Another example of how to switch from the dreaded strengths and weaknesses discussion to a strategic, productive discussion

  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

I have been writing a lot lately about how managers are requested to discuss and document employees’ strengths and weaknesses.  My conclusion:  This is absurd and damaging.  However, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your team is a necessary and important part of people management indeed.  So instead of putting your team member on the spot to list out strengths and weaknesses and then documenting these with a development plan, I propose instead engaging in a strategic discussion with the employee on what’s best for the organization and the employee. Today, I’ll demonstrate how to transition from the dreaded annual review discussion of strengths and weaknesses to a more appropriate strategic discussion that provides value for you, the organization and your employee.  Let’s go!

I choose the example of one of the world’s greatest footballers, Zinedine Zidane.  Until his retirement in 2006, He was one of the world’s best midfielders, but we can assume his goaltending skills are a weakness in comparison to his play in midfield.

Here is how it is done in the manner expected of managers on many performance reviews:

Team Manager: “M. Zidane, let’s discuss your strengths and weaknesses.”

Zinedine Zidane: “OK, for strengths, I am an excellent team leader, I manage the field of play, and I create many scoring opportunities and my defense prevents goals.  For weaknesses, I am terrible at goaltending, my Photoshop skills are poor, and I am poor at cricket.”

Team Manager:  “So we’re going to need to work on improving your weaknesses.  I’ll have you try tending goal in two games this year, under the mentorship of our goalkeeper, we’ll sign you up for Photoshop classes, and we need to carve out time to work on your cricket skills.”

Zinedine Zidane: “Uh, is it possible, instead, that I keep leading the team, that I become captain of the team, and consider learning about team management after my playing career is over?”

Team Manager: “We now know your weaknesses, and we have to solve for this.”

In this example, the team manager is not being very strategic.  As absurd as this conversation seems, this is how it feels for most employees when discussing weaknesses.  They feel it is a trap for finding things that they are not good at, and they feel like they are suddenly expected to pursue resolving these weaknesses, no matter how irrelevant.  When having these discussions, resolving these “weaknesses” is implied as a top priority, and will cloud any discussion regarding what the employee is actually good at.

A better, more strategic, conversation with M. Zidane would be the following:

Team Manager:  “We’ll put you the starter at midfield this year, since you are the world’s greatest midfielder.”

Zinedine Zidane: “Good idea.”

Team Manager:  “We are also in need of a team captain.  Our captain from last year retired, so I think we should consider you as the team captain, since you are respected by your teammates, and have repeatedly shown how to execute game plans and lead while on the pitch.”

Zinedine Zidane: “I agree.  Also, I would like to leverage my skills as a team leader and start to learn about team management.  I’m getting toward the end of my career, and would like to take steps toward learning team management.”

Team Manager: “Good idea.  I’ll look for ways to provide insight on how team decisions are made, and the method I follow.  You know, I thought also that, hey, maybe we could put you at goalkeeper at times this year.”

Zinedine Zidane: “I like the team management part, but I don’t think putting me at keeper is a good idea.  I’m not good at tending goal, I’ve never practiced it.  Only if the other keepers are injured during the game should you consider that, and even then I doubt that I would be the best emergency backup.”

OK, now the team manager and M. Zidane can move on and strategize the best placement for the rest of the team.  M. Zidane will bring up his weaknesses only if it is something that is relevant to the team strategy, and he will be likely be brutally honest about his skills in that area. 

In looking at this example, discussions about M. Zidane’s “weaknesses” are not needed to have a productive conversation, and to be strategic about the work at hand, to have a productive conversation, and to do career development.  In fact, the discussion is about leveraging M. Zidane’s strengths into areas that are needed (such as team management), even if he is currently not strong in that area, but is likely to be. 

So factor in an employee’s abilities only when being strategic about the future of the team, and only where the skills can best be leveraged.  Should you follow this path, you will be able to get honest assessments from employees about how well they will succeed with the proposed strategy, and what in addition to their existing skills set would be needed to succeed using that strategy. 

Finally, the conversation will be in relation to the situation at hand and not a judgment of the employee’s overall ability (i.e, documentation of weakness).  It is possible to make this conversation productive and engaging – and focused on improving the skills that are important to both the employee and the organization.   

Have you seen management design that encourages creating a strategy based on the team members’ abilities vs. asking managers to engage in discussions about employee’s strengths and weaknesses?

Share and Enjoy


About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


3 Responses to “Another example of how to switch from the dreaded strengths and weaknesses discussion to a strategic, productive discussion”


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] my next post, I’ll further compare the current method of discussing employee strengths and weaknesses on an annual performance review with a better-designed strategic discussion of an employee’s […]

  2. […] Another example of how to switch from the dreaded strengths and weaknesses discussion to a strategic… […]

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!