Why ignoring employee weaknesses is bad for your business

A new book argues that ignoring employee weaknesses and focusing on strengths will result in a happier, more productive workforce. Here's why I don't think that's the case.

During reviews, employee weaknesses are often brought to the fore in an effort to improve their performance.

However, some people believe that this is all wrong. In The Multiplier Effect, Dr Andy Cope, Jonathan Peach and Mike Martin write that bosses would be better off ignoring their employees’ weaknesses and focusing on their strengths.

The authors use the example of Mo Farah, who is apparently a shoddy shot putter. They argue that if his coach had put energy into improving his shot put, he would not have excelled in track and become an Olympian.

They’re so confident, in fact, that they think that this approach will increase employee engagement by up to 73 per cent and profits by up to 85 per cent.

Though they don’t support ignoring weaknesses entirely, research conducted by Gallup in 2017 advocates achievement-orientated reviews with less focus on the negative and according to the results, it makes for more motivated employees.

Despite all of the studies, I do think you need some negativity when you review your staff. Here’s why.

Focusing exclusively on strengths is too simplistic

To me, strengths and weaknesses are nuanced – there could be weaknesses within strengths and strengths within weaknesses.

Let’s come back to Mo. He’s a sensational runner, but he may have problems with his stride or with breathing which isn’t as efficient as it could be. If this is ignored, his overall performance would suffer, and he wouldn’t be dominating the medal tables.

By looking at strengths and weaknesses as sets of components rather than absolutes, it gives employees a more personal and realistic idea of their abilities. Breaking it down also makes self-improvement less daunting, potentially leading to better performance in the longer term.

You’ll have staff who aren’t as well-rounded

Workers will know that, in a lot of cases, they are being relied upon to take care of a growing number of responsibilities for their employer.

An extra responsibility that one of your employees needs to take on could very well clash with one of their weaknesses. This may not only stifle your company’s output, but it might do undue damage to your employee’s career progression and even to their confidence in handling their job.

For example, journalism is far from just writing and editing. Other responsibilities can include shooting video, operating a content management system and navigating SEO analytics technology.

But if someone who traditionally worked in print isn’t digitally savvy and isn’t able to take steps to learn digital skills, it could be the end of their career.

Far from just being out of their comfort zone, these skills are about adapting for survival.

It assumes weaknesses are bad

Ignoring weaknesses is negative in itself as it assumes that they’re bad.

In doing this, employees may be missing out on opportunities to explore why certain areas of their performance are weaker as well as finding alternative ways to deal with these difficulties. In short, it’s not giving the weakness a chance to become a strength.

Management needs to change

I do agree that the way management addresses employee reviews needs to change.

The Gallup research mentioned earlier talks at length about regular performance reviews and how it’ll make employees more motivated to improve.

Frequent reviews will lead to gradual improvement and less dread from both parties before the terror-inducing annual review. It’ll also help to deal with issues in a timely fashion too – nobody’s going to have a clear idea of something that happened 11 months ago.

Acknowledging strengths is still vital for your staff and that should be the driver in dealing with appraisals. But however you frame them, don’t just brush over the weaknesses.

Avatar photo

Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

Related Topics