Why focusing on weaknesses doesn't work

One senior HR figure explains why firms shouldn't force employees to focus on the things they aren't naturally good at.

Why focusing on weaknesses doesn't work
Energy management company Schneider Electric is improving L&D across its organization through a strengths-based positive leadership philosophy for work and individual development.

Scott Nell, senior manager of organisation development and talent, explained to HRM how the initiative works, and how both learners – and leaders – are reaping significant benefits.

“Traditional models for creating development plans require employees to look at the competencies for their role and then be assessed against those competencies,” Nell said.

“On the surface this seems like a fairly logical thing to do, however what ends up happening is simply pointing out all the things that a person is not good at.”

Once these perceived weaknesses have been identified, development plans are made to focus on weakness or ‘close the gaps’, Nell added.

“Is it any wonder that people are not inspired to actually implement such plans? In fact, research from the CEB shows that when development plans focus on weakness, overall performance drops by around 24%,” he said.

“Imagine if you were forced to do things that are de-energising to you and you perceive you perform poorly, what effect does this have on your overall motivation and therefore engagement?”

Nell said that Schneider Electric’s strength-based positive leadership approach flips this on its head.

“We look for things employees are doing well and look for ways to take this to the next level. We don’t ignore weakness but instead leverage existing strengths to compensate and prop up weakness,” he said.

“This leaves employees inspired to embark on their development and motivates them to succeed. The CEB research shows that this strengths-based approach increases overall performance by around 36%.”

Another initiative improving L&D across the organisation is Schneider Electric’s ‘Flourish, Ignite, and Illuminate’ program, which promote growth mindsets among its leaders.

“We recognise that in order to truly get business growth we must have a growth mindset,” Nell said.

“Based on Dr Carol Dweck’s vast body of research, we have built this philosophy into all our leadership offerings, as well as stand-alone workshops to help employees foster such a mindset.”

He added that Schneider Electric examines how both fixed and growth mindsets play out in sports, children, and in business.

“We really take the time for experiential learning that challenges thinking and looks at ways of treating failure as learning; challenges as opportunity and values effort as a core predictor of success,” he said.

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