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Assessments put employee skills to best use

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A porcupine is not good at hugging, but it is very good at defending itself from predators using its sharp quills.

Those quills are quite an asset when applied properly, but they become a weakness when not utilized correctly, such as in hugging. You might wonder who would hug a porcupine, but actually, a lot of people try.

It is a common story. Bob is a great worker. In fact, Bob is so great that management promotes him to supervisor. After a few months, morale drops and the performance of Bob’s department declines. It turns out Bob is not a great supervisor.

The common thought from the trenches of many organizations is that Bob was simply promoted beyond his abilities.

Employers often fall into a trap of looking at their employees as either good or bad rather than looking at their specific strengths. They think, for example, that if Bob is a great teller, he will make a great teller supervisor or great personal banker. Such a mistake is easily made without a method for evaluating employees’ strengths and personalities.

There are many tools available for assessing employee strengths and personalities. In the interest of full disclosure, I have personality assessments as part of my own business, so I won’t talk about that tool specifically.

A good low-cost tool for employers to utilize is Strengthsfinder, an online survey that can be taken with a code that is found in every book sold in the Strengthsfinder series (I recommend “Strengthsfinder 2.0” and “Strengths Based Leadership”). The survey outputs a person’s top five strengths and details how those strengths can be best applied.

The general idea of any assessment is that you want to be able to utilize your people within their strengths as much as possible rather than trying to force them to improve on their weaknesses. Getting people to perform jobs that go against their personalities is like trying to hug a porcupine.

For example, my top five strengths are strategic, learner, activator, context and “ideation.”
This means that I do best in a job where I get to apply big-picture ideas based on concepts of the past. This also means that I would be terrible – and miserable – in a job where I performed the same detailed tasks day after day. I tend to excel in brainstorming visionary scenarios with organizational leaders. I am terrible at paperwork.

Author Jim Collins uses the analogy of a bus as an organization. A successful organization needs to not only have the right people on the bus, the people also have to be in the right seats.

The good news for employers of more than four or five people is that they likely have someone on the bus who will fit any seat needed. Often, these “hidden resources” are found in the most unlikely of places. That employee who has never really been impressive just might be a hidden gem who just hasn’t been properly utilized.

Putting an employee in a position where they can’t use their strengths is a significant mistake. An even worse mistake occurs when employers are unwilling to reverse these types of decisions. Managers are often afraid to “demote” a great employee who simply isn’t working out in a new position.

My experience with organizations is that while the person’s ego will certainly take a hit, in the long term, the employee will see a great benefit to working back in the job where they can utilize their skills properly.

One of the primary jobs of management is to get the most out of people by aligning their strengths with their job duties.

The lesson: If Bob shouldn’t be a supervisor, then don’t make him a supervisor – and don’t blame Bob if he doesn’t excel in a job that isn’t the best use of his skills. After all, it’s not the porcupine’s fault he’s no good at hugging.

Don Harkey is a professional speaker and entrepreneur who owns Galt Consulting and co-owns Leadership Book of the Month. He works with organizations to employ strategic systems that allow them to be more effective and find renewed passion and productivity. He can be reached at donharkey@galtconsulting.com.[[In-content Ad]]

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