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What Are Your Employees Really Good At Doing?

Patty Gaul, Association for Talent Development

April 2018

“Only 57 percent of employees believe their organizations are competent in their ability to find, retain, and develop their employees,” writes Hawley Kane, citing Saba Software’s 2017 State of Employee Engagement Report.

In “Strengths-Based HPI: A Win-Win for All,” (TD at Work, March 2018) Kane explains that employee engagement can be increased by discovering and building on employee strengths. How do we go about doing that?

One of the best and most important ways is manager–employee conversations. It’s through asking questions of their direct reports that managers learn what work assignments are most enjoyed, what employees like doing, and what they believe they do well.

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Beyond initiating conversations, managers should encourage introspection, and give their staff room and time to reflect. Not everyone knows exactly what their strengths are; time allows employees to think about what past assignments have led to their growth, elicited accolades from others, and even helped them realize what they don’t want to do.

Regular check-ins—which we’re hearing about more and more, in contrast to annual performance reviews—can provide a great opportunity to keep successes and lessons learned front-and-center. After all, who can remember all of their work projects from the past year?

Managers might ask their direct reports such questions as:

  • “What have you done exceptionally well since our last meeting?” Managers should give their direct reports time to answer this question. Check-ins and one-on-one meetings are, after all, about the employee, not the manager. Further, Kane encourages managers and their direct reports to celebrate employee successes.
  • “What, if anything, would you have done differently?” Few projects go completely as planned; considering this question allows employees to develop and learn.

In addition to one-on-one meetings, a performance journal can list employee milestones, successes, accomplishments, leadership activities, and challenges, and can be used during check-ins to refresh one’s thinking. Having such notes written down can also reveal patterns in an employee’s strengths and what excites them. It also can serve as a basis for setting goals. It may become clear, for example, that an employee is motivated about learning programming and spends individual learning time doing exactly that. Further development in programming, perhaps even a certification, might be written into the employee’s growth plan.

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