By Alex Shacklock, Director.
The phrase “we play to the strengths of our people” suggests that a firm understands and utilises the unique abilities and talents of their employees. However, in practice, so many firms struggle to identify and harness these strengths effectively. This may be due to a lack of clarity about the capabilities of their workforce or an organisational structure that fails to create and develop roles that enable people to utilise their talents.
Take an Employment Lawyer, let’s call her Jane, who is great technically, and loves the ‘doing’ stuff. In the traditional model, to make partner, Jane will need to go through the ‘management levels’, take on a team and prove herself as a good people manager/leader running multiple matters for clients.
Next would typically be a move to a senior associate level where a key performance measure would likely be business development and ‘selling’.
If she isn’t strong with people and business development, are we not setting her up to fail? Are we forcing her into areas that she has no passion for? Are we letting her down? Are we missing out on fantastic returns from misusing such an asset?
Just think about all those naturally brilliant people leaders who may never get the chance to utilise their natural abilities because they may never be good enough at ‘doing the technical day job’ to be promoted up the pyramid!
Many firms create a level of management who have been rewarded for being fantastic doers/technicians (most of whom want to carry on doing the doing).
Does this sound familiar? Isn’t this all the wrong way around?
Playing to the strengths of your employees leads to the creation of a positive work environment that fosters engagement, motivation, and job satisfaction.
When employees feel that their skills and talents are being utilised, they are more likely to be productive, committed, and loyal to the firm. This, in turn, can lead to lower employee turnover, higher job performance, and a better overall work culture.
However, to fully capitalise on your employees’ strengths, your firm needs to be intentional and deliberate in its approach. This means identifying what each employee does best and then providing them with opportunities to use those strengths in their role. For example, if an employee has a talent for public speaking, they could be given opportunities to lead meetings or present at conferences. Similarly, if an employee has excellent problem-solving skills, they could be tasked with working on complex projects that require innovative solutions.
The process of identifying your employee’s strengths may involve assessments, interviews, and feedback from colleagues and supervisors. It is essential to create a culture where your employees feel comfortable sharing their strengths and receiving feedback that can help them improve their skills.
Another critical aspect of playing to employee strengths is creating a supportive work environment. This involves providing your employees with the necessary resources and tools to succeed, such as training, coaching, and mentoring. It also means giving your employees the autonomy to pursue their strengths and take ownership of their work. By fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth, you can help your employees reach their full potential and contribute to the firm’s success.
Traditionally, career progression has been associated with climbing the hierarchical ladder within a firm. However, this model may not suit all employees, and many individuals now seek careers that align with their strengths and provide a sense of fulfilment as part of a great team. As employee retention becomes an increasingly significant challenge for professional services firms, it is essential to listen to your employees’ needs and aspirations to build a more satisfying work environment for them.
Rather than forcing individuals into generic roles, you should help your employees to create personalised career paths that allow them to play to their strengths. For instance, an employment lawyer who excels in technical work may not necessarily have the skills to manage people or engage in business development activities required to make partner. By forcing individuals into roles that do not match their strengths, your firm risks setting your employees up for failure and losing out on their potential contributions.
Sadly, all too often ‘talent’ goes untapped. Mark Twain imagined a story where a man died and met St Peter at the Pearly Gates. Aware that St Peter was all-knowing he asked a question:
“St Peter, I have always been interested in military history. Who was the greatest general of all time?”
St Peter responded quickly: “Oh that’s a simple one. It’s the man right over there.”
“You must be mistaken,” responded the man, “I knew that man on earth, and he was just a common labourer”.
“That’s right, my friend.” St Peter assured him, “He would have been the greatest general of all time, if he had been a general…”
Mark Twain’s story about the greatest general of all time illustrates how individuals’ talents can go unnoticed if not given the chance to flourish. By providing opportunities for your employees to excel in their areas of strength, you can help your workforce to reach their full potential and contribute to the firm’s success.
In many cases, firms may have natural leaders who are never given the opportunity to utilise their talents due to the focus on technical expertise. By allowing your employees to play to their strengths, your firm can harness untapped talent and create a more fulfilling work environment for your employees.
In conclusion, the phrase “we play to the strengths of our people” is more than just a buzzword. It is a vital strategy that can help your firm to build a more engaged and fulfilled workforce by allowing individuals to pursue meaningful careers that align with their strengths, and help them to drive performance. By identifying each employee’s unique abilities and talents, providing them with opportunities to use those strengths in their role and by creating a supportive work environment that fosters growth and development, your firm can unlock the potential of your workforce and build a culture of performance engagement and innovation.
We are passionate about helping individuals and firms to grow, develop and achieve their potential. We are driven to make a measurable contribution which means that we do things differently. If you want to understand how we can help you to play to the strengths of your people, then please call us on 0333 7722 061 or email Kate here and we can arrange a time to talk.