Engagement – A Fable Re-Imagined

It’s Monday morning. The Tortoise and the Hare are sitting in their cubicles working away. Well, actually, the Tortoise is working, albeit slowly, on the task her manager has given her. The Hare, however, is updating his Facebook.

The Hare figures he’ll get his work done at some point today, but he isn’t in any hurry. “Really, who even cares?” he thinks. After all, his know-it-all manager seems to be more interested in criticizing him and his work. In his last performance appraisal, the Hare got a “meets expectations”, but all they talked about were the weaknesses he needed to improve on. Well…his manager did praise the Hare for his speed, but that was about it.

On the other hand, the Tortoise is excited about this new project she’s working on – lots of in-depth research. Her boss said this was the perfect project for her because it played to her strengths – steady, thorough, analytical. The Tortoise had heard rumors that the Hare made fun of her and said she was slow; he could run circles around her in getting work done. She didn’t care what he said. She loved her work and knew she did a good job.

Later that same month, the big boss called the whole team together to announce a promotion. To the surprise of the Hare – who sat mocking the whole affair – the Tortoise was the one being acknowledged! Cheers rose up throughout the company, as the Tortoise was recognized for her high level of engagement and contribution to the team.

As a manager, does the way you lead create Hares – de-motivated by a constant focus on weaknesses – or Tortoises – people who are in the right role for their particular strengths and understand how to get results by leveraging these strengths or those of others to overcome the areas where they are not so strong?

I believe this question is at the core of employee engagement. In the recent Gallup “State of the American Workforce Report 2013”, they identified that developing an employee’s talents into strengths is one of the three key drivers of engagement. In fact, their nationwide study showed that nearly 61% of the employees whose managers focused on employee strengths were engaged as compared to the 30% of US workers nationwide who were engaged. Additionally, these highly engaged employees were more productive and profitable, producing a higher quality of work, making a focus on employee strengths sound like a very good business proposition.

So how can you become a manager of Tortoises and not Hares?

  • Know your team members – What motivates them? How do they process information? What are they really good at? Spend regular time getting to know them, checking in with them and following their work progress.
  • Clearly understand what skills are needed for particular roles and projects –You want to be very intentional about this step. Do you need a big picture thinker? Analytical skills? Relationship builder?
  • Match roles and projects with people who have those skills – You should start this step at hiring! Also, don’t be afraid to use people cross-functionally. This can create great stretch assignments and encourage broader collaboration.
  • Coach your team members on ways to leverage their strengths – Help your team members grow their natural talents into real strengths by providing opportunities and encouraging skill-building, knowledge attainment and practice. In doing so, your team can learn to utilize their strengths to overcome areas where they do not have natural talents and strengths.

While Aesop might not have had this exact message in mind when he wrote his fable, our re-imagined version teaches us that when you focus on your strengths, you win.

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