Top Employee Strengths & Weaknesses: What they are, how to identify and improve them

Using your strengths and weaknesses as an employee to achieve your full potential
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According to the Gallup research on employee engagement around the world, about 18% of people are actively disengaged in their workplace. 

In practice, it means, that one out of 5 people is not just passive, but takes deliberate actions to harm the company. The cost of disengagement to the world economy is estimated at around $7.8 trillion US dollars or 11% of the global economy. 

What’s the solution? If the employees are given a chance to use their strengths, they are 3x as likely to be engaged at work. 

As HIGH5 is an organization specialising in the strengths of people, teams and organization, in this article, we will share our best practices on how you as a manager can identify employee strengths and weaknesses and help employees work on them.

Why is it important to understand employee strengths and weaknesses?

Based on the clients we have worked with first-hand on cultivating the strengths-based culture in their teams and organizations, the three core reasons to know the strengths and weaknesses of your employees are 1) increased engagement; 2) higher productivity; and 3) enhanced team collaboration.

Increased employee engagement

When employee tasks are aligned with their strengths rather than their weaknesses, they are more likely to succeed in what they do. This creates a positive spiral as it creates a sense of accomplishment, gives recognition and builds confidence to use their strengths even more. As people experience positive emotions at work, they develop a positive attitude towards it, feel more satisfied with it and care more about it, leading to a higher engagement in what they do and a higher employee retention in the long run. 

Higher productivity

As you assign everyday tasks and projects to people based on what they are naturally good at, you give the tasks to those who are most equipped to do it from the get-go. It reduces the time, money and resources needed to train the employees who don’t have either the natural inclination or motivation to do the tasks that others would be great and happy to do. Besides, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of an employee allows you to provide personalized feedback and development plans to increase their productivity even further. 

Enhanced team collaboration

Being an excellent leader is a lot like being a coach. It’s not always managers like you are given an opportunity to build a dream team from scratch. But knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a team you can strategically allocate the talents within it in the most optimal way to make the most of the team that you have. Leveraging the diversity of strengths in a team helps create a well-rounded and high-performing team where every member has the space to shine and complement other members of the cohesive team. The awareness of strengths and weaknesses on the team can also mitigate conflicts among team members turning their differences into productive complementarity.

What are employee strengths?

According to HIGH5, employee strengths are something an employee 1) is naturally great at; 2) is energized by; 3) finds meaningful. You can read more details about it in our methodology section

Many companies out there confuse strengths with soft or hard skills, character traits, personality types or talents. Strengths are neither of those alone.

Notice that strengths are not what employees do, but how they do it. From this perspective, there are no essential employee strengths that a person must have in a given role. Therefore, when you communicate with your employees about strengths, make sure you understand what you want your employees to focus on.

Examples of employee strengths

In the HIGH5 strengths assessment, we distinguish 20 strengths in every individual and their sequence is completely unique. Let us provide a few examples of strengths to help you get a better grasp of the concept. 

Chameleon

Even though some might get mixed feelings about the Chameleon strength, it is highly valuable in modern and dynamic workplaces that require employees to be adaptable and team players. The Chameleon strength enables an employee to adapt to new and unexpected situations whether they work in sales or marketing. The flexibility that is fundamental to this strength enables creative thinking and innovation both in adopting new technologies in the working process and in embracing new responsibilities or processes. 

Problem Solver

The Problem Solver strength is indispensable in challenging situations that require an employee to identify the root causes of problems and find the best approach to fix them. Employees with this strength are not looking for easy fixes, they are determined to create lasting solutions. Since they deal with problems all the time, these people are not discouraged by a difficult situation where something is not working properly. Rather they see it as an opportunity to problem-solve. With their characteristical critical thinking and resourcefulness, the Problem Solvers are a great addition to any team whether it’s customer support or operations. 

Deliverer

Everyone loves dependable employees and colleagues. Any task they commit to, they do their absolute best to deliver on what they promised. They never miss deadlines, while not requiring any oversight. More often than not, they not only get their job done but also manage to help others in their spare time. If, while reading these phrases, one of your employees comes to mind – chances are this employee has the Deliverer strength. Deliverers are highly accountable employees as they take the responsibility seriously and expect others to do the same.

How to identify employee strengths? 

Three tried and tested methods to identify employee strengths are: 1) taking a strengths assessment; 2) implementing 360-degree feedback; and 3) looking into past successes and achievements.

Depending on how much interaction and the format of work you have with your employees, the difficulty of identifying their strengths and weaknesses may vary. Such factors as your level of emotional intelligence to pick the queues from your employees might also influence your choice of the best way to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

Take a strengths assessment

The most effective and straightforward way to identify employee strengths is to use tools that are specifically designed for that. The HIGH5 strengths test takes only 15 minutes to complete and offers a comprehensive analysis of both the individual employee and the entire team strengths. Such instruments invite employees to reflect on their strengths through a structured and science-backed process resulting in actionable insights for employees and their managers like you. 

Implement 360-degree feedback 

To ensure a well-rounded analysis of employee strengths, you can implement a 360-degree feedback process in a team or organization you manage. Using strengths can be so natural to us that we start taking them for granted and assume everyone has them. Asking colleagues about their strengths can help your employees gain a fresh perspective on what they are great at. To make it even more impactful, employees can combine and compare the results of 360-degree strengths feedback with the results of a self-assessment on the HIGH5 platform to understand how effectively they use their strengths. 

Look into past successes and achievements

Moments of employee excellence, when employees demonstrate their peak performance, give you the perfect material to identify their strengths. Schedule frequent one-on-one feedback sessions with your employees and dedicate them to identifying, recognising and studying their recent successes. Reflect together on the patterns across their personal triumphs and discuss which projects, daily tasks and environments could help trigger these patterns more often. Such collective reflection will not only boost your employee motivation but also will leave both you and them with a list of their uncovered strengths.

What are employee weaknesses?

From the strengths-based perspective, employee weaknesses are misapplied employee strengths.

If strengths allow employees to reach maximum near-perfect performance, weaknesses are the opposite – they decrease employee effectiveness, productivity, engagement and motivation. 

After employees complete their strengths assessment, it is common for them to scroll down in their personal strengths profiles to the very bottom in search of the weakest strengths. That’s where, as many employees and their managers believe, the root cause of the subpar performance lies. 

However, based on our research, the lower performance stems not from what employees don’t have, but rather from the suboptimal use of their strengths. Let us explain with an example.

If an employee has a Brainstormer strength and continuously comes up with new ideas, missing a project deadline might not come from the absence of the Time Keeper strength. It might come from the overuse of the Brainstormer strength manifested through generating ideas in the final stage of the project derailing the team delivering the project on time. 

In the next section, we will provide more examples of when strengths turn into weaknesses.

Examples of employee weaknesses

When employees complete our HIGH5 assessment, their individual strengths reports contain not only development insights but also watch-out areas for each of their strengths. These indications help employees recognize when they start taking their strengths to the overdrive and, as a result, harming their performance. 

Below we provide a few examples of how the same strengths that were mentioned before in this article can be overused.

Chameleon

We have highlighted before the value of adaptability associated with the Chameleon strength, which is particularly helpful in dynamic and complex situations. However, when taken too far, the ongoing adaptation can make the employee avoid commitments and, hence, lead to a reduced sense of accountability. Continuous change of strategies, approaches, priorities and decisions can turn into a lack of direction, strategy and, in the end, results both by the Chameleon and the surrounding team. 

Problem Solver

While Problem Solvers love fixing problems, their search for what’s broken can lead them to find problems where none existed. Employees with this strength can exaggerate the importance of challenges as they can’t rest until everything is fixed. This can lead to them spending a disproportionate amount of time and resources on something that is strategically insignificant. The neglect of strategic planning and the tendency to micro-manage are the easy shadow sides of a Problem Solver employee strength.

Deliverer

The emphasis on delivering results no matter what makes the employees with the Deliverer strength overwork and overcommit as well as push the others around to do the same. Combined with the strive for perfection and reluctance to delegate, Deliverers can burn out not only themselves but also the rest of the team. While they are invaluable in driving results, such employees can potentially create a stressful working environment characterised by low team and company morale.

How to identify employee weaknesses?

When you look at the weaknesses from the strengths-based approach we have developed through our research and outlined in this article, the importance of recognizing employee weaknesses becomes equivalent to recognizing common employee strengths and the processes for identifying both follow the same methodology. 

Whether you end up asking employees to take the strengths test, to collect peer feedback from their peers or to reflect together on recent performance, the focus of this discussion should not be on the qualities that employees don’t have, but rather the way that their strengths can be misused and potentially get in a way of their performance. 

Such positive framing of weaknesses helps foster openness to feedback, a growth mindset, and a focus on what is within the scope of control of an employee.

How to build on employee strengths and mitigate weaknesses?

To build on employee strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, you can use one of the methods we have seen work with our clients: 1) align roles with strengths; 2) co-create strengths-based development plans; 3) provide continuous feedback; 4) offer coaching; and 5) foster a culture of collaboration.

We encourage you to tailor your strategy for fostering personal and professional development and enabling employees to reach their full potential based on the strengths present in your team.

Align roles with strengths

The most straightforward way to enable your employees to use more of their strengths is to put them in roles that align with what they are great at. You as a manager know that the reality is not always so permitting – sometimes you just need to get a certain job done. When the adjustment of roles and responsibilities is not possible, engage your employees in a job design activity. Backed by the scientific evidence of positive effects on employee engagement, this activity helps your employees gain awareness of how their strengths contribute to the existing role without the need to change it. 

Co-create strengths-based development plans

Skip the top-down copy-paste approach to employee development plans. With the awareness of individual strengths and weaknesses, invite employees to collaborate on creating personalized plans that would nurture their strengths. Help them aim their strengths towards personal and company goals that are meaningful to them.

Provide continuous feedback

Feedback is one of the strongest tools that efficient leaders like you have in their toolkit to work with employee strengths and weaknesses. It is the primary way the employee knows if they are using their strengths effectively or not. Therefore, schedule regular check-ins and use them to acknowledge the effort made and to celebrate the progress achieved. 

Offer coaching

Working with certified strengths coaches can help employees make significant progress in using their strengths more effectively. These qualified professionals provide employees with a structured approach to continuous growth and enable employees to resolve questions that employees might not be comfortable discussing with you as a manager. Alternatively, if the budget does not allow for an external coach, you can create a peer mentorship and coaching program, which will simultaneously foster knowledge sharing.

Foster a culture of collaboration

Celebrate the diversity of strengths present in your team and recognize the unique contributions of every team member. It makes employees feel valued and gives all other team members an idea of how to leverage each other’s strengths. Recognizing each other’s strengths and weaknesses is the basis for collaborative team dynamics and a supportive culture where team members complement and help each other by contributing strengths in the areas of others’ weaknesses.

Concluding remarks

Understanding employee strengths and weaknesses is fundamental to achieving results whether you are a manager of a single team or a leader of the entire organization. 

HIGH5 offers a holistic platform that enables you to identify, understand and develop the strengths of your employees. It goes beyond the assessment and enables you as a manager to achieve higher employee engagement, productivity and retention across the employee lifecycle.

We have helped millions to discover what they are great at and we would be glad to share our expertise with you. Sign up for a personalized demo here.

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