Vesa Purho
Development Manager, Nokia

Year’s end is a good time to evaluate whether you are actually in a job that suits your skills and talents, and if not, to determine what you or your manager can do about it. Recently, I attended a webcast seminar that was part of the 2002 Linkage Excellence in Management & Leadership series. In that webcast, Marcus Buckingham from Gallup discussed discovering your strengths; he raised some very interesting ideas.

Buckingham talked about engagement in work and showed some results from Gallup’s extensive research on the subject. Not many people are really engaged in their work because, according to Buckingham, their basic needs are not satisfied. In talking about today’s work environment, we hear a lot about teamwork, future success, development opportunities, and so on without ensuring that basic needs are fulfilled. Basic needs include knowing what is expected from you at work, having the appropriate quality tools to do the work, and receiving recognition for your work.

One of the basic needs that people have is the opportunity to do what they do best. So the question is “do I (or my people) have an opportunity to do what I (or they) do best every day at work?” Buckingham talked about strength, which is a combination of talent, skills, and knowledge. If an employee is not performing well, you must first look at the reasons why. If they lack knowledge or skill, those things can be learned; but if they lack talent, which Buckingham defined as “a natural recurring pattern of behaviour,” that cannot be changed and the person may be in the wrong job.

Buckingham used himself as an example. He used to manage a group of people but never felt very comfortable doing managing, as his employees noticed. So he discussed the problem with his manager and they concluded that his talents lay somewhere else, like writing books and lecturing about management. Those tasks he does extremely well and feels comfortable doing them but actually managing people is not his talent.

Often, people think that talents are related to activities like music, acting, or other forms of art, which are not so commonly needed at work; however, a talent can be something else as well. For example, some people may be very good at categorizing information so that they easily see patterns and can classify pieces of information (these people would be good at creating information models). Or a person can be good at persuading people; they know what to say and how to get others to see their viewpoint. Further, some people are extremely well suited for doing work that requires a lot of concentration on small details and they enjoy doing it. These are the kind of talents that people should be also able to use in their work.

If people can use their talents, they find the job easy to do, they get a sense of “flow” when doing it, they enjoy it, which leads to greater motivation, and they can achieve far better results than someone who doesn’t have the talent for that work.

Naturally, I am not saying that everybody has to be able to do only work that they feel most comfortable with all the time. We all have assignments and routines that don’t suit our talents but still need to be done. However, if people can never, or very seldom, use their talents in their work, they are very likely to lose motivation. They are “just doing the work” without being engaged and enthusiastic about it. As a result, the whole group suffers and some people are very likely to leave.

As a manager when reviewing work goals with an employee, discuss their talents. Explore how those talents can be used in their work. Focusing on developing those strengths that a person already has is likely to be more productive than trying to improve their weaknesses especially when they are related to talents. Their weaknesses cannot be ignored, but you may find ways to manage around them instead of trying to improve performance. As Buckingham pointed out, “Focus on each employee’s strengths, manage around his/her weaknesses.”

With these thoughts, I wish all the readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

This article is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion or practice of Nokia.