Managing The Individual To Develop Team Strength

Who do you believe has the most power to control the success or otherwise of your team? The individuals or the team as a whole?

In this interview, Trevor O'Sullivan, General Manager of DTS Australia, shares why he believes, the leader's greatest power comes by managing the individual first.

Trevor provides tips to help you more effectively manage the individual and use their strengths and talents to better serve the overall team success. He provides some great examples of how leaders have saved their organizations hundreds of thousand (and in one case millions) of dollars through managing the individual.

Shelley: Where do you think the majority of your power and success lies? Is it in managing the individual or managing the team? With us today is Trevor O'Sullivan, who is the general manager of DTS International, and he's going to share with you, why he firmly believes your greatest power, as a leader, comes from managing the individual rather than the team and he will provide you with some tips for how to do this.

Trevor is passionate about people and understanding what makes all of us tick and how we can better interact with each other. With his organization, DTS, they have the insight into hundreds of organizations' and thousands of people's behavioral profiles to actually know, really clearly, what makes us all work. So, hi, Trevor.

Trevor: Hi, Shelley. Thanks for having me.

Shelley: My pleasure. Trevor, tell us, why do you believe a manager should manage the individual rather than the team?

Trevor: Well, Shelley, as you said, our organization works with a lot of leaders around Australia, and we've noticed some things. None of these things are great revelations; we all know this, but sometimes it's just bringing it back to these basic points.

One of those things is that people are unique and they expect different things in the workplace. Understanding this empowers leaders to get a lot more from people with less effort. People who feel valued and respected tend to be more engaged. They stay longer with an organization and they tend to be happier while they're there. Focusing on people and what they're good at, and enjoy,  produces better results more quickly and at a lower cost. We really have to remember that teams are made up of individuals, and individuals expect different things.

Shelley: I guess a lot of leaders would be thinking, "Yes, but I don't have time for all that."

Trevor: Sure. It's one of those things where you have to balance it out. Maybe we don't have the time immediately, upfront, but it's just like buying a new computer system or a new piece of equipment for our office or manufacturing plant, or any of those things. We invest the time it takes to get it up and running for a payoff down the track.

Shelley:  Nice. That makes really good sense. Now, I know that you're a real fan of the work that Marcus Buckingham has done around strengths, and that you're passionate about making use of people's strengths, so that the individual and his or her organization can prosper. Can you explain to our audience what the strengths movement is about and why it's so important?

Trevor: Sure. First, I'd have to say that anyone who hasn't read Marcus's book, First, Break All the Rules, must get it, and don't just read it; study it. It's one of the greatest management books ever written. I truly believe that.

Marcus's work centers on a huge piece of research, done by the Gallup organization, around what makes great managers. Just to give our listeners a little bit of an idea of that, we're talking about a survey of over 80,000 managers and over 1 million team members who worked for those managers, so we're talking about an enormous amount of research. The idea of this was to find out what great managers did differently that made them so wonderful, and the other side of that was that it also found some fundamental flaws in conventional wisdom.

Really, the four things that this book center around are first, that great managers select for talent. We're often drawn to looking at a person's resume and making a decision based on that. But great managers believe that we're each built to excel in some areas and struggle in others. I'm sure everyone has found themselves saying, "She's just a natural at that." Seeing someone just pick something up and they're leaps and bounds ahead of the pack in no time flat, that's truly what talent is.

A model that we use here at DTS is what we call the "KEST" principle, and it stands for knowledge, skills, experience and talent. Now, knowledge, skills and experience are all hard skills. They're all things that we can learn and are fairly easy to measure. We can look at a resume and see what someone's learned at school. We can put them through a skills test; we can look at their experience and do reference checks and those sorts of things.

But the things that are quite hard to measure and often overlooked are the soft stills. It's the behavior, the motivation and the natural attributes and those sorts of things that people have. We talk about that as our foundation. You've got these huge buildings in the center of the city with foundations that go so deep, and the only reason that they can get up that high is because the foundation is right. We talk about the soft skills as being the foundation, and Marcus's research really showed that great managers understood that and they selected for that reason.

That's another thing that these studies have found. Once we've got the right foundation in place, great managers define the right outcome. They're putting the right person in the right spot, but they've got an outcome that they know that that person can reach. One of the challenges we face out there in the workplace, is that most job descriptions focus on the tasks a person will perform and to what level. The great managers out there define the ideal outcome. They define what excellence will look like.

Shelley: That's right, and that's the second main theme of Marcus's book, isn't it?

Trevor: That's right. So, with that clear outcome in mind, they can allow their team members to kind of define their own paths, within the bounds of the organization, obviously, but it's their path of least resistance based on their own talent and experience. Great managers understand that what works for them doesn't necessarily work for everybody on their team. They understand that power of uniqueness.

Shelley: Okay, great. So what was the third theme?

Trevor: The third part of that is that great managers tend to focus on strengths. Many development initiatives that we see out there in the workplace are really focused on, you know, "We've identified that Trevor's pretty weak at detail. He spells things wrong, he gets times wrong and how can we fix that?" The great managers believe that this is truly a waste of time. They believe that a person is uniquely wired to excel in some areas and fail dismally in others, and with me, it's detail. Great managers understand that some things just can't be taught, and they believe that you can't put in what's left out when it comes to talent.

Shelley: So rather than trying to fit the square peg in the round hole, they make the hole round and then find somebody else to fill the squares in, right?

Trevor: Yeah, and that brings us to the fourth thing that he talks about, which is that great managers help people find the right fit. Great managers believe that any position, performed at excellence, is infinitely valuable. As an example, in his book, First, Break All the Rules, he talks about a cleaner. The CEO is walking through the building one night and sees the cleaner with a can of Ajax. The cleaner has taped over all of the holes in the top of the can except for one, and the CEO can't help but ask, "Why have you done that?" The cleaner says, "When all the holes are open, too much comes out when I tip it up, and I'm wasting all this Ajax."

So it's tiny little things like that, that some people are just innately drawn to. Conventional wisdom tells us that we've got to keep moving up the corporate ladder, and we're told to get promoted, move up, and always be looking to the next rung. In the book, "The Peter Principle," Lawrence Peter actually says that this is eventually leads us to being promoted to a level of incompetence, and we ultimately fail. That's a horrible thing to think about, you know. Eventually, I'll get to a point where I just can't perform anymore, and I'll either be moved out of the organization or moved into another position.

One of the biggest examples we see out there, is a great salesperson or a great administrator gets promoted to being a manager of those people and they start to falter. Ultimately, over time, the business loses out. They lose a great performer because they've moved him out of that previous role, they see a decline in the performance of the team as a whole, and then they might end up losing the person through him quitting or being fired.

The strengths movement that Marcus talked about, coming back to the original question, is understanding that we're all unique and that we're all designed to fail at some things and truly excel at others. So the strengths movement focuses on finding those things that we enjoy and we excel at and creates more opportunities to be involved in those activities.

Shelley: You know, it's one of my great frustrations, both when I was an HR manager and also then in working with my clients is that, often the reward and recognition systems are set up such that people feel that the only way they can get the status or the high income is through climbing that corporate ladder. Organizations that really want to adopt the strengths movement principles, have to look at how to make sure they're rewarding and recognizing people for staying in those middle-tier jobs rather than climbing up that very pointed triangle.

So, Trevor, what would be your top three practical tips that a leader could use to implement a strengths philosophy is their workplace?

Trevor: The very first thing we have to do is truly understand ourselves and the impact we have on other people. We have to understand our own preferred communication style, both when communicating to others and when we're being communicated to ourselves. The next thing we have to do is understand our own values and motivations. These are the things that move us into action, but they might not necessarily move other people into action.

Here's a good example of this. I've got a client up in the central coast of New South Wales. She owns about seven gyms, and she wanted to get her people doing more personal training activities. So she got a whole bunch of them in, and being in the business-owner mindset of money, money, money, she told them, "Look, if you get three more clients, you can make this much more money each week."

Well, what happened was that,

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