Why So Many Businesses Mess Up Employee Development Too often, businesses fail to identify their employees' strengths and toss money into training that won't take.

By Kes Thygesen

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Employers who want to invest in employee development through a talent mobility program need to know each employee's strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, as the 2015 Talent Mobility Research Report by Lee Hecht Harrison found, only 42 percent of companies understand their employees' unique skills and experience.

When they know what employees do well, they can better tailor their training. Strength-based employee development comes from the idea that some people are better at certain things than others and that really focusing on each employee's unique strengths can create a strong and well-rounded team. Organizations are finding this style of development to be very effective.

Gallup created the Strengths Orientation Index in February 2014 and found that 37 percent of the 1,003 employees surveyed felt their employer focused on their strengths, which led to 61 percent of employees feeling engaged in their work.

What's more, according to a July 2016 survey from Gallup, strength-based companies saw better sales, profit and customer engagement. In sum, better employee development resulted in improved business performance.

Here's how employers can identify what strengths each employee has and how that should inform their professional development:

Provide ongoing feedback

Rethink how performance evaluations work. TINYpulse's The Worst Flaws of Performance Reviews report from March 2016 found that 31 percent of the 100 managers surveyed said their top reason for disliking performance reviews is that they are too time consuming, with 26 percent of the 100 employees surveyed sharing that sentiment.

So, if both parties don't like the current way of doing things, it's time for a better strategy. Annual performance reviews are on their way out. If companies offered feedback more routinely, the performance review wouldn't take as long. Managers wouldn't be expected to dig through the last 12 months to asses each person.

Instead, schedule frequent meetings with employees to have constructive discussions about how they are performing and where they should focus on developing. Don't let issues pile up. Address them as they arise and focus on moving forward with solutions. Those solutions will involve how employees can better use their strengths in the day-to-day.

Encourage self-assessments

Encourage each employee to evaluate themselves as well. Employees will look at their performance over a specified period of time, forcing them to investigate the many aspects of how they handle their tasks and responsibilities.

Inquire about the process they use for goal setting. How do they set goals and achieve them? Are they meeting expectations that were set in the job description? What does their progress look like?

Employees should feel comfortable about openly discussing where they struggle, but they should mainly focus on what their strongest skills are. This way, they can collaborate with immediate supervisors and management to find the best method for building on them.

Learn to listen

Good leaders know how to listen, but strong listening skills are rare. Focus some managerial training on active listening, which is crucial to communication.

Active listening is a technique that requires the listener to fully concentrate on the content being shared and to develop a strong understanding of it. This helps the listener gain insight into the employee's perspective and provide effective input.

Training management on this skill is pretty simple. The basic tips to emphasize may sound like common sense, but they need to translate into a practice they use daily.

They should pay attention, acknowledge the message and look at the speaker directly. Body language such as nodding, smiling and maintaining an upright posture show they are listening and are engaged in the discussion.

After the employee voices their perspective, managers should follow up by paraphrasing to reflect back their points and ask for clarification when needed. Finally, they can respond with candid honesty and respect.

Set them up for success

Align employee strengths with corresponding tasks. While it's good to push them out of their comfort zone, employees tend to like to succeed at their duties. This helps them build on their current strengths.

For example, if they're a great presenter, give them important projects that require a presentation. They may also thrive in a business call with their strong communication skills. Start to include them in higher level tasks and observe how they apply their skills.

Customize professional development

Use their strengths to inform their professional development and training. Are they good at managing their time? Can they balance their stress levels to stay engaged in work and maintain a high level of performance? Do they make decisions confidently? They may be a future leader.

Cater their action plan to strengthen those skills in order to prepare them for future leadership roles. Employers can track and manage each of their top players with a documented talent mobility program.

When you invest in "A" players via employee development, and when they go home everyday feeling positive emotions about how they exercised their stronger skills, they are happier, healthier, and more engaged. Starting with their strengths leads to higher retention rates, a more productive workforce and a robust talent pipeline that makes succession planning a piece of cake.

Wavy Line
Kes Thygesen

Co-founder and head of product at RolePoint

Kes Thygesen is the co-founder and head of product at RolePoint, a complete social recruiting suite that provides unrivaled access and reach to quality job candidates.

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