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You’re out on the town with some good friends hoping to have a great dinner and a memorable evening. There’s a diner on the corner and a great Italian restaurant down the street. Which one do you choose?

The Diner – Stick to the Basics

Want a steak? They’ve got it. Want crab cakes? They’ve got it. Want veal parmesan? They’ve got that too.

They’ve got it all, it seems, but I’m not sure it’s great tasting or the best quality. The focus of a diner is to satisfy everyone by providing almost every type of food imaginable. However, quantity and quality are two very different things.

You may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with employees? The goal of most managers and organizational "systems" is to create well-rounded employees. They try to achieve this by identifying the employee’s weaknesses and trying to fix them. But what about the employee’s strengths? They tend to languish and lose their edge due to lack of attention. The result of this process is, at best, an employee who can do most things fairly well but is not remarkable at anything. Sound familiar?

When you order from a diner, you should probably stick to the basics. I’d recommend doing the same with your well-rounded employee.

The Fine Restaurant – Go Ahead, Try the Escargot

As you know, the fine restaurant has a much more limited menu but what they do offer is incredibly good. They make the conscious decision to forego many types of foods to focus their efforts on what they do best.

Great managers treat their employees in much the same way. They help employees focus on what they do best, rather than trying to improve their weaknesses. Employees will rarely become strong in an area of weakness. The best one can hope for is that they will rise to become mediocre, or possibly somewhat competent. However, where an employee has talent, they can become world-class. In addition, focusing on those areas where we have real talent is incredibly motivating.

So, imagine that your people are all spending most of their time doing what they truly do best such that they all perform at a very high level and achieve great results. Now, imagine your competition running scared.

Would you rather have well-rounded employees or remarkable employees?

How to Allow Employees to Become Great

Traditional management methods will not create great employees because they don’t focus on what each employee does best. Here are four steps to turn that around and drive to greatness:

1. Identify your employees’ strengths – This task is not easy because it requires a much more individualistic approach to management. Here are the best ways to make it happen:

  • Observe – The best way to identify your employees’ strengths is to observe their actions. To what types of work are they attracted? How do they act in group discussions?  What do they like to do when they’re not at work?
  • Use Personality Profiles – There are several profiling tools available on the market which can help you to identify people’s motivations, tendencies, talents, and styles.
  • Conduct 360 Degree Surveys – This can be a great way to get feedback from supervisors, peers and subordinates as to an employee’s strengths and tendencies.
  • Ask The Employee – Ask your employees what they feel their strengths are. The danger here is that most people are not self-aware enough to accurately answer the question.

2. Determine how to take advantage of those strengths – Once the employees’ strengths are known, you should:

  • Encourage Improvement – Additional training and experience can turn strengths into incredible talents. Michael Jordan wasn’t born great; he practiced and practiced.
  • Refine Roles – Find ways to allow your employees to spend a greater portion of their time in areas that best allow them to utilize their strengths.

3. Figure out how to manage around the weaknesses – Focusing on what employees do best doesn’t mean forgetting about their weaknesses. Here are three strategies to deal with weaknesses:

  • Shift roles – If possible, change the employee’s responsibilities to shift focus away from their weaknesses.
  • Partner – Find an employee whose strengths offset another employee’s weaknesses and team them together.
  • Training – Training will probably not turn a weakness into a strength, but it can get their performance up to more acceptable levels.

4. Build a team of people who compliment each others’ strengths – Traditional teams are made up of many interchangeable parts. This new, remarkable team is more like a jigsaw puzzle, where employees’ unique talents all fit together. Place the right people in the right roles, and change any job descriptions and performance measures that no longer fit and you’ll see individual and team performance improve.

Back to the original question…Would you choose the diner or the fine restaurant? It’s nice to have a few diners around for when you want something less expensive or don’t know what you want to eat. But, if you want something truly remarkable and memorable, search Zagats and find a great restaurant.