When it comes to learning, particularly at the organizational level, one of the major problems we run into is this sort of “evolve or die” mentality.

We live in a world that seems almost predisposed to tell us where we are weak. When you ask most people to point out their weaknesses, the answer comes rather easily. Ask them about their strengths and that tends to be harder for most people to detect. In fact, for most individuals, they aren’t likely to recognize their own strengths unless someone else points it out to them.

In their 2003 research paper, “Investing in Strengths,” Donald O. Clifton and James K. Harder of the Gallup Foundation put forth the idea that our talents are our greatest opportunities for success. This wasn’t a new idea at the time, and it isn’t a radically new idea now. However, when you really look at the structure of most learning programs and organizations, it becomes pretty obvious that time and investment is being placed on weaknesses rather than strengths.

At the childhood level, certainly more emphasis must be placed on weaknesses. It’s important for students who struggle with reading, for instance, get extra help and encouragement in this area. However, when it comes to most corporate learning environments, that mentality seems to continue. The focus tends to be on building upon people’s weaknesses rather than investing in developing employees’ strengths.

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Photo via Shutterstock

A few years ago, Pew Research conducted a study examining this situation. Researchers decided to look at two groups of people: 100 slow-to-medium readers and 100 high-performance readers. Both groups were sent to a speed reading course.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those in the lower group saw an average of 150 percent improvement.

What was less expected was that the high performers saw an average of 700 percent improvement. In other words, their strengths were multiplied by seven times!

According to Clifton and Harder, “When people become aware of their talents, through measurement and feedback, they have a strong position from which to view their potential. They can then begin to integrate their awareness of their talents with knowledge and skills to develop strengths.”

This provides organizations and individuals with huge opportunity. People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report.

Truly good managers will work to ensure that teams have a mix of strengths and weaknesses. In a collaborative environment, everyone is able to build together and ultimately achieve more. A team with a mix of talents harnesses the power of togetherness to learn to build upon strengths, not just shore up resources. The aforementioned Gallup report found that when managers focused on their employees’ strengths, active disengagement fell dramatically, to about 1 percent. Imagine if this could be applied to all workplaces – productivity would soar.

Organizations must work to help individuals identify their strengths, and provide access to the people, communities, courses and other tools needed to build on these strengths. In other words, companies shouldn’t be focusing on the idea that they must evolve or die; the key to truly succeeding is through collaboration and harnessing the power of individuals’ strengths. That’s why Cisco created the Collaborative Knowledge platform.

To learn more about how this platform helps organizations and their employees identify strengths and access knowledge and resources in real-time, anyplace and anywhere, visit: https://collaborativeknowledge.cisco.com/index.html


Ryan Rose

Director of Product Management for Skills & Certifications

Cisco Learning & Certifications