From the time our first report cards are sent home to Mom and Dad, we’re taught to focus on overcoming weaknesses. Our grades are lined up in a nice, neat column, and—unless they’re straight A’s—we wonder what we can improve on to become good students next semester. We graduate, get jobs, and soon are striving to be good employees. If only the business world had advanced past the “needs improvement” mentality—but professionals still burn up untold hours attempting to fill gaps, change our fellow employees, and address shortfalls in ourselves and our teams.
Tom Rath, best-selling author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, warns that much of this is simply a waste of time. He believes that, if you spend your life attempting to be good at everything, there’s no chance you’ll be great at anything. “Part of it is just math,” he recently told me. “If you’re trying to be perfectly well-rounded, you just don’t have the time to dedicate to something and become truly great.”
I had the opportunity to interview Rath for APICS magazine in anticipation of him presenting the Monday morning general session at APICS 2013. Truthfully, I was first offered a different assignment, but I requested a swap. After taking the StrengthsFinder assessment back in 2009, I was—yes, I admit it—geeking out at the idea of speaking to Rath. The fact is, StrengthsFinder 2.0 was not just a useful tool for both my team and me, but it also was the permission I needed to fully embrace my inner editor.
One of my strength themes is “Maximizer.” Natural maximizers feel that taking something from poor to acceptable requires a great deal of energy and is not very satisfying; however, transforming something strong into something superb takes just as much work but is significantly more rewarding. As managing editor of APICS magazine, this strength is what makes me effective at identifying diamond-in-the-rough articles that have the potential to be excellent—after the ol’ red pen treatment, of course. And when evaluating APICS 2013 educational session speaker materials for my work with the APICS Foundation, maximization is what drives my commitment to producing content that is truly meaningful for our conference attendees.
The assessment helped me channel my maximizer quality—along with my other strengths at communication and activation. The result was actually feeling happier and more engaged at my job. And when you consider the clear relationship between employee engagement and performance levels, this outcome is also a big positive for my team. Rath is enthusiastic about the benefits of employee engagement through talent development, noting that StrengthsFinder was designed to help teams excel.
StrengthsFinder helps teams identify who should do what tasks, communicate with each other, overcome difficulties, and make sure there is a good balance of expertise. The assessment sets these benefits in motion via an online tool that presents pairs of statements and asks each team member to identify the one with which he or she most agrees. It is rarely a simple choice. The test will even time out if you spend too long on a certain statement—but, interestingly, it takes into account your inability to choose when revealing your top strengths.
Some people enjoy the reveal; others are surprised or disappointed. But Rath notes that it’s not necessary to embrace all five strengths. In fact, he’s seen people build highly successful organizations by just owning and focusing on a single skill. “What matters most is that people identify with even one or two of their themes and find ways to build upon that,” he told me. “That’s the essence of it.”
Have you discovered your top five strengths? How can you apply them to enhance your role as a supply chain and operations management professional? How can revealing strengths advance your teams and your organization as a whole?