True or False?
Gallup believes most organizations are built on two flawed assumptions about people:
1) Each person can learn to be competent in almost anything.
2) Each person’s greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of greatest weakness.
According to Gallup, talented managers realize that the true assumptions should be:
1) Each person’s talents are enduring and unique.
2) Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the area of his or her greatest strength.
In other words, if you get a report card with one A, 3 B’s, and one D, where should you focus your energy? Knee-jerk wisdom says the D, Gallup says the A.
Before you protest, this is just an example and can only be taken so far. Don’t you need a high cumulative GPA to get into a good college? Yes. If you are failing a class, can’t the school hold you back for a year? Potentially. Let’s assume your child has already been accepted to a great college and there is no contingency on grades received during the final quarters.
Focus on the A. If you have 16 units of energy to spend on improvement, focus on the A first. Then a B or two. An investment of 10 hours in an A will yield more impactful results than an investment of 10 hours in a D. You see, in life, “A” isn’t the highest grade possible. In fact, there are no grades.
Steve Jobs was a jerk. Horror stories of interacting with him abound in Apple’s mythology, yet he was a brilliant product visionary and inspired people to build that vision. He received a D in Being Human, but an A+++++ in Product Design. While that D in Being Human caused some bumps along the road, he didn’t need to bring the grade up to a B in order to be successful.
In Gallup’s book “Now, Discover Your Strengths”, Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the richest people in the world, is the shining strengths-based example listed in Part 1, Chapter 1, paragraph 2. I’ve read The Snowball, his biography by Alice Schroeder, and want to point out some things Gallup didn’t. Buffett got an A+++++ in investing, but a C or D in has family life. His wife Susan left him in 1977. They never divorced, but in 1978 she hand picked Astrid Menks to move in and take care of Warren. Susan, his legal wife, still appeared with him at public events, but Astrid became wife in all but name. They even signed their Christmas cards “Warren, Susan, and Astrid”. After Susan passed away, Warren married Astrid.
StrengthsFinder, an online strengths assessment, was launched in 1998 and rocketed to popularity with the release of the book “Now, Discover Your Strengths” in 2001. The online test was revamped in 2007 and launched as StrengthsFinder 2.0. Test takers answer 200+ questions in 30 minutes. That data is processed and Gallup returns results indicating which of the 34 talent themes are your strengths.
Your “Signature Themes”, which are your top 5 strengths, are supposed to stay relatively consistent over your lifetime (i.e. Each person’s talents are enduring and unique). Here was my experience with that:
StrengthsFinder 1.0 Assessment (Taken Jan 22, 2010)
StrengthsFinder 2.0 Assessment (Taken Feb 3, 2016)
Aside from Learner being my #1 strength (which I agree with), all the other Signature Themes changed. Most still remained in the top 10.
StrengthsFinder 1.0 Assessment >> 2.0 Assessment
1) Learner >> #1
2) Analytical >> #7
3) Competition >> #21
4) Input >> #6
5) Individualization >> #8
What explains the discrepancy? I have some theories.
- The results depend on your mood when you are taking the test. The most accurate way to know your strengths would be to take the test multiple times and average the results.
- I never fully agreed with the results from the first test, just like I don’t fully agree with the results from the second. It’s possible that core strengths do remain relatively constant, and that the test just got them wrong.
- I was not married when I took the first test, and was married with a child when I took the second test. It’s possible my high score on competition was related to the competitive dating scene, and once I was married and away from that scene, it became a smaller part of my life.
- Several of the 34 strengths overlap heavily and don’t seem all that different. Gallup has quite a bit of research about which strengths generally appear together. I haven’t delved deeply into each of the 34, but I imagine they could easily be collapsed to a smaller number.
Should You Take the StrengthsFinder 2.0 Assessment?
Yes, I think so. The best resource Gallup provided was this Strengths Discovery and Development Guide. I’ve linked to mine, and feel free to read it. Here are some of the bullets from Learner which really resonated with me:
- Seek roles that require some form of technical competence. You will enjoy the process of acquiring and maintaining this competence. I love technology. This is the field and career I’ve chosen, and I’m endlessly curious about new technology being released.
- As far as possible, shift your career toward a field with constantly changing technologies or regulations. You will be energized by the challenge of keeping up. See above.
- Because you are not threatened by unfamiliar information, you might excel in a consulting role (either internal or external), in which you are paid to go into new situations and pick up new competencies or languages very quickly. I work in technology consulting. Is Gallup stalking me?
- Be a catalyst for change. Others might be intimidated by new rules, new skills, or new circumstances. Your willingness to soak up this “newness” can calm their fears and spur them to engage. Take this responsibility seriously. I am always an early adopter of programs and software. I’m frequently asked to be a formal champion of company initiatives. I enjoy this. Until I read this bullet I had never thought of it as a competitive advantage.
A strengths-based approach doesn’t mean you are pigeonholed into one specialization for the rest of your life, but it does assume that you are following a strategy of differentiation. If you are really, really good at something, you stand out. You are offered career and life opportunities because you do something much better than other people.
IDEO, the iconic industrial design company, hires “T-shaped” individuals – people who have a wide breadth of knowledge across multiple areas but deep knowledge in one area. Be T-shaped.
Nice post Derek! … I’m a huge fan of this book. Maybe rather than think of your top five, think of your top 10 or 15. Even if you retook the assessment today (again shortly after having taken it recently), your top 5 would probably change once again. But, your top 10-15 would be much more consistent. … I nerded out a bit on this book by giving myself two assessments: the computer assessment and my own personal assessment. I paid for the full assessment (computer assessment). And, while reading the book I self-assessed each personality trait on a scale of 1-10 for how well I felt each described me. Then I took an equally weighted average of my personal assessment and the survey’s assessment. The idea was maybe I could pick out more natural strengths than gallup’s assessment and vice-versa … I think the book is full of great insights, and it’s helped me think of different ways to pursue my career within my own strengths.
From an HR manager perspective I can definitively say that one of the biggest hindrances to every organizations growth is that managers spend so much time on their D players and so little on their A’s. I have never seen someone go from being a poor performer to a top performer- or really anything better than mediocre – despite the amount of effort a manager puts into developing that person. Managers who spend minimal time on D’s and focus their efforts on their A’s ALWAYS have higher performance as a whole. Same concept, different scenario I guess. Also, there is a huge fallacy in taking the highest performing person in a field and making them the leader. This is where you end up with those nightmare people to work for (Steve Jobs, etc). There needs to be more recognition that people leadership is a skill just like product innovation, investment, etc and that organizations need to look for managers who can focus on the human side while their team takes care of the rest.
Thanks for writing this, I enjoyed your take on it. Wow the second blog post I read recently, both recommending me to take gallup strengthsfinder test ( the other one was this article http://chrislema.com/career-planning/ ).
Interesting how people are saying that one should run with one’s strengths. I think this is the way it is in much of American culture and the world too. I also think its good *except* when one’s strengths are in areas that don’t produce the value sought by those around one (don’t produce value that’s in demand in one’s environment) Then I think its time for one to learn to do what’s needed even if its not one’s strength. Similarly if a company has limited people to choose from then they need to invest in those few people present etc. etc.