It is widely acknowledged that teams will play an ever-greater role in the workplace of the future. To compete effective in a fast-changing and unpredictable world, organizations need more diverse, agile, and collaborative teams to tackle greater complexity and adaptive challenges created by disruptive changes and trends, including rapidly changing technologies, new ways of working and shifting employee expectations.
However, teams face a host of risks and blockers that impede their effectiveness. Many of these dysfunctions have been well covered in the literature and include things like poor trust, lack of clarity of goals and purpose, unclear accountabilities, and breakdowns in communication.
Perhaps one of the least known and biggest risks to team performance arises when team strengths are overused and this leads to negative, unintended results. Overused strengths occur when team members use their strengths excessively or carelessly and this unintentionally undermines performance, relationships, and results. For example, a team that has a high proportion of team members who are highly task-focused, driven, and decisive may end up driving results so hard that they overlook the importance of listening to others and exploring creative options that could generate better results. Because they are so focused on driving for short-term results, they may also fail to engage external stakeholders to support their plans, resulting in implementation challenges arising from a lack of commitment. Breakdowns in trust and teamwork with colleagues who are more creative, relationship-oriented, and considered in their approach can also arise, leaving these minority team members feeling excluded, ignored, and unvalued.
The biggest sources of this problem are as follows:
Failing to assess for personal strengths when hiring people and building teams often results in teams that are lopsided. For example, I once worked with a top team of a major Tech company who had plenty of leaders with strengths in Delivery and Problem Solving, but insufficient team members who were strong at building and maintaining positive relationships with others. This lack of softer power skills in areas like collaboration, empathy and consideration, undermined team effectiveness and results.
This problem can even spread to other parts of the business, as lopsided team behaviours at the top tend to trickle-down to other management levels. This happens because managers tend to demonstrate the behaviours that get recognised and rewarded by senior leadership. When some strengths are valued more than others in an organization, these feed through into the way new managers are hired, developed, and progressed, adding to the lopsidedness of the entire organization.
Lack of feedback
Feedback is crucial in order for team members to understand their ‘blind spots’ and overused strengths. Without regular, timely and balanced feedback, it is unlikely team members will recognise behaviours and unproductive habits associated with their overused strengths. In the absence of this awareness, team members are likely to continue to perform the role as they’ve always done, even when these behaviours don’t work anymore.
Stress and pressure
We see many teams, particularly leadership and executive teams, that overuse their strengths because of the huge pressures they are under from multiple stakeholders, including investors and the Board. This causes behaviours such as decisiveness, confidence, and more autocratic leadership approaches to be used excessively, leading to overhasty analysis and decision-making, groupthink (i.e., when teams start to think alike and make decisions that remain unchallenged) and careless risk taking.
Freedoms and constraints in the company culture can exacerbate overused behaviours. It is hard to forget the examples of Enron, Royal Bank of Scotland and more recently FTX, where rash decision making, and over-confidence were left unchecked because of a lack of company ethics, values and boundaries. This resulted in reckless and unethical behaviour that ultimately led to the well documented demise of these companies.
Teams can avoid risks arising from overused strengths in the following ways:
Teams should take steps to become more aware of their strengths and the behaviours that show up when they are used excessively or carelessly. By using a valid and reliable strengths assessment profiler like TalentPredix™, teams can build awareness of team member strengths and how these show up when they are overused, as well as when they are used effectively. By developing specific techniques to avoid overusing their strengths, team members can balance out one another’s excesses and avoid the downside of their strengths.
One of the great benefits of this strengths discovery and optimization workshop is that team members start to see their colleagues’ behaviours in a radically different way. Rather than automatically viewing problematic behaviours by colleagues as weaknesses that are difficult to change, they start realizing that some of these behaviours arise from their overused strengths. This provides them with a powerful new ‘lens’ and language to offer constructive and empowering feedback to their colleagues.
Problematic patters of overused strengths in teams often occur when a dominant strength or combination of strengths becomes the dominant way of thinking in the team – the ‘hammer’ the team uses to deal with every challenge it faces. In such cases, everything starts looking like a ‘nail’ and minority, dissenting team members’ views are steamrollered or ignored.
Teams can avoid this danger by hiring team members with diverse strengths. Studies show that more cognitively diverse teams made up of a broad mix of strengths, skills, experiences, and different backgrounds (including ethnic and gender differences) outperform those that lack such diversity.
Teams wanting to avoid overdrive risks should build an open culture of feedback where team members are able to provide constructive as well as positive feedback. It takes times and trust before such candid feedback conversations can occur which is why it is always a good idea to bring in an external facilitator to equip the team with the tools, skills, and confidence to shift to an open culture of feedback. Inviting employees and stakeholders outside the team to provide feedback on team behaviours as well as results can also help guard against excessive behaviours.
Teams that are naturally results-focused and ambitious are far more likely to trip themselves up by using their strengths excessively when they are over-stretched and in a vicious ‘do-do-do cycle’. This stress response means that these types of teams allow themselves little time for engaging diverse perspectives, planning and reviewing work and applying creative problem-solving. By helping these teams understand the dangers of this lopsided pattern and providing them with the support to prioritise their work, build resilience and apply creative problem-solving techniques, team effectiveness will improve and the company will minimize burnout, disengagement, and unwanted turnover of key talent.
We have highlighted the risks of overused strengths for individuals in a previous blog about this. Similarly, when used excessively or carelessly, team strengths can undermine results and damage relationships. Yet, the vast majority of teams remain totally unaware of the risks arising when they use their strengths excessively or in the wrong way. By implementing the steps outlined above, organizations can build greater awareness of collective strengths within their work teams, how these can be applied effectively, and potential risks associated with overuse. This approach provides teams with a way of optimizing their strengths while also mitigating and correcting excessive behaviours that may derail the team from achieving and sustaining high performance.
Getting high-quality, empowering feedback on your behaviour, performance and potential from your manager, colleagues and other key stakeholders is essential to improve your performance and successfully advance your career. It has significant benefits, including:
To get a comprehensive and balanced picture of how you are performing and ideas for improvement, it is important to invite feedback from key stakeholders beyond your manager, including colleagues within and outside your team, your customers, other superiors, suppliers, and other people you interact with regularly.
Below are three tips that will help you get better feedback that can accelerate your results, learning and career progression.
Avoid asking general questions such as “Can you give me some feedback?” or “How do you think I’m doing?”
Ask specific questions, ideally directly after the performance event. Effective questions include:
You probably already receive feedback from your manager. However, it if it is absent, too general, or not helpful, ask your manager for feedback and tell them the type of feedback that would be most helpful for you. Send them some of the questions above in advance of your next check-in and invite them to respond to these when you meet. Do the same with other stakeholders to ensure you receive higher-quality feedback.
Don’t take critical feedback too personally or get defensive. Instead, listen with an open mind. Ask questions to clarify anything you don’t understand. Remember that you are free to choose how you respond to the feedback. Your choices include acting on the feedback, taking time to reflect on it, or seeking additional feedback. See all feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Remember that giving feedback (especially constructive feedback) is not easy, even for experienced managers. It is therefore important to thank people for their feedback, even when it’s hard to hear or isn’t communicated well. Tell people what you value most about their feedback. If you improve because of their feedback, share your progress with them. This will build trust and open opportunities for more feedback.
Employees I speak to are often disappointed by the amount and quality of feedback they receive. However, this is typically because they rely too much on one person – their manager – to provide regular and constructive feedback. If you want frequent and empowering feedback, you need to be more proactive. Take matters into your own hands and build into your flow of work a self-mastery habit of inviting feedback from multiple stakeholders, as well as your manager.
– Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft
Investing in employees’ growth and career progression is becoming increasingly important to retain and motivate high-quality talent. Studies consistently show that career and development opportunities are one of the most important reasons why talented people stay with an organization. Yet, career development is arguably the most overlooked HR and talent priority in business today.
Far too many managers don’t invest time and energy in high-quality career conversations. This leaves people feeling undervalued and undermines engagement, morale, and performance. Some managers even undermine career development and internal mobility with demotivating practices such as hoarding top talent, engaging in favouritism when it comes to filling vacancies and actively blocking the advancement of people they dislike or find threatening.
However, encouragingly, most managers we meet understand the importance of supporting the growth and development of their people. They just lack the framework, skills, and toolkit to provide meaningful and high-quality support. Time is also cited as a major problem by many managers, particularly when top leadership and HR don’t establish career development as a core HR priority. However, the time argument is paradoxical. Without investing time in career development, organizations end up spending a lot more money and time hiring replacements for top talent leaving the business.
So, as the New Year begins, show employees you are investing in their growth and development by applying the following six strategies:
Effective career conversations require time and focus. They should not be reserved for the annual review, as this typically leads to a meaningless tick-box exercise. Rather, you should plan a cadence of quarterly (or at least bi-annual) career conversations that are separate from regular performance dialogues. In addition to these structured sessions, it is important to provide ongoing guidance, coaching, and feedback during your informal check-ins and coaching sessions.
Mentoring involves the transfer of knowledge and wisdom from a more experienced person to a less experienced one. Unlike coaching, which typically focuses on near-term performance goals, mentoring provides professional guidance and insights beyond the person’s current role. As a manager, you play a crucial role in helping employees understand the value and benefits of mentoring. You are also in an ideal position to recommend mentors within and outside the business, who may not be known to the employee.
However, mentoring can be done within the team and doesn’t have to be one-on-one. Peer mentoring and coaching can be powerful ways to facilitate the transfer of knowledge, skills, and insights. For example, you can assign more experienced team members as “buddies” to help onboard new hires. This helps to fast-track their transition into the team and organization. You can also set up small peer coaching groups (groups of 4-6 are ideal) to encourage collaboration, shared learning, and fresh perspectives around priority topics, challenges, or opportunities. These can either be self-managing or facilitated by a skilled external or internal coach.
Many managers make the mistake of providing well-intentioned career advice that falls short of the mark, as it is based on what motivates them, not the personality and motivations of the employee they are typing to help. A vital part of providing effective career support is to understand the unique motivations, values, and strengths of your people. You can do this by asking some of the career coaching questions listed below during career conversations. However, it is also advisable to use an accurate and objective assessment of work-based strengths, motivations, and values such as TalentPredix. This will pinpoint the top strengths of each of your people, as well as what is most important to them at work. Once you have this clarity, you can provide support and stretch assignments that are closely matched with their strengths, potential and motivations. The aim of any great manager is to magnify an employee’s strengths so they can excel in areas where they are particularly talented and energized.
Stretch assignments are one of the most important ways for employees to grow new skills and build confidence to progress in line with their aspirations. But an assignment that is seen as positively stretching by one employee might demotivate or undermine the confidence of another. It is therefore important to pay attention to each employee’s strengths, appetite for challenge and self-confidence. You should also ask them what additional tasks and responsibilities they would like to take on, as well as the support they need from you to succeed. To avoid any confusion about priorities, you will need to highlight to employees that their priority is to perform their core job effectively and any stretch assignment should not interfere with this. Talented employees will rise to the challenge and with your support, work out how to shine in both.
Employees get frustrated and demotivated when they are kept in the dark about career pathways, skills needed to progress and how vacancies in the company are filled. Explain to your employees the skills and capabilities they will need to progress and coach them on how to develop those skills. Create opportunities for them to learn directly from others by connecting them with colleagues in the company doing the jobs they want to do in future. Inform employees about how to find out about upcoming vacancies they may be interested in. Insofar as possible, ensure your vacancies are posted internally before they are filled with external hires. Nothing crushes the motivation of talented people more than seeing roles they believe they can do filled by external hires without being given a fair opportunity to apply for the role.
A key part of your role as manager is to coach and guide your employees to help them progress their career 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 better learning, career advancement and well-being. Coaching and supportive behaviours that promote effective career conversations include:
If you want to be a great leader who inspires, supports, and enables people to achieve exceptional results, you need to invest your time, energy, and expertise in helping people realize their full potential. This involves planning and undertaking high-quality career conversations; developing, and honing your coaching, feedback, delegation, and other key people skills; recognizing and magnifying strengths, progress and achievements and acting as a role model by prioritizing and progressing your own development. In today’s modern workplace, where unpredictable and disruptive change is the norm, there are few more pressing priorities than the growth, development and upskilling of the people you lead.
To be effective, feedback conversations should be empowering. They should provide useful, timely and constructive guidance to help the individual to change their mindset and behaviour. Yet, many managers struggle with feedback conversations, especially those that involve providing constructive or corrective guidance. They fear stirring up conflict and worry about undermining their relationship with the individual. They often end up falling into one of the following traps:
Avoidance – they avoid the conversation in the hope that the problem will resolve itself or won’t cause too many problems. However, avoidance often leads to problems becoming amplified and resentment arising from inaction growing among other team members.
Using the popular “sandwich approach” – they dilute constructive feedback by layering it between two ‘slices’ of positive feedback, at the outset and end of the conversation. This typically results in an ineffective performer selectively hearing only the positive messages and leaving the meeting believing they’ve got little or nothing to improve.
Over-criticism – they use an autocratic, critical tone. They generalize their critical feedback to the person’s performance, and even personality, rather than focusing it on the behaviour that needs to be modified. This is very risky, as it can leave people feeling angry, insulted, and demotivated. At worst, it can lead to a messy termination process involving claims of bullying and unfair dismissal.
Based on decades of experience helping managers and leaders deal with challenging feedback conversations, I recommend applying the following 6 steps:
1. Use a framework to guide your feedback – Follow a straightforward process like our AIM Feedback Framework™ (see below) to ensure your feedback is candid, concise and maximizes the likelihood of achieving lasting change.
2. Focus on the behaviour, not on the person – Ensure you don’t criticize or judge the person. Be specific and clear about the behaviour that you would like to see modified.
3. Keep it brief – Feedback receivers prefer crisp and clear messages so don’t overtalk, or provide lengthy, rambling justifications.
4. Give the person an opportunity to clarify – Ensure you check that the person understands the feedback. Invite them to summarize what they’ve heard and give them an opportunity to clarify anything they don’t understand.
5. Acknowledge the person’s concerns – Calmly allow the person to express their point of view and any feelings triggered by the feedback. Don’t react if they express anger or defensiveness; listen empathetically and acknowledge their concerns. If their anger persists, invite them to take a break to reflect on the feedback for 24 hours before reconvening.
6. Invite and provide suggestions – Invite the person to come up with options that will improve their performance. Explore these in an open, constructive way, without passing judgment or allowing your preferences to dictate the course of action agreed. Provide specific suggestions to help the person improve. To encourage ownership and commitment, ask the person how helpful these ideas are and whether they can think of any other options that might be better or build on the suggestions provided.
Most of us are conditioned to focus more on the negatives we see rather than the positives. This is what psychologists call the “negativity bias”. It is therefore important for managers to consciously learn to spot and magnify strengths and effective behaviours.
By giving positive feedback and praise, managers will promote progress, excellence, and employee engagement. When people feel they are valued and their progress and achievements are recognized regularly by their manager, they are more likely to feel motivated and exert higher levels of discretionary effort (i.e., effort over and above the required level).
What action did they take and in what situation did it happen?
“In the project meeting yesterday, I noticed you interrupted Joe several times.”
What was the impact of the person’s actions (on their RESULTS, RELATIONSHIPS, and REPUTATION)
People don’t intend to act in a way that undermines their results, relationships and/or reputation. Remember that their intentions are typically positive, even when their behaviour causes unintended negative consequences. Unless the evidence points strongly in favour of malicious or negative intentions, give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they intended to act positively in the first place.
“I was frustrated that Joe couldn’t make his points fully and we missed out on his valuable input.”
What does the person need to modify/magnify to strengthen their effectiveness and results?
Thinking about what the person can magnify is especially important when giving positive feedback on how the person can build on their strengths and effective behavioural patterns.
Offer specific suggestions and guidance to help the person modify/magnify their behaviour.
“When we meet with the team in future, it would be great to see you give Joe an opportunity to make his points without interrupting. You could also encourage him to contribute his opinion from time to time as we both know he is an introvert.”
The world of work is changing dramatically, and the pace of that change is speeding up. Career development is undergoing a similar transformation. There are unprecedented opportunities, including new job types, improved flexibility, and the ability to learn in digitally enhanced ways that are personalized to learner’s diverse preferences. However, there are considerable challenges too. Career pathways are no longer straight lines. Steady progression up the career ladder is being replaced by squiggly career paths that resemble an elaborate climbing wall. There are multiple, ill-defined pathways to achieve your goals and initiative, experimentation and constant learning are essential to find your way. Sideways, diagonal, and even downward moves are common. For example, we saw many employees prioritizing lifestyle over ambition during Covid. They downshifted or took sideways moves to spend more time with their families and on leisure activities. But for many, the promise of career thriving still seems elusive, especially in an economy which is slowing and where bills are rising faster than pay. In this volatile environment, here are 7 principles everyone can apply to achieve greater levels of happiness and fulfillment in their career.
Own your career and success
Too many people end up drifting aimlessly through their careers. To succeed and be happy, you need to exercise choice and responsibility over your career. For example, everyone can take initiative by putting their heart and soul into their job to show up and do their best every day. They can commit to doing 5-10% more than what is expected to stand out and attract better opportunities. They can also be a supportive, likeable, and helpful colleague and team player. Each of us spends around 90,000 at work and how we choose to show up and undertake our work is largely up to us. So too is the legacy and positive difference we create. Of course, we can’t control things outside our control such as our boss’ behaviour, the behaviour of our teammates, or the pay rise we get. However, we can control how we respond to negative circumstances, setbacks, and people we interact with. To get the most from our career, we need to take responsibility for it and influence it to our advantage. So rather than being a passenger on the journey, we need to proactively pilot our careers so that we get greater enjoyment from the journey and end up at a fulfilling, worthwhile destination.
Build your career around your aspirations and values
In the modern workplace, the problem for most is not a shortage of opportunity, it is having too much opportunity. Unfortunately, this opportunity is still unfairly skewed towards those from privileged backgrounds. However, we all have a growing number of ways we can make a living. We no longer need to stick with a job we hate or one that provides little fulfilment. This is why starting your career planning and development early is important. People who clarify their dreams and aspirations early have more focus and time to invest in making their dreams a reality. By clarifying what success looks like for them, they stand out and have more control over their destiny, rather than allowing external factors to determine their fate.
As well as clarifying your aspirations, it is important to understand our values and the role these play in helping us to thrive in our careers. Values are the core beliefs that are important to you and guide your life and career choices. Becoming more aware of your values will help you find roles, career pathways and organizations that are compatible with who you are and what you believe most strongly in. For example, someone with a sustainability/social responsibility value might find it difficult to work for a tobacco firm. Values also help us to navigate career turning points, challenges, and dilemmas more effectively. By staying true to our values, we can maintain our internal balance, authenticity, and sense of fulfilment.
Discover and optimize your strengths
Every successful person builds their career around their strengths. Rather than trying to fit in, they work hard to shine in areas where they can stand out. As the famous management guru, Peter Drucker said “first and foremost, concentrate on your strengths. Put yourself where your strengths can produce results.” Too many people waste their talent and energy trying to be like others or even worse, attempt to become all-rounders. But this is a futile mission. There are no all-rounders in the workplace. Every employee has strengths, weaknesses, and imperfections. Realizing one’s full potential comes from building awareness of your innate talents and taking action to turn these into standout strengths that produce outstanding results. This happens when you put in the hard work and practice to build relevant skill, experience, and agility in your areas of greatest talent. Of course, we must also learn to overcome limiting weaknesses to improve our performance and prevent failure. The strengths approach empowers us to explore creative ways to use our strengths to overcome weaker areas and behaviours that may limit our success. Employing strengths-based thinking also promotes greater collaboration with diverse colleagues who have strengths in areas where we are weaker.
Overcome self-limiting beliefs and assumptions
To be successful and happy, we need to believe in ourselves. However, most of us have inner ‘gremlins’ such as poor self-confidence or imposter syndrome (i.e., where people doubt their competence and past successes and live in fear of being exposed as a fraud) that can limit our progress and success. Author and performance coach, Tim Gallway, explains the origins of these limiting assumptions and belief using the metaphor of an “inner game” playing out in people’s minds. He maintains that for people to perform effectively, they need to learn to silence their inner critic and channel it productively into non-judgemental awareness and learning. The best protection against limiting assumptions and beliefs is awareness. Once we understand how these inner critics limit our success, we can develop strategies to change how we respond to them. For example, I was taught as a young boy that to become successful, one should work independently. This narrative become deeply internalized in my psyche and led to me trying to do too much myself, without calling on the support of others. Through greater self-awareness, feedback and mentoring during my mid 20’s when I become a team leader, I become aware of how much this assumption was limiting my progress. I realised that if I wanted to achieve my aspirations, I would need to build and lead teams of people who were stronger than me in different areas.
Embrace learning and growth
Too many people stall their careers by playing it safe and staying within their comfort zone. Others inhibit their learning and progress by being complacent, resisting change, or getting defensive when they receive feedback.
Today’s fast-changing organizations are looking for people who have a strong growth mindset and are open to learning, upskilling and adaptation. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft refers to these people as “learn it all’s”. One of the keys to career thriving is to develop what Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a “craftsman mindset”. This involves asking the question “what can I offer the world?” and continuously honing your skills and capabilities to create value, stand out and remain relevant.
Improving your ability to learn and adapt involves the following 4 behaviours:
Invest in building a strong support network
Who you surround yourself with really matters to your energy, growth, and ultimate success. As we have seen from the recent Football World Cup, nobody can succeed on their own in a competitive performance environment. Even superstars like Messi and Mbappe need a strong team around them to be at their best.
To achieve success, it is important to build what we refer to in our training as a Personal Career Board. This ‘board’ should ideally comprise a diverse group of people (including your manager, partner, peers, etc.), each of whom plays a different role in helping you achieve your career goals. These people should ideally exemplify the behaviours and qualities you are looking to develop and at least some should be in roles you aspire to hold in future. Key roles people on your board can play include mentor, coach, encourager, confidant, educator, counsellor, therapist, etc. We always recommend that people wanting to accelerate their progression prioritise finding a mentor and coach (if their manager is not an effective coach). While the term “mentoring” and “coaching” are often used interchangeably, there are some differences. A mentor is typically a more experienced person who offers wisdom, guidance, and experience to their protégé in a less formal, structured relationship. Studies show that mentoring can significantly enhance rates of learning and career progression. Investing in a mentor and other relationships will provide you with valuable insights, support, diverse perspectives, encouragement, and feedback. By building strong relationships of trust and respect with these people, they are also more likely to throw in a good word for you which will help increase your visibility.
Manage your energy and stress
One of the biggest happiness traps is overworking. People who are ambitious frequently become overinvolved in their work. They invest a disproportionate amount of time in their career at the expense of investing in relationships and their personal care, including setting aside time for leisure, sport, relaxation, their family, and friends. This can quickly lead to high levels of negative stress, undermine their mental and physical well-being, and in the worst cases, lead to mental exhaustion and burnout. It is easier than ever to become a workaholic in today’s “always-on” work culture. To prevent this, it is important to put in place habits and boundaries to protect your physical and emotional well-being and life outside work. Habits that will help you to maintain your energy at optimal levels include saying “no” to lower priority tasks, getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, regular exercise, eating a balanced, healthy diet, taking regular rest breaks, and reflecting on your successes and good things that have happened at the end of each day. Setting and sticking to boundaries to protect your personal and home life is important to prevent work squeezing out other important aspects of your life, especially in a world where the division between home and work life is becoming blurred because of virtual and hybrid working.
People who take control of their careers and do their best each day to grow their career value are far more likely to thrive at work, and in their personal life. By having a clear sense of purpose and building autonomy, mastery and connectedness with others, you will achieve greater happiness, success, and well-being. You will also build the positive mindset, resilience, and adaptability required to seize new opportunities and successfully navigate a fast-changing world of work.
In today’s hyper-competitive, complex, and fast-changing environment, leaders can’t be superheroes or all-rounders. Rather, they need to be people energizers, unlocking and multiplying the strengths, energy, and ideas of others through supportive, empowering, and inspiring leadership.
Based on decades of experience with leaders and research into helping leaders build more energized and peak-performing organizations, I have outlined below 6 steps leaders can take to become better people energizers and multipliers:
1. Unlock the strengths, motivations, and skills of your people
Great leaders know how to identify and unlock the natural strengths, motivations, and skills of their people. They encourage employees to discover and optimize their strengths by doing more of the work they are most passionate about. This doesn’t mean ignoring weaker areas that are less energizing. As well as highlighting and building on people’s strengths, leaders need to provide feedback to employees about behaviours that are limiting performance and help them identify strengths-based development strategies, hacks and workarounds to tackle weaker areas, so performance doesn’t suffer. However, leaders who are workplace energizers don’t expect people to be well-rounded. Rather, they challenge them to excel in areas of strength and encourage them to work with colleagues in areas where they are weaker, giving rise to strong teamwork and support networks.
2. Align people’s energy with the purpose of the organization
Organizations with a clear, compelling, and well-communicated purpose that is inspiring and exciting will find it easier to attract, hire and retain people. The organization’s purpose should describe the company’s reason for being and the value the business promises to deliver to customers and other stakeholders. A purpose is not a financial or numerical goal, it clarifies how the company strives to positively impact those it serves.
Below are some examples of compelling and ambitious purpose statements:
|“Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”|
|Intel||“To revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”|
|SpaceX||“To create world-changing technology that enriches the lives of every person on earth”|
|Coca-Cola||“Refresh the world. Make a difference.”|
By clarifying and regularly reinforcing their purpose and communicating how people’s roles contribute to this, leaders are more likely to ignite the energy and motivation of people who believe in what the organization is aspiring to achieve.
3. Become a genius maker
Leadership adviser and researcher, Liz Wiseman, pointed out in her bestselling book Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter, that the best leaders are “genius makers” who invest in coaching, delegating, supporting, and inspiring people so they can bring the best of themselves to their role. They take time to recognize both progress and achievements, personalizing this to motivate people and reinforce cycles of success. They are generous in giving credit to others for successes but quick to absorb any backlash or blame when mistakes or setbacks occur.
4. Remove energy blockers and demotivators
A crucial role of any leader is to identify and remove bottlenecks and blockers to effective performance and motivation. Some of these barriers are internal and arise from psychological barriers like poor self-confidence or imposter syndrome (i.e., where people doubt their competence and past successes and live in fear of being exposed as a fraud). Author and performance coach, Tim Gallway, explains the origins of these limiting assumptions and beliefs using the metaphor of an “inner game” playing out in people’s minds. He maintains that for people to perform effectively, they need to learn to silence their inner critic and channel it productively into non-judgemental awareness and learning. By offering support, coaching and encouragement, leaders can help people reduce these stubborn sources of interference and empower them to achieve more than they ever thought was possible.
The second group of blockers are work environment factors and include things like lack of flexibility, excessive working hours, unclear roles and responsibilities, autocratic top management, inadequate budget, and resources to do the job to a high standard, and low wages. Leaders need to work with top management, HR, and their peers to expose and find solutions to these blockers and put plans in place to minimize them insofar as possible.
5. Amplify connections and shared learning
Effective leaders embrace the power of social networks within and outside the organization to amplify collaboration, learning and positive energy. They encourage and facilitate in-person and virtual networking, sharing of learning, and collaboration throughout the organization, not just within their team or business area. They also promote regular and candid dialogue and feedback mechanisms with customers, suppliers, and other key stakeholders. This paves the way for creative problem-solving, innovation and solutions-based thinking, leading to better business results and sustainable growth.
6. Regulate energy
Too many leaders today are pushing their people to breaking point. This is exacerbated by the “always-on” work culture which is increasingly commonplace throughout the economy. Stress-related physical and psychological illnesses, including languishing, burnout and other work-related mental health problems are on the rise.
Effective leaders understand the need to regulate energy and provide people with opportunities to rest, recover and reflect. They encourage people to establish clear boundaries between their work and home life, disconnect and take their full holiday entitlement to relax and recover. They organize work to ensure people are not working at full pace continuously and prioritize opportunities to reflect, plan and review work using social forums such as virtual or in-person team builds, volunteering projects, engaging social events, and “lunch and learns”.
Just like a winning Olympic sports team, high-performing workplaces are dependent on the optimization of people’s energy, potential, and ideas. For leaders to be performance multipliers, they need to be workplace energizers. This involves identifying and developing people’s strengths, skills and potential, ensuring alignment with the company’s purpose, maximizing energy through effective removal of energy sappers and continuously regulating energy to maintain well-being and focus. In an increasingly competitive and fast-changing environment, energizing leadership is crucial to the sustained growth and success of any organization.
Effective talent management needs to be measured and not just managed. As the adage goes, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” When it comes to measurement, there are a host of different metrics you can use. However, we propose starting with the following 4 which are arguably the most important for any small to mid-sized scaling business:
Cost of new hires
Hiring can be extremely expensive if a scaling business uses agencies to fill most vacancies, as many do in my experience. So, it is vital to measure how much new hires are costing the business. This enables you to decide where to invest your recruitment budget and how to attract better candidates. Glassdoor, the employee review and insights company, estimated that the average cost to hire was £3000 in 2020, but this is likely to be significantly more if the candidates you need have in-demand skills or are at a senior or managerial level.
Cost per hire is relatively straightforward to measure as it simply involves dividing the total hiring costs by the number of hires for any given period. The total hiring costs should take account of external costs including job advertising costs, agency fees and pre-hire assessments while internal costs include referral bonuses, in-house recruiters, and in-house systems such as an applicant tracking system.
The best ways to reduce cost per hire are to use less expensive hiring channels including referrals, job boards and LinkedIn. You should also consider total talent solutions such as outsourcing, sub-contracting and offshoring work where project-based work and roles can be done more cost-effectively by skilled people outside the business. As a quick win, I would strongly recommend a generous, engaging and well-communicated referral program, as this can save a company a significant amount and generally leads to better-quality candidates.
Internal fill rate
This is, in my experience, one of the most important metrics for talent analytics. It measures the percentage of key roles (both managerial and non-managerial) filled by internal hires in a given period. For example, many top companies ranked in the “Best Companies to Work For” league tables aim for at least 80% of such positions to be filled from within the company. This is a crucial measure as it provides a good indication of your company’s success in retaining, developing, and progressing top talent.
It is important to note that it isn’t always desirable to have most roles filled by internal candidates, particularly when you are looking to transform the culture, strategy, or performance of the business. It is typically beneficial to bring fresh talent into the company to encourage diversity, different perspectives, and fresh thinking.
Retention of key talent
Many growing companies fail to measure the retention of key talent. This is a grave mistake as this metric provides a way of tracking how successful you are at creating the type of work environment that attracts and motivates top-flight talent.
It is important to stress that this measure is different from a general turnover measure which looks at what percentage of the workforce are leaving in any given time, typically each quarter or year.
While general turnover figures are important, retention of key talent is a much more targeted measure that looks at the turnover of your “A-players”, those who are likely to be the greatest contributors to your company’s success.
In addition to this metric, I would strongly suggest conducting “exit interviews” with all key people who resign to explore their reasons for leaving. This feedback together with engagement research (incl. focus groups, ongoing dialogue and engagement surveys) will provide HR and management with a good basis for making improvements to employee engagement and retention.
Number of employee ideas and idea conversation rate
For scaling companies to succeed in increasingly competitive, fast-paced markets, they need to create the type of work environment where people feel willing to openly share their ideas to improve products, processes, and teamwork.
However, in our experience, very few companies track the number of business improvement ideas they get from employees together with the adoption of these by the business. This is a big oversight as these metrics provide a good indication of the levels of innovation, commitment, and engagement of the workforce.
To get the most from their people, every scaling business will benefit from identifying a handful of critical talent objectives and metrics, such as those above, that are aligned with their overall business and people strategies. This HR scorecard will help you track and improve the effectiveness of your talent programs and initiatives, enabling you to derive maximum returns on your investment in people.
First developed over 20 years ago, strengths-based assessments have been growing in popularity in recent decades among people leaders, coaches, and consultants. This is hardly surprising given the considerable benefits they offer organizations across virtually every stage of the talent lifecycle. Studies show that when organizations incorporate strengths-based assessment and development practices into their people strategy, they can achieve significant gains in both people and business outcomes. The ROI of strengths tests includes improvements in hiring outcomes, performance, engagement and retention, employee development, career progression, teamwork, well-being, and financial results.
Strengths and talent assessments are essentially measuring the same thing. They are both performance-based measures of the underlying qualities that energize people and enable them to do their best work. The main difference is that assessments describing themselves as “talent assessments” recognize an important distinction between talents and strengths that is often overlooked. One’s talents need to be optimized through skill building and experience to deliver value to the organization and be regarded as strengths by others. For example, one of my top 5 talents on the TalentPredix™ profile (which measures 20 critical work-related talents) is Leading. This means I am energized by inspiring and guiding people to achieve shared goals. However, over the years, I have had to develop a lot of skills, behaviours, and agility in the way I use this talent so that it is used effectively, creates a positive impact and is considered a valuable strength by others. At TalentPredix, we therefore talk about strengths being “fully optimized talents”.
Unlike popular personality tests such as MBTI and DISC, strengths-based assessments don’t pigeonhole people into oversimplified, and sometimes imprecise, personality types and categories. Instead, they focus on understanding what’s unique and different about people’s talents and behaviours and how people can bring the best of themselves to their job and career. Even when people have similar talents and strengths, strengths assessments recognize that people will apply them in different ways, depending on their aspirations, motivations, values, and background.
After 2 decades of use around the world by all types of organizations, strengths assessments must now evolve and adapt to the fast-changing needs of a modern workplace. Yet, in recent years, we have seen very little evolution of strengths-based assessments. Like many well-established personality tests, it appears that strengths tests have been slow to adapt and embrace innovation. To move strengths assessments into the new world of work, our team has created a next-generation strengths assessment that examines how combinations of talents, values and motivations can help people achieve higher levels of performance, career thriving and well-being at work. To reflect the fast-changing, volatile world we now live in, one of our four talent zones measures “Navigating Change”, which we define as “navigating and responding effectively to change”. Surprisingly, none of the other strengths assessments on the market today measures this vital strength area in such a targeted way. Uniquely, our assessment also examines the specific behaviours that show up when people overuse their strengths, in other words, when they use them too much or in the wrong way. For example, when one of my strengths, “Creativity”, is overused it can lead to me coming up with ideas that are unrealistic and unworkable
Yet there is plenty of work still to do by strengths test publishers and strengths practitioners to keep these assessments relevant and value-adding in future. Some of the opportunities for further research and innovation include:
There is another important opportunity where we believe strengths-based assessment and development tools could play a vital role in future. We would love to see other strengths test publishers, HR and L&D practitioners, and voluntary sector organizations working more closely together to bring the enormous benefits of this approach to the growing numbers of disadvantaged and marginalized job seekers and employees. A strengths-based hiring and development approach can help these people by empowering them to present their strengths, skills, and other standout qualities to employers in the best possible light. Moreover, by valuing and developing their strengths, disadvantaged job seekers and employees will develop self-confidence, agility and resilience, vital attributes to secure meaningful employment and progression. There are dozens of ways to help these groups. For example, TalentPredix provides significant discounts to companies in the voluntary sector and contributes a percentage of our sales revenue to charities helping disadvantaged job seekers.
Strengths assessments are now widely adopted by organizations in the UK and globally for numerous talent applications, including hiring, employee development, team building, creating great places to work and career progression. However, after two successful decades, strengths test publishers and practitioners need to adapt and innovate their tools and practices to meet the changing needs of the modern workplace.
Click here to discover how we help organizations unleash exceptional talent and thriving workplaces.
We are currently experiencing a crisis of trust in leadership. This is patently obvious in the political arena; however, it is just as apparent in the business world. The decisions leaders take and how they choose to implement them impact the trust relationship with their workforce, not just in the short term, but for months and even years to come.
There are numerous reasons for declining trust in leaders in recent decades including corporate cronyism, offshore tax havens and tax dodging, prioritizing short-term profitability over sustainable growth and environmental responsibility and a growing income disparity between top executive pay and other pay grades.
Shifting demographics and generational differences are also impacting on workplace trust. Millennials and other younger employees aren’t willing to blindly follow and trust leaders anymore. In fact, studies suggest they are developing an ever-growing mistrust of authority figures and trust their peers more than the leaders in their company. This is, at least in part, because of the breakdown of the traditional ‘psychological contract’, or set of beliefs, perceptions, and informal obligations governing the relationship between an employer and an employee. Most employers can no longer offer secure work and career progression, so this ‘contract’ is breaking down. This is likely to be exacerbated in the coming years as the pace and extent of automation and digitization of the workplace accelerates, leaving many people unemployed or having to fight for temporary work as part of the fast-growing “gig economy”. Many millennials have already seen their parents made redundant which has made them wary of giving their unfettered loyalty and trust to organizations and their leaders.
Below are 5 steps leaders can take to strengthen trust with their people:
Pursue a higher purpose beyond profit
Recent history is full of examples where leaders have placed greed and short-term shareholder returns over creating sustainable value for customers, employees, and society. Many companies are still turning a blind eye to the impact of their short-term and exploitative practices, including paying employees (and others in the supply chain) below the minimum wage, using questionable employment practices, and awarding top executives disproportionately high pay increases and bonuses. Awareness of these practices among employees, customers and the public is growing because of increased transparency and growing global connectedness resulting from rapid advances in online media and social networks that bypass traditional borders and boundaries.
To build greater trust, business leaders should invite their people to shape a greater purpose for their organization that contributes to a better and more sustainable future for all. This involves establishing a compelling purpose, ideally one that benefits all stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, and society. By taking a multi-stakeholder perspective rather than a narrow shareholder one, positive leaders leverage additional perspectives, ideas and commitment for positive change and innovation that benefits everyone, not just the owners and C-suite. There are a growing number of organizations that are seeing the financial and non-financial benefits of building strong purpose-based companies. Most integrate sustainability goals into their purpose, not as a token act of “greenwashing”, but to ensure their business is prepared for the era of green energy and sustainability we are entering. Studies clearly show the value of creating business that are a force for good in the world. Great examples include Unilever, Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals and Patagonia.
Ensure transparent and human-centred people practices
Social media has immense power to expose people and companies which are engaging in exploitative, potentially unlawful, or irresponsible behaviour. By ensuring all their actions and decisions are ethical, fit for public scrutiny and transparent, leaders can build a culture of openness, integrity and trust.
When taking a decision that is potentially risky or damaging to one or more groups of stakeholders, leader can ask questions such as: “Would I be happy for my friends and family to see this decision, and the consequences, reported on a major social media platform like Twitter?” As well as measuring themselves against this type of standard, the best leaders ensure their employees are held accountable to similar standards, reducing the risks of unethical behaviour or a poor decision that can undermine trust, reputation, and customer loyalty.
Bridge the gap between words and actions
It is imperative that leaders’ words are matched by consistent and reliable follow-through so people can trust they will do what they say. If leaders don’t follow through on their commitments, people will quickly lose trust and respect in them. Even little discrepancies between promises and actions can undermine trust as it is a fragile bond, especially when a leader is new in role and they are still building up connections and trust with their people.
Tackle misinformation and fake news
One of the downsides of pervasive social media is that it amplifies fake news and misinformation. It is important for leaders to understand and tackle untruths and misinformation decisively by highlighting inaccuracies, especially if they pose a risk to staff or the business. They should ensure people have good access to reliable, fact-checked sources of information they can count on.
Be honest about bad news
Attempting to shield employees from bad news undermines trust and disempowers employees as they can’t help to tackle the problem. It is therefore imperative that leaders speak as much as possible from their heart, adopting an ‘open and honest’ policy when it comes to dealing with negative news such as layoffs, failure to secure additional funding, poor sales performance, etc. In this new digital age, the truth will quickly be outed if leaders try to hide tough messages from staff, as the rumour mill is now super-charged by online communities and social media channels. It is clearly always important to judge the timing of the communication and deliver bad news in a considered and compassionate manner. However, it is vital to be open and honest insofar as possible.
Trust is at the heart of positive leadership. However, in a dynamic, digital world characterized by information overload, misinformation, fake news and growing employee and stakeholder scrutiny, leaders are struggling to build high levels of trust and respect among employees and other stakeholders. By being open, transparent, decisive and collaborative, leaders will build stronger bonds of trust with employees to unlock their engagement, effort, and excellence.
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.