Chess: Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

In the game of employee management, are you playing checkers or mastering the game of chess? Whether you have on-site employees, or rely on freelancers or virtual team members to help you move your business forward, examining how you manage them can help you maximize their output. And who doesn’t want more output?

In today’s blog, we’ll go beyond time-honored approaches for optimizing productivity and explore this topic with guidance from a super-insightful Harvard Business Review article…

In the HBR article “What Great Managers Do,” by Marcus Buckingham, head of people and performance research at the ADP Research Institute, Buckingham takes a deep dive into what sets apart great managers from those who are simply good. He invites us to leverage our team members as though they each are parts of a complex game of chess, instead of approaching them as checkers pieces. He reminds us that each employee has their own unique strengths and skills that need to be understood and capitalized upon…and it’s a great manager who knows how to play strategically to these unique individual strengths. 

It’s important to frame this with a clear distinction in mind: managing vs leading. So read on for tips that can help you minimize turnover and maximize achievements of your tribe.  

Discover each employee’s unique qualities and capitalize on them

Not sure where to start? The topic of great leadership can be so broad that launching from a place of simplicity makes sense. Begin by developing a strengths list for your team members and then through conversation, develop an understanding of each individual’s preferences by asking these two key probing questions:

Q1: Tell me about your best day on the job

Q2: Tell me about your worst day on the job

An excerpt from Buckingham’s HBR article:

“To identify a person’s strengths, first ask, “What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months?” Find out what the person was doing and why she enjoyed it so much. Remember: A strength is not merely something you are good at. In fact, it might be something you are not good at yet. It might be just a predilection, something you find so intrinsically satisfying that you look forward to doing it again and again and getting better at it over time.

To identify a person’s weaknesses, just invert the question: “What was the worst day you’ve had at work in the past three months?” And then probe for details about what they were doing and why it grated on them so much. As with a strength, a weakness is not merely something you are bad at (in fact, you might be quite competent at it). It is something that drains you of energy, an activity that you never look forward to doing and that when you are doing it, all you can think about is stopping.

Although you’re keeping an eye out for both strengths and weaknesses of your employees, your focus should be on their strengths.”

The best part is, you don’t need to be overly formal with these inquiries. While you can ask these critical questions in a performance review, they can also be part of a casual conversation. So don’t wait!

Put people into roles that allow them to shine

I’ll share a real-life application from my own business:  

After working with a valued team member for three years, I woke-up to a need to apply these management principles. Our Consultant / Project Manager, Sonja Hultz, had many strengths but my gut was telling me that we weren’t maximizing them in her assigned roles. I completed this simple worksheet for her and other team members and immediately this assessment totally opened up Sonja’s career path. It illustrated the value she brings to our team and clients, and that to go to the next level, we needed to invest in her consulting work with our clients. Our new approach now provides a way to maximize all Sonja brings to Black Dress Circle. She is working optimally now and is energized daily by her contributions. We all win.  

I hope you can see the ROI potential of these exercises. Whoever you collaborate with to make your business hum at maximum capacity, I challenge you to think beyond your current boundaries.

As I often remind my BDC roundtable members, it’s easy to get mired in the day-to-day minutiae of working in our businesses; it’s the planners and strategic thinkers who get ahead by working on their business. (PS – We’re starting a new group in June, so reach out if you want to talk about becoming a founding member!)


Erin Joy


Image Credit: Wooden Earth LTD