Note from the Editor: This article was originally published in the Reading Eagle’s Business Weekly and is re-posted with their permission. It was contributed by Dr. Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof(R).
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When companies talk about setting up “shop” overseas or outsourcing certain operational functions (i.e. accounting), they are typically trying to cut costs. While a good way to save a company money, they are often shrouded in controversies.
One issue not among the controversies is the need to preserve and keep core competencies. That means a company should never “outsource” or give away the skills, innovations, products and services that it does better than any other company. Why? Because these are the things that make your company attractive and different, and if you don’t protect them, you could lose your competitive edge. So, it is important for every company to know and keep what they are really good at to be successful in the long term.
How does this relate to today’s lesson? Well, I think the same can be said for the core competencies of individual employees. The skills, capabilities and talents that make an individual employee unique, valuable, and, of course, marketable. Each employee should know what makes her or him effective and productive. In the same way companies safeguard their core competencies, individual employees should cultivate their own competencies.
Know what I’m good at and keep getting better – sounds easy enough. It does, and all you need to do is answer these two “simple” questions: How often are you told what you are doing wrong – your faults? And, how often are you asked about or acknowledged for what you do exceptionally well (core competencies)?
I would bet big bucks on the answers: frequently (faults) and rarely (core competencies). A simple Google search, while not scientifically valid, provided interesting but not surprising, insight. In the first 2 pages (20 entries) of results, there were five articles dealing only with identifying and discussing weaknesses, but only one article entirely dedicated to strengths.
I will never fully understand our preoccupation in American business with what’s wrong and what is weak, so much so that we ignore or pay little attention to what we are good at doing. I know all the “reasons” – insecurities that others will get ahead if we acknowledge their strengths, or not wanting our workers to “rest on their laurels,” blah, blah, blah. This perspective is a weakness of American business management, and nothing you say can convince me otherwise. In previous lessons, we have discussed the importance of promoting and appreciating what we do well, but it is a message that cannot be understated.
Today, let’s look at another way to shift the focus to the positive and suggest some practical steps to identifying and building our strengths.
Types of Strengths/Competencies
There are many ways to think of strengths. Simple may be best – skills, characteristics/traits, knowledge, or competencies.
Here are two additional ways – one more traditional classification, the other a process approach. A University of Victoria, BC, “competency kit” lists ten which cover the usual suspects that make business effective. Some on their list include: communication, teamwork, project management, research and managing information. But, a 2013 Forbes article takes a different approach using four processes in business to represent employee strengths:
- Envision – deciding where we want to go
- Design – creating the plan to get there
- Build – determining specific activities about the plan
- Operate – implementing the plan’s activities
Strategies for Identifying and Assessing Strengths
No matter what you call them, they all answer the question: what do I do really well? Another not so simple question. While you don’t need to have a formal framework categorizing your strengths, given all the negativity in the workplace around recognizing our strengths, it may be a good idea to have a structure to identify strengths.
I want to share three strategies for you to consider. First, is a personal SWOT. SWOT – which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats – has been used by companies for years as a way to assess their internal strengths and shortcomings, and relate them to challenges and possibilities outside the company in the marketplace. An interesting twist on this business resource is highlighted in a Business News Daily (2015) article that applies SWOT to the job search process.
The part most relevant to our discussion is having employees consider a series of questions to identify their strengths and weaknesses. For example, for strengths:
- What do you do better than others?
- What sets you apart from others looking for jobs, such as education or certifications?
- What values and ethics set you apart from your peers?
And, of course, it includes a number of pointed questions to identify one’s weaknesses. But, since this lesson is focusing on strengths, we’re not going to give them too much attention!
Second, once you identify what you’re think you’re good at doing or being; it would make sense to assess how good you are at these competencies. You might consider creating a hierarchy of your competencies, if you will. I found a useful tool in the Competency Kit mentioned above. It helps you describe your competencies and then provides a scale for evaluating them: beginning, developing, accomplished and exemplary. Not only does this give you insight (or affirm what you already know) about the strength of your strengths, it can guide you in developing them -something The Prof always appreciates!
Finally, have a talk with yourself about your strengths – the kind that occurs when no one is around. The Forbes article suggested some helpful questions that reinforce the first two strategies. It says “listen to your emotions,” and discover your favorite activities, the skills that come from these activities and assess your effectiveness with these skills.
Here’s the skinny on strengths. It is an uphill battle in the American workplace to focus on strengths. But, they are worth fighting for. When we focus on our strengths, we feel satisfied and valuable, and can be more productive and effective. It is your responsibility to identify, assess and develop your strengths. The Prof will be here to support you.