Tools for Identifying Employee Strengths & Weaknesses

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Making sure that the right people get into the right seat on the bus is one of the most important decisions that an executive will make. This lesson explores several different tools that can be used to identify an person's strengths and weaknesses.

Exploring Individual Strengths and Weaknesses

In December of 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump nominated an attorney named Matthew Petersen to fill a lifetime-tenured judgeship the federal bench. During his confirmation hearing, Petersen's testimony under oath revealed that:

  • He had never tried a case in court (civil or criminal)
  • He had never argued a motion in any state of federal court
  • His knowledge of the law appeared to be limited as evidenced by his inability to explain some of the most basic, fundamental components of the practice of law

After reading about his lack of experience and knowledge, you might think Mr. Petersen was a 'loser'. Nothing could be further from the truth. In 2008, Petersen was nominated to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). He was unanimously approved by the Senate, and subsequently served as the Chair the Commission in 2010 and 2016. Hardly the portrait of a loser.

This might leave you asking the question, 'Why would someone unanimously approved to be a member of the FEC be nearly unanimously rejected from an appointment as a district judge?' The answer, of course, is that Petersen's strengths were concentrated in areas of legal practice that made him highly qualified for one role, but unqualified for another. This match/mismatch happens all the time in many organizations, and the most successful executives know that placing the right people in the right seats on the bus is one of the most important decisions in business.

Diagnostic Tools

Although the most common tool for selecting candidates is the application-interview process, this practice doesn't actually have a great track record of giving an employer the best employees. For this reason, there are a number of commercially-available products and services that a business executive can use to help find a great fit for their company or organization.

Traditional Interview Strategies

The most widely-utilized strength-weakness assessment is also perhaps the most unreliable. Behavioral interviewing is common and is characterized by questions like:

  • 'Tell me about a time when you...'
  • 'What's an example of a time in which you used emotional intelligence to addressees a sharp disagreement with a co-worker?'

Although more intense, the Senate confirmation process (allowing Senators to ask basic questions of a nominee) is one common, but often unreliable, way of finding strengths and weaknesses.

The Personal SWOT Analysis

The acronym SWOT is used to describe an assessment that attempts to discover strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This tool is typically applied to an organization, but it's actually quite applicable to finding individual strengths and weaknesses. A SWOT analysis of nominee Petersen looks something like this:

  • Strengths: election law, prior Senate confirmation (unanimous), crafting legislation
  • Weaknesses: trial law, litigation, civil and/or criminal proceedings, no prior experience as a judge
  • Opportunities: nomination as a U.S. District Court judge
  • Threats: rejection in the confirmation process

This type of analysis can be performed on nearly any person in any role.

A graphical representation of a SWOT analysis. SWOT analyses are not always this complex, but this gives you an idea of how these categories are organized visually

Commercial Tools

For organizations with ample resources, there are a multitude of commercially-available tools for discovering strengths and weaknesses. The Clifton StrengthFinder is a tool created by the world-renowned polling firm Gallup. This 177-question assessment takes less than 30 minutes to complete, and independent data supports the claims that the tool gives organizations material improvement in key areas.

Another tool, the Echospan 360 Assessment, is a tool that can identify strengths and weaknesses by collecting information from multiple sources. This tends to be more reliable than behavioral interviewing because it analyzes many perspectives rather than only the candidates view of themselves.

Complex, Specialty, and Resource-Intensive Tools

In a few situations, an individual's strengths and weaknesses are so critical to the organization that the company is willing to leverage substantial resources in order to identify a candidate who posses the perfect strengths and weaknesses for a role. If the concept of having 'ideal weaknesses' seems odd to you, it's not. Consider a few examples of cases in which a weakness is desirable rather than a negative.

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