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Friday, November 03, 2006

Opportunity Cost - I

A few weeks back I was at a reception in Indy with a few people I really respect: Mike Kelly, Karen Johnson, Dr. Kaner, and Jonathan Mischo.

At one point we started talking about personal growth. John pointed out that, as a manger, he always worked with his teams to make a personal development plan, and I strongly agreed. Moreover, he would identify the weaknesses each team member had, and ask them to develop plans for each weakness.

This is a pretty standard HR practice in theory, but many groups don't have time to get around to it, what with the busy business of production crowding in. So I was glad that John was doing something. He seemed to have the best interests of his team at heart.

Still, I took a second, paused, and said "Let's pretend I am on your team. I submit that my weaknesses are weak because I find them boring and not fun to work on. Instead of working on my weaknesses, I propose focusing on my strengths - and becoming one of the best people in the world in my specialty."

John replied that my idea was "not good enough." We debated a bit; I said that to pull it off, at least someone else on the team should be strong in my weak areas, and I should have a scheme to compensate for my weaknesses. John admitted that under those conditions, he would be willing to see less progress - but he still wants progress.

What do you think?


James Bach said...

I think there's a big difference between a weakness that is relevant to your role and a weakness that is not relevant. Also, there is a big difference between a "weakness" and "room to improve".

If I can't do my job acceptably well, then I better improve, or else change jobs.

If I do my job acceptably well, I may have many weaknesses, but I won't need to improve on any of them.

Sometimes managers make ongoing improvement itself a part of the job description. That's rather dangerous, since if you fire someone who is doing a good job and the reason you give is "not improving fast enough", that's probably grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.

However, as a small business owner, I do reward people with the ambition to improve themselves more than I do people who do acceptable work and nothing else. I do that because I know that the self-improvers can go elsewhere if they aren't happy enough with me.

Matthew said...

James, I'm not saying don't improve. I'm saying that I might choose to improve in an area that is actually a strength - to go from good to world-class.

Then again, three years ago I got some strong feedback about my (lack of) communication skills, so I started the writing/speaking thing, and it's done ok by me ... :-)

James Bach said...

I intended my comment to subsume the position of improving on a strength. I'm saying that's your choice.

I don't much see how a boss can justify, in business terms, insisting on improving weaknesses that do not critically impair performance.