by Kenneth A. Tucker
Coauthor of Animals, Inc. (Warner Books, 2004)
Want to know what talent looks like? Then watch Pablo, a superior customer service representative, in action. Most people get frustrated, nervous, or angry when dealing with an irate customer. But Pablo naturally becomes more caring and thoughtful as a client's temper escalates. He yearns to soothe people in these tense moments. And Pablo's associates, manager, and customers rely on him for this quality.
Similarly, you can see talent on display when you watch Jane, a front-line supervisor, motivate her staff to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The greater the challenge, the more her can-do spirit kicks in. "Let's do the impossible," she says to her team of computer technicians, and they gladly follow.
Why? Because she has led them to success before. For example, one Friday evening, the company's computer network crashed right when quarterly reports were due. Jane turned to her team members and told them that she needed them then more than ever before. She implored the group, "This is the kind of moment this team exists for -- all other times are mere rehearsals."
Jane recalls how she told her staff that although they had to get the problem fixed by Monday, they were free to come and go throughout the weekend as needed. "At no time did the work stop because of lack of coverage," Jane says, "and we had the system up and running on Monday without one user experiencing downtime."
Pablo and Jane are unusually effective employees. Those who know them find their talents almost mystical and impossible to duplicate. But there really isn't a big, inexplicable mystery to why they perform so well. Pablo and Jane are simply in roles to which their greatest talents -- their most naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior -- are almost perfectly suited.
Pablo's Achiever talents drive him to want to accomplish the goal of making customers feel better. Jane's Positivity talents make her a motivating and inspiring leader. What's more, they have consciously worked to transform their talents into strengths by refining them with skill and knowledge. As a result, they can consistently deliver near-perfect performance.
This exceptional performance occurs in work environments where managers nurture talent. The most successful managers build on the talents of their employees by giving them opportunities to apply their gifts in roles that suit and stretch those talents. This results in an explosion of strengths within the team -- employees demonstrate more and more strengths as they make the most of their innate patterns -- their talents.
Indeed, companies succeed to the degree to which employee performance is consistent, and therefore, predictable. Smart organizations know that while all employees have talent, what results from that talent depends a lot on their managers. Managers who can't discern talent stifle employees. But managers who understand talent breathe life into employees by helping them build their talents into strengths.
When Jane's team members were first introduced to their individual talents through Gallup's 180-item StrengthsFinder assessment (See the "Now, Discover Your Strengths Book Center" in See Also), the group's excitement and anticipation ran high. (Web-based, StrengthsFinder reveals the user's top five themes of talent.) The euphoria was short-lived, however. Knowing your talents, they soon realized, brought with it the responsibility of using those gifts. "But how?" they wondered. How does knowing that you possess great talents within the Woo (Winning Over Others) theme help you become more successful in interactions with customers? How do Command talents help you become a more effective supervisor? How do Restorative talents help you solve problems? Jane and her team were stumped.
The truth is, most organizations falter here. They don't know how to turn innate thought, feeling, and behavior patterns into strengths that produce measurable gains for the individual and the business. This is the problem that Pamela, Jane's leader and direct supervisor, wrestled with when she contacted The Gallup Organization.
"Many of us within our company have taken StrengthsFinder," Pamela says. "We know our top areas of talent, but now what do we do with them? How do we use this knowledge to improve business performance?"
While working with Gallup over the months that followed, Pamela came to know what it means to build a strengths-based organization. The most effective managers build employee talents into strengths by:
* Helping their team members accept and value the talents they have. Many people aren't satisfied with their own talents. Instead, they yearn for -- or worse, envy -- the talents of others. When they do this, they waste time trying to emulate other people's gifts while ignoring their own natural abilities.
To offset this disappointing and demoralizing behavior, the best managers help employees explore, develop, and apply their unique talents.
* Inspiring their team members to recognize each other's talents. Great managers help their team members understand how their varied talents can help achieve the organization's mission and goals. They also teach their employees to observe each other using particular talents.
Essentially, great managers understand that employees develop their talents most effectively through relationships with other people. The more employees recognize and celebrate their coworkers' talents, the more they encourage their coworkers to use them and build strengths.
* Getting individuals to connect their talents to crucial outcomes. This is the pivotal aspect of building strengths. Helping employees understand how to use their natural patterns -- their unique ways of thinking, feeling, and acting -- encourages them to achieve exceptional results and increases productivity. This is how the best managers create high-performing, talent-driven teams.
Strengths development versus weakness prevention
The biggest challenge for many great front-line managers, however, may be using their employees' talents as the basis of building strengths in an organization that is fixated on correcting talent weaknesses. How do you build a strengths-based workgroup when that approach is out of sync with the larger corporate culture?
Start by doing the math. Results speak louder than words. Employees whose roles are aligned with their talents do more work in less time with a greater degree of proficiency. Many organizations that Gallup has consulted with, including a large technology company and a major healthcare organization, enjoyed increased sales and financial performance once they began developing strengths through the talents of their employees. (See "Tuning Up Your Talent Engine" and "The Road to Recovery" in See Also.)
Yes, employees like Pablo and Jane are special -- but only because their talents have been nurtured and developed. There are probably many Pablos and Janes in your organization right now who are yearning for their talents to be discovered and unleashed. The best managers know how to spot those talents, turn them into strengths, and increase their companies' productivity exponentially.
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