatest talent. In many organizations, there is too much emphasis on identifying people’s strengths, without consideration of how these can be fully developed and optimized. This is tantamount to labelling a young musician with limited talent a virtuoso without them having put in the hard work to develop the skills and experience required to play at the mastery level.
In most organizations, there is understandably a lot of focus on upskilling and reskilling in order to future-proof the business. By aligning skills with people’s natural talents, we can help them achieve higher levels of performance in areas that are most enjoyable and important to them. This more targeted approach will yield much better returns than trying to upskill everyone or making sweeping assumptions about who will benefit the most from this upskilling based on prior experience. We have seen how badly the latter approach can backfire in companies that persist with the outdated approach of promoting high-performing technical specialists into leadership roles without any consideration of their innate talent for building, motivating and leading teams.
Invest in hiring and training managers to be great people developers
In her excellent book, Multipliers, Liz Wizeman talks about the importance of managers who can amplify the talents and capabilities of those around them through positive behaviours including inspiring and showing strong belief in them, encouragement, coaching, support, and feedback. Studies show that these “multipliers” enable people to deliver results that surpass expectations. But these leaders don’t just grow by themselves. Companies with an abundance of these types of leaders carefully select leaders with the innate talents and motivations to be strong, motivated leaders. They also invest time, effort and resources in training these leaders so they are highly skilled in how to effectively coach, develop, delegate and guide people to achieve their full potential. And because of the leadership “trickle down effect”, great leaders promote the growth of strong and motivated leaders beneath them. This investment is the key to unlocking enabling conditions in your organizations where people feel they are doing their best work and thriving.
Design jobs and career paths that people love
The current speed and intensity of change means that roles and career paths are changing faster than ever. Many job descriptions are outdated within weeks or months of a new hire joining the company. In this rapidly changing world of work, we need to be designing roles and flexible career paths that aren’t too rigid and allow ample scope for evolution, learning and future-proofing.
In response to these changes, more and more companies are organizing around teams and projects rather than along functional lines. They allocate people to multi-disciplinary teams that work on a project in an agile way and then disband once the project is accomplished. As well as promoting collaboration, learning and diverse problem-solving, this has the added benefit of accelerating cross-functional idea generation and creativity. Other progressive organisations provide people with stretch opportunities that challenge them beyond their day-to-day tasks and activities. This provides added variety, learning and social interaction, enriching the work experience for all involved.
Another growing trend is for organizations to introduce job crafting which enables some scope for employees to personalize their job to make it more engaging and meaningful. Job crafting can take a variety of forms, however, the most common include giving employees greater levels of autonomy and control over the type of work they do, how they perform that work and/or how to find the right balance between their work and personal life. Job crafting is of course not without challenges and is not appropriate for all roles, however, the growing trend for employees to have a greater say in their work and how it is designed is likely to accelerate in future.
Provide people with positive stretch assignments
Studies show that providing people with stretch assignments can be a big enabler in unleashing their potential. However, not all stretch assignments are effective. It is important to align stretch assignments with people’s goals, talents, and motivations, otherwise they can easily lead to demotivation and even burnout. Managers should also find out what support, coaching and guidance people need to take on the assignment and overcome any fears or limiting beliefs they may have. Assigning people stretch assignments and leaving them to “sink or swim” is not positive stretch. Taking such a tough and uncaring approach can result in people feeling overwhelmed, unsupported, and reluctant to take on similar assignments in future.
Companies are typically not good at identifying and communicating stretch assignments. This often results in the most interesting assignments being allocated to the same group of favoured people in the business. And research shows that the most coveted assignments are not allocated equally between men and women, with men often getting the lion’s share of these. To avoid these problems, it is important to publicize key stretch opportunities, train managers and leaders to identify and initiate more stretch conversations and promote a proactive, learner mindset across the workforce so people can identify stretch opportunities in line with their aspirations and talents.
To overcome the tsunami of challenges and succeed in today’s fast-changing and volatile world, organizations will need to employ more effective ways to identify, develop and optimize people’s talents and potential. Businesses that invest in best-in-class talent optimization strategies such as those described above will achieve better results and gain a clear competitive edge over rivals. They will also innovate faster and be better equipped to seize new opportunities that sustain their growth and success.
If you would like to try out TalentPredix™, our next-generation talent and strengths assessment system, contact us at email@example.com