As a member of nVoq’s engineering team, I usually write on technical topics. But, after drafting a few ideas for this week’s blog post, I thought a more human topic would be better. In the mid-2000’s I heard Marcus Buckingham speak at a one-day business seminar. At the time, he was promoting his new book, “The One Thing You Need to Know.” The title is a bit misleading as it contains three important ideas:
- If you want to be a good leader, you need to capitalize on what is common across people.
- If you want to be a good manager, you need to capitalize on what is unique about each person.
- And, if you want to be an effective individual, you need to focus on your strengths.
These ideas seem so simple and yet, they can be difficult to implement – personally and professionally. This was the beginning of a long study in a strengths-based approach to life and specifically how to apply it in the workplace.
A strength, as Buckingham defines it, isn’t just something you are good at. That’s a skill. A strength is something you are good at AND leaves you feeling energized when you are done. It’s often that area of work where you lose track of time and get into what is often described as a flow state. You become fully engaged in the activity and you look forward to doing it again. Activities that are not strengths are the ones that leave you feeling tired or neutral, even if you are able to produce good results. Numerous studies show that people who work in, and focus on, developing their areas of strength perform better, are more engaged, and more fulfilled in their work. You get a much greater return on investment by improving your areas of strength rather than trying to shore up your weaknesses. No one can be good at everything. But, everyone can be good at something.
Sadly, a common approach to personal improvement is to identify your weaknesses and focus on improving them. I have seen performance reviews contain sections specific to this idea. However, this leads to frustration and sub-optimal performance. Since I’m deviating from my usual technical subject matter, I will do something else out of the ordinary – share a personal story. My professional career began in technical sales. I worked with a fantastic team of engineers, sales and service folks, and customers. I had a pretty good run as a Sales Engineer. In those six years I made some great friends, both customers and fellow employees. But the work was hard and the hours felt long. As with other endeavors of value, great sales and customer support is hard work. And that hard work left me tired rather than wanting to come back for more. My wife often tells the story of coming home to find me sleeping on top of our bed in my suit and tie, exhausted at the end of a long week. No matter how hard I worked to be a great sales person, it was still a challenge for me and I would never be as good as some of my fellow sales people who loved the job. I love meeting new people, learning about their businesses, and helping them solve problems. But sales is not my strength. I was getting diminishing returns while working harder and harder. It was time for a change. Fortunately, we have some great sales people at nVoq and a great partner network of sales folks who rock. And, I am thankful for them. Sales makes them alive. I get to do some sales support in my role today and I love working alongside strong sales people.
Most can relate to my experience. We have all had success that came only through incredibly hard work that seemed to fight back along the entire way. Fortunately, most of us have also experienced success that seemed effortless, where everything just clicked and we ran out of time long before we ran out of energy. That’s what it’s like to work in your areas of strength. That’s the second part of my personal story. After some soul searching and a couple years of graduate school, I transitioned to software engineering and engineering leadership and have never looked back. I am now thrilled to spend most of my time where I’m strong. More importantly, I have never run out of energy. For example, software systems design and charting the course with our team to implementation puts me in a state of flow almost every time. I love it. And, I look forward to it every time. My job has components I don’t particularly enjoy. It’s work. And that’s OK if those activities don’t dominate work in my areas of strength. But, at nVoq, my story is just the beginning.
Based on the research by Buckingham and others, and my own personal experience, we have encouraged members of our team to identify and focus on their areas of strength. We have a large enough team that all areas of work in engineering at nVoq are covered by someone’s strengths most of the time. Our designers love design, our QA engineers love breaking things, and our software engineers love solving problems with code. Drilling down another level, we can see how this plays out in Quality Assurance. Some of our QA engineers love to create automated test suites and they spend their time doing so. Some focus on new feature and ad-hoc testing – as determined by their areas of strength. And in development, software engineers have shifted around into audio processing, web UI development, or deep learning depending on their areas of strength. This has been a key component to our culture on the nVoq engineering team. A team focused on leveraging strengths will outperform others hands-down. Consider this in your company. Help your people be strong. You will see results just like we have.
Our engaged software team is great but only because we build products that make you more efficient – to keep you working in your area of strength. If you are a physician, we help you spend more of your time being a physician rather than a data entry clerk. If you are a customer care agent, we help you spend more time with your customers rather than navigating desktop software complexities. We focus on our strengths so that you can focus on yours.
If data entry makes you want to sleep in a suit and tie, give us a call. Our voice and automation tools will keep you doing what you love.