Everyone wants to succeed, and for managers, that means leading highly capable teams that deliver excellent results. In order to drive team members to deliver successfully, managers need to identify what those capabilities are and harness them in a way that serves the organizational goals.
There are many approaches to identifying and evaluating employees’ skills. Some rely on measurable tests and assessment methodologies. Others are less formal and rely on observation, such as what people are known for, and are asked to do again and again (more on that in Whitney Johnson’s HBR article).
Over the past 20 years, I have refined my “Magic Wand” approach to make the most of peoples’ strengths. This approach consists of three steps that are embedded in a team’s routine:
1) Share the vision by both speaking and listening
Understanding the high-level goal or vision is critical for any team’s success and articulating it in a clear and inspiring way is one of a leader’s most important roles. However, this communication is an opportunity to not just tell but also listen. Team members’ reactions to the vision could be very telling, showcasing what people are passionate about, what is concerning to them, and where they see opportunity. This is where my magic wand starts coming into play, for example: “if you had a magic wand, how would you use it to get us closer to the vision?”. The impact of this question is two-fold: creative ideas and thought processes on one hand, and on the other – insight into employees’ top-of-mind, where their thoughts go first. People who are natural storytellers will talk about how to pitch the vision and leverage it to strengthen employer brand & employee engagement. Those with great analytical skills often ask first about how we will measure progress toward the goal and may potentially make suggestions to the metrics. The magic wand approach not only surfaces employees’ areas of strength and passion, it invites them to influence the vision, thereby re-enforcing these capabilities.
2) Collaborate to build the strategy
The magic continues by inviting the team to co-create the strategy to realize our vision. The magic wand is present in every meeting, metaphorically offered up to empower people to creatively think of ways to achieve goals. It has no boundaries: using the magic wand, one can speak outside of their formal domain or assigned role, suggest unusual courses of action, and recommend a path that is outside the norm. As people become accustomed to speaking up and contributing, their inherent capabilities become stronger, like muscles that flex and grow. The tech innovators will come up with proposals around emerging technologies or new ways of leveraging existing tools, the process experts will get excited about ways to drive efficiency and scale and the UX gurus will speak for the various customer personas, honing in on their pain points and offering up solutions. This collaborative process allows everyone to contribute to the strategy in the area they are most passionate about, while at the same time learning about their peers’ strengths. Heterogenous teams can particularly benefit from it because diversity of thought and expertise becomes a lever, driving value for the entire team. Opportunities for ongoing collaboration are often uncovered as colleagues lean on each other for complementary capabilities. I remember one case where a technical guru with digital marketing expertise partnered with a UX expert who is a fabulous storyteller to build the business case for new technology. Together they outlined the proposed solution, the expected impact on our customers, and the financial ROI. They both reported achieving a better outcome together but also learning from each other in ways that would benefit them in later projects.
3) Amplify the impact
Identifying people’s strengths is a critical first step. To achieve long-term sustainable impact, they must experience the effect their unique skills have on their wider network. This means exposing these people by providing a variety of opportunities for them to showcase their strengths to others but also to themselves. People often dismiss their strongest capabilities as mundane or obvious. It is therefore important that they experience the value that others gain from their skills.
Over the years, I have used this approach in staff meetings, large team gatherings as well as one-on-one settings. My team members have learned to anticipate my “magic wand” questions. They are accustomed to being asked for their opinions and being empowered to think outside the box, not just creatively but also without boundaries. Driving discussions where we remove artificial boundaries (that’s someone else’s role, this is out of scope, we don’t do it this way, that has never worked before), uncovers the real boundaries and opportunities while allowing people to shine in ways that are often missed. And when people’s talent shines through, that is the real opportunity.