For Best Individual Development Plans, Focus On Strengths, Not Weaknesses!

The typical process that managers use to build an individual development plan for a member of their team looks something like this:

Step 1 – Identify what the person is good at.

Step 2 – Compliment that strength.

Step 3 – Identify what the person is weak at.

Step 4 – Build an action plan to improve the weakness.

This process is appropriate for a team member who is below minimum acceptable standard for a job-critical skill.  For example, a person in a customer service role must meet some basic standards for friendliness and politeness, and a cashier must meet some basic standards for cash handling accuracy.  But, I would argue that if such basic standards are not being met, the situation is not really about an individual development plan.  It’s about corrective action to preserve the person’s employment.  Such fundamental situations should be addressed and corrected through regular management feedback long before any thought is given to long term skill development.

Assuming a team member is performing at least at an acceptable level on all job-critical skills, the manager’s responsibility is to build a longer term development plan around the skills which have the most promise for improvement and impact.  Is it more likely that a person will dedicate quality time and focus to something they are naturally good at or something they are not inherently cut out for?  Can a person reach a higher level of performance with a skill which they have natural aptitude for or with a skill in which they have an innate deficit.  As an obvious example, a basketball coach will be more successful developing the rebounding skills of a taller player than he or she will with a shorter player.  The taller player starts with a built-in advantage in the skill of rebounding.

Some may argue that the basketball example above isn’t relevant because it involves physical attributes rather than personal skills which are learned on the job.  Perhaps that’s fair to some extent, but there is quite a lot of evidence that  personal traits and skills also have some basis in genes and DNA.  In his book Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders, author Scott Shane presents details from many scientific studies which support this point.  In fact, studies show that as much as 40-60% of many job-related traits are driven by genes rather than environment.  If true, it means that people have natural inclinations to perform better on certain skills and that they must work much harder to perform as well on other skills.  Shouldn’t we, as leaders, help our team members build the skills which give them the greatest potential to succeed?  And, won’t we be more successful ourselves if we are helping each of our team members achieve their maximum potential?

So as you are thinking about skill development for your team, consider a focus on building upon the things which they already do well.  You may find that coaching people to cultivate greatness from their natural strengths brings more satisfaction and success than turning their weaknesses into average skills.



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