Joe Bertotto
Joe Bertotto, chief culture officer, Vizo Financial

Set up staff for success

A four-step process to put people in the right jobs.

August 17, 2022

The primary job of any manager is to produce results. Some are better at it than others.

There are many reasons for that variation, but one of the most striking is that highly effective managers recognize success in getting work done with excellence is all about fit. These great managers know performance ties directly to how closely the work matches the strengths of their team members.

That’s why great managers mold the job to the person.

I’m not necessarily talking about rewriting the job description. You can certainly do that, but I’m talking about taking an individualized approach to distributing assignments, tasks, responsibilities, and projects.

The best managers position their people for success by having them do more of the work they excel at and enjoy doing each day.

Even if you think everyone’s job is solidly matched to their strengths, consider this: In “It’s The Manager,” authors Jim Clifton and Jim Harter cite a study of 8,115 employees that revealed what best differentiated engaged employees from actively disengaged employees.

The difference was the time spent focusing on their strengths. Engaged employees spent four times as much of their day focusing on their strengths as opposed to what they didn’t do well.

That’s 80% of their work week playing to their strengths. Engagement is the connection linking performance and attitude, and the undeniable fact is that engaged people perform better than those who are not engaged.

If you want to figure out how to get each member of your team spending 80% of their work week leveraging their strengths, here's a practical tool you can use to improve their fit.

Over a two-week period, have every employee categorize each piece of work they do into one of four categories:

  1. Strengths: the tasks, activities, responsibilities, and assignments I am good at and enjoy doing.
  2. Possible strengths: the tasks, activities, responsibilities, and assignments I am not good at yet but enjoy doing.
  3. Learned activities: the tasks, activities, responsibilities, and assignments I am good at but don’t enjoy doing.
  4. Weaknesses: the tasks, activities, responsibilities, and assignments I am not good at and don’t enjoy doing.

At the end of the two weeks, meet with each employee to review which tasks fit into which categories. Additionally, have people estimate how much time they spend in each of the four categories. The goal is to get more of their time in the “strengths” or “possible strengths” categories.

Having used this activity with hundreds of credit union employees, the two categories employees fill in the most are strengths and learned activities. This points out a few things:

  • Managers are not giving people enough opportunities to try new responsibilities (i.e., possible strengths).
  • Too many weaknesses mean the person will leave that job or will be asked to leave (i.e., bad fit).
  • Managers can mistake being good at something for a strength. But when it comes to learned activities, while an employee may be good at the task, that doesn’t necessarily mean they like it.

People are smart and can figure out how to properly complete many tasks. But the hallmark of a strength is the joy that comes with working on the task in addition to being good at it.

Don’t get fooled into believing that just because someone is good at something, it’s one of their strengths—that’s just not true. This mistake can lead to poor performance over time as the person becomes more and more drained, longing to do something they enjoy.

Burnout doesn’t come from working too hard, it comes from working too hard at what you don’t enjoy doing.

As you work through this exercise with employees, here are four clues—the “four Es”—to identify a strength:

  1. Energy. Is there positive anticipation before taking on the task? Is there fulfillment after the task is completed?
  2. Ease. Does the task come naturally? Is it almost effortless to complete the task?
  3. Enjoyment. Is there a sense of pleasure in completing the task? Does time fly by when doing the task?
  4. Excellence. Are the results consistently superior? Is feedback from colleagues and members consistently favorable?

Once everyone on the team has filled out their chart, your job as a manager is to create dialogue within the team to find opportunities for people to spend more time on their strengths and possible strengths and less on the learned activities and weaknesses.

That can mean comparing everyone’s charts to see if one person’s learned activity or weakness is another person’s strength or possible strength. It can also mean having people rotate tasks no one enjoys.

Another possible outcome may be to redesign a certain task or eliminate one that adds minimal value to the team’s goals and, ultimately, the credit union. 

Using this tool with your team can start a significantly productive conversation which builds trust, camaraderie, and positive energy while increasing performance.

Working with each person to make shifts in their job will make a difference in their performance and, more importantly, their lives. Research shows that people who get to play to their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs and three times more likely to report a higher quality of life.

What could be a better legacy for any manager than creating a committed, high-performing team while improving the lives of the people who report to them?

JOE BERTOTTO is chief culture officer at Vizo Financial.