Asking job seekers and career developers to describe their workplace strengths can elicit some weird and wonderful answers. From being a leader, a good listener, a comedian or even just a nice person are just a few of the answers. There are countless lists of career or workplace strengths online that you are expected to align yourself with. Mainly to help you identify what you are really good at. So that a prospective employer will see your true value to the organisation. However, are your career and workplace strengths really helpful to you or anyone else for that matter? Is it possible to reduce the reams of strengths down to just four? Well according to Jack Bergstrand it is.
In a previous post “Stronger Career Strengths”, there will be situations when you will be asked what your key career or workplace strengths are. Interviews, appraisals and performance reviews all seem to be ripe territory to asked about your strengths Whenever you get asked the question, you’ll want to be able to identify them and to create an impact. Whilst leveraging your core career strengths for your advantage and development.
So following on from my previous post, the aim here is to focus onto the aspects of Jack Bergstrand’s key suggestion. That there are only four key career or workplace strengths. As a result, the belief is that it will help anyone identify where your core career strengths sit without too much trouble. That’s the theory at least.
Your Career or Workplace Strengths
The great Peter Drucker in an HBR article “Managing Oneself” (January 2005 pp100-109) coined the termed ‘knowledge work productivity’. Drucker goes on to suggest “We will have to learn to develop ourselves. We will have to place ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution.” Part of this self-led development is to identify your key strengths at work that add value to both the business and your own career.
A workplace strength is any ability that is enjoyable, applicable, and that you are better at than most of your colleagues. It is critically important to know your own workplace strengths and how they fit into the big picture. Knowing your workplace strengths, the strengths of others is important to your career development. Helps to understand the big picture of how these strengths fit together. Moreover, how we can work in harmony whilst not be dragged into areas where we do not add a lot of value.
So taking the strengths message a stage further and trying to make some sense of it all, Jack Bergstrand in his book “The Velocity Advantage” (2016) suggests there are just four primary workplace strengths. Best described as essential strengths to getting work done, where work is interdependent, potentially invisible, and in an ever-changing landscape. According to Jack Bergstrand, the four essential workplace strengths are as follows.
The Four Key Strengths
Firstly, “envision strengths,” these people are visionaries and derive energy from solving problems, whilst asking and answering questions. For example ‘where do we intend to go and why?’ It is common to find these strengths with strategists, marketers, and CEOs.” Second is the “design strength,” perhaps the ‘envision strength’ is subjective, the ‘design strength’ is more objective. These strengths tend to get to the facts of the matter. Well-suited as planners and very good at answering the question, ‘what do we need to do when?’ We often find these strengths in recently graduated MBA’s, analysts, planners, and CFO’s.”
The third is the “build” workplace strength. The ‘design’ strength is more focused on facts and figures, the ‘build’ strength is more process-oriented. Therefore, energised by how to best get jobs done. These individuals are excited by systematising, procedural and systematised work. Where the ‘envision’ person typically hates repetitive work, the ‘build’ person thrives on it. You will typically find build people in functions such as manufacturing, logistics, and IT systems management.”
Finally, the fourth type of workplace strength is the “operate characteristic.” This term has a slightly different connotation than it did in the industrial age. With knowledge work, operators make things happen with and through other people. Moreover tend to get a lot of energy from human interaction. They then will focus on the who. Salespeople and mentors are often very strong in the ‘operate’ area.”
Flexing your Workplace muscle
If you are looking to advance your career, finding and realising your workplace strengths is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Your strengths, primary motivation and task orientation often go hand in hand. When aligned, your performance will show it and help your progression. However, if you are stuck in a position that doesn’t make good use of your strengths, your drive and performance will suffer along with your career advancement.”
Perhaps a subjective and simple way to identify your workplace strengths is to listen to yourself when you are working. For example what activity or task provides you with satisfaction and fulfilment? The subjective assessments of your strengths need to be validated with feedback from others. When others ask for your opinion, competency or praise you, that’s usually a good sign that you have identified a workplace strength.
When trying to identify your workplace strengths, it is most important to first find the things that are of interest, satisfy and fulfil you. This can be done by exploring your most enjoyable activities, both in or outside of the workplace. For instance, do you often volunteer your spare time; If so, you may well be driven toward altruistic, person-centred and compassionate activities. Do you mentor, or organise events? If so, management might be your future career development opportunity in the future.
Identifying Key Strengths
Once you’ve found your intrinsic interests and the associated activities, you can then determine whether you are good at them. Asking your friends and family may prove inaccurate as they will tend to protect us from criticism. So let’s be honest, your actions do not lie. If you enjoy organising and managing events, do people show up to them? Do they have fun and do you have people coming back for more? Try to objectively observe and quantify the outcomes of your actions. When you are good at something it is a true strength. One that is to be managed and utilised for your career & business development.
So do you think you possess one or more of the four core strengths Jack Bergstrand laid out above? Here are the characteristics associated with each.
Characteristics of the “envision” workplace strength:•
- Thinking strategically: The ability to see past today’s issues and focus on a longer-term destination.
- Setting a visionary destination: The ability to establish a positive future in the minds of others that don’t exist today.
- Thinking inventively: The ability to conceptualise a working solution that can ultimately convert into a tangible product-service offering.
- Generating imaginative ideas: The ability to see and articulate possibilities that are not purely grounded inexperience.
- Thinking creatively: The ability to offer new thoughts on subject areas that others have not considered.
- Pioneering new ideas: The ability to create a new line of thought that has not yet been proven in practice.
- Brainstorming new ideas: The ability to work with others to co-create new ideas and new solutions.
Characteristics of the “design” workplace strength:
- Analysing situations: The ability to conceptually break down a situation into parts and understand those parts.
- Defining clear policies: The ability to establish well-understood guidelines to help groups of individuals work in a unified way.
- Defining detailed objectives: The ability to create explicit goals to direct the work of individuals and the organization overall.
- Planning budgets: The ability to establish and control the allocation of resources to achieve organizational goals.
- Establish clear performance measures: The ability to create a standard mechanism to evaluate whether or not goals are achieved.
- Judging performance objectively: The ability to independently weigh the evidence and form an opinion on personal and organizational results.
- Making decisions by the numbers: The ability to make a final choice based upon quantitative reasoning and measures.
Characteristics of the “build” workplace strength:
- Develop standard processes: The ability to get work done effectively, efficiently, and consistently, using a repeatable series of actions.
- Create step-by-step procedures: The ability to get work done using an established set of instructions or checklists.
- Manage important projects: The ability to execute a planned set of activities to achieve significant organizational or physical change.
- Implement integrated programs: The ability to unify—and manage as a group—a series of projects to holistically achieve enterprise results.
- Champion proven methods: The ability to use well-established procedures to improve enterprise performance.
- Secure practical solutions: The ability to solve problems by applying tools and techniques that are proven to be sufficient, rather than state of the art.
- Focus upon roles and responsibilities: The ability to systematically execute activities through the organisational structure.
Characteristics of the “operate” workplace strength:
- Building personal relationships: The ability to productively and progressively bond with key people as individuals and groups on an emotional level.
- Working in teams: The ability to work with others in a way where you subordinate yourself as an individual to better achieve the goals of the group.
- Coaching others: The ability to help people contribute more by facilitating their personal growth breakthroughs to achieve specific personal and organizational goals.
- Supporting others: The ability to help people achieve their goals and recover when they encounter problems.
- Relating to people: The ability to establish a kinship with others, building upon commonalities and de-emphasizing or diffusing differences.
- Communicating: The ability to transfer information verbally and non-verbally to achieve sufficient interpersonal understanding and produce actions.
- Changing spontaneously: The ability to consistently achieve better results by rapidly and successfully adapting to a dynamic environment.
Knowing your workplace strength or strengths, and having a framework and process to maximize their impact, is a great way to be more productive and enjoy work more. If you are looking to plan a career move or are looking for work, then spending time to objectify your strengths will help consolidate your CV. It will create a structure for where you will change the business for the better, improve processes and help an employer see you are the right person for the job.
Clearly the jack-of-all-trades roles are increasingly less attractive to employers and business today. Being able to define where and how you add value to your role is paramount to both you and your employer. Where do you improve things, optimise processes or save time and money? You will need to be clear and able to quantify your key strengths and effectiveness. A feature of identifying and activating your workplace strengths is when you work more productively; you waste less time. When you waste less time on the job, you can enjoy more time doing other things such as hobbies and spend time with friends and family.
It is far better to identify and foster your strengths, and if you can work on or avoid your weaknesses. The power of understanding your strengths comes in the form of being able to focus on them, drive toward them and ultimately advance your career as a result of them. With time and effort, your strengths help to focus your time, direct your efforts and ultimately pave your career’s trajectory.
Drucker, P (2005) “Managing Oneself” Harvard Business Review (online) https://hbr.org/2005/01/managing-oneself
Bergstrand, J. (2016) “The Velocity Advantage” Brand Velocity, Incorporated; 1st Edition