By John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker, LLC, BV Staffing + Consulting
Gallatin, TN

Guided by the belief that good is the opposite of bad, workplaces around the world attempt to identify, analyze and correct their employees’ weaknesses on the presumption that that’s the route to becoming stronger. What if focusing on those weaknesses was actually a drain on resources? What if there was a way to build your practice on the strengths of your employees, instead?

Authors Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D., make exactly this point in their new book, Now, Discover Your Strengths. Buckingham was also the co-author of the bestseller, First, Break All The Rules. Together they tackle this misguided focus on weaknesses and show how working from the strengths of employees can produce a more excellent company.

Research underlying the authors’ assertions was done over a period of thirty years, by the Gallup organization and involved interviews with eighty-thousand managers around the world. Most organizations, they say, are built on two flawed assumptions about people:

  • Each person can learn to be competent in almost anything
  • Each person’s greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of greatest weakness
  • Companies who work from these assumptions also tend to:
  • Spend more money on training people once they are hired than on selecting them properly in the first place.
  • Legislate work style with a heavy emphasis on work rules, procedures, and “behavioral competencies”.
  • Spend most of their training time and money on plugging the gaps in employees’ skills and competencies, referring to them as “areas of opportunity”.
  • Promote people, i.e. offer the most respect and highest salaries to the most experienced well-rounded people, rather than those who may truly excel.

The world’s best managers, on the other hand, operate from these assumptions:

  • Each person’s talents are enduring and unique
  • Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.

Buckingham and Clifton provide the reader with access to an online profile developed by Gallup and named “StrengthsFinder”. Access is available using a special passcode that comes with each copy of the book. When you complete the thirty to forty minute exercise, you receive a report detailing the five most dominant themes of talent which, ostensibly, are related to your strengths. And this is where the book breaks down.

Up to this point, the authors are focused on the reader. In the chapters that follow the completion of the “StrengthsFinder”, however, they turn their attention to how the reader can more productively manage someone with strengths in one or more of these thirty-four distinctive themes. Therein lie two mistakes that undermine what otherwise might have been a very useful book.

First, as the reader you never get the guidance necessary to make the most of the results from your “StrengthsFinder” profile. Buckingham and Clifton offer no guidance or coaching in this vein. Once you receive the results of the profile you’ve completed, you’re left pretty much on your own to decipher how best to use this information for your own advancement.

Second, though they do focus on using the StrengthsFinder results in managing, they conveniently skip over the fact that once you – the reader – have completed the profile, you have deactivated the passcode. In other words, if you want your employees to complete the profile so you can work with them on their strengths, each will have to have an individual copy of the book. Neither the book nor the website offers any hint about how or even whether the profile can be purchased separately.

If focused properly, this could have been a very useful book. As it is, you’re left feeling shortchanged by it.

John Borrowman