This is the last instalment of Murray feature exploring activities from this chapter of Scaling Up by Verne Harnish

Point 1 - Help people play to their strengths.

Murray's Key Points

  • Consider what constitutes strength in this scenario – A strength isn't just something you're good at. Its only a strength if it literally gives you strength and provides you with boundless energy.  In turn; a weakness could something that you may be good at, but it drains the life out of you.
  • Focus your employees on activities that give them energy and consider diverting the draining parts of anyone's job to others that have an aptitude for these tasks.  It is possible that this might create new positions but if the result is a happier, more productive, and more loyal workforce, the switch will pay dividends in the long run.
  • Consider getting your team to document all the activities they either love (energising activities) or loathe (draining activities).  Ask them to put forward suggestions on how to overcome these challenges.  You will get a more engaged team that are automatically 'on-board' with any changes required.
  • Don't forget to apply this to yourself!  Focus on eliminating or delegating tasks that drain you.  From my own personal experience; I find getting bogged down in reviewing detailed tax returns frustrating and draining.  I had no energy left to think about clients' bigger picture dreams and goals and even less energy to go out and discuss this and possible solutions with them (what I really enjoy the most about my job).  I delegated this reviewing task to one of my team leaders who has an incredible technical mind and loves the detail (but finds communicating with clients draining and confidence sapping).  Win-Win for both our firm and the client.

Consider these traits when describing your team:

Good Manager - Speaks in generalities about his team… they are all hard-working, responsible, diligent and fun etc.

Great Manager - Describes each team member with specific details about their personality, strengths and achievements. 

Read the Except

  1.        Help people play to their strengths.

What ultimately sets great managers apart from the merely good ones is that they help with their people play to their strengths. To understand how to do this requires a refined definition of what constitutes a strength.  A strength isn't just something you're good at; it's only a strength if it literally gives you strength, gives you energy. In turn, a weakness, is something that, though you may be good at it, drains the life out of you.

Thus, a key function of great managers is helping individual employees refocus and prune their jobs over time so they focus more on activities that give them strength and less on activities that make them weak. Though there will always be parts of anyone's job that are draining, the companies that do better minimizing these will have a more energized team.

Coming back to the chess vs. checkers analogy used earlier, Bobby Fischer, the great chess champion, once said, "Winning in this game is all a matter of understanding how to capitalize on the strengths of each piece and timing their moves just right."

Lois Melbourne, CEO of Texas-based Aquire (a subsidiary of People Fluent), has taken a page from strengths guru Marcus Buckingham. Instead of hiring more (and extremely difficult-to-find) programmers to keep up with the rapid growth of her HR software firm, she's focused on making her existing programmers happier and more energized.

To do this, Buckingham suggests taking a couple of weeks and documenting all those activities you either love or loathe. This is precisely what Melbourne has her programmers do regularly, nothing all of the activities that drain their energy and keep these techies away from their primary strength: programming. She then eliminates those activities no one should have to do (they creep into every job) and then uses the remaining list to create a Job Scorecard for a new position – to be filled by a new chess piece that loves to do what others hate. Result: happier, more productive, and loyal programmers.

Whenever you have a department scream for more help, rather than throw more of the same people at the situation, try Buckingham's approach. And before starting "love and loathe" exercise, have your team take the inexpensive online StrengthsFinder assessment offered by Gallup ( You will get insightful reports that will serve as conversation starters and will help your people achieve self-awareness about their strengths.

Facebook's celebrity COO Sheryl Sandberg recently called Buckingham's follow-up book with Donald O.  Clifton, Now Discover Your Strengths, the most important book she had read in recent years. In her view, Facebook is already a strengths-based organization. If you want to follow Facebook's example, go to and get Buckingham's six-DVD series titled Trombone Player Wanted. Then organize a learning session with your team and discuss how to become a strengths-based organization. These remarkably produced mini-movies will have you more fulfilled, happier, and engaged employees who will lift themselves and your organization to new levels of energy and performance.

CRITICAL: Don't forget to apply this to yourself. Focus on eliminating or delegating tasks that drain you. In Verne's case, he found someone who loves to build PowerPoint presentations, something that wears him out; and he continues to partner with various CEO's to run the Gazelles family of companies. This gives him more time to teach, which truly energizes him.

Are you a Manager or a Leader?
Ask a good manager about his team and he will speak in generalities, saying that they are hard working, responsible, fun etc. Ask a great manager the same question and she will describe each of her team members with specific details about their personality, strengths, and achievements. Again, think about the "A-Team" action television analogy from the last chapter.

If you struggle with appreciating the differences in your team, you might be more of a leader than a manager. Managing is about differences; leading is about sameness. Great managers discover what is different about people and capitalize on it. Great leaders discover what is universal, build a common vision for a better future around it, and then rally people behind it. (Marcus Buckingham, this time in his book The One Thing You Need to Know… About Great Managing, Great Leading, and sustained individual success, explains this difference between managing and leading.)

Companies can cope with a charismatic leader (who struggles with managing) until they get to about 50 employees. But as soon as you approach 100 or more people, you have to put in place a team of managers capable of adopting the five habits outlined above. Scaling up a business requires both visionary leadership and great managers.

In 2012, Gene Browne, co-founder and CEO of The City Bin Co. in Galway, Ireland, decided to invest heavily in executive education. The company set up an internal learning academy named "Garbage University". It provides three hours of training every two weeks from September to May, in sync with the academic year. Each year, Garbage University has a particular focus that shapes the topics that the executive team discusses. For instance, 2013 was about growth during a time when the company grew nearly 100%, from 70 to 120 employees.

At MOM's Organic Market, in addition to executive education, produce managers will typically read four to five books together every year. Recent titles on their list include business books such as Liz Wiseman's Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter and Patrick M. Lencioni's The Five Dysfunctions of a Team; A Leadership Fable. Other titles help them absorb knowledge that's specific to their field. One typical pick: Maria Rodale's Organic Manifesto. "We've read a lot of books on the organic industry," says Jon Croft, training director at the metro Washington-based company.

In order to keep your company competitive and your people loyal, you must grow them through education and coaching. And this investment in people is the biggest single predictor of a company's ability to beat its direct competitors and the overall market, based on exhaustive research done by Laurie Bassi, co-author of Good Company: Business Success in the Worthiness Era. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, couldn't agree more. He declared that the ROI of GE's famous internal business school, Crotonville, was "infinite".

Should you would like to discuss this article or ways to grow your business,

contact Murray Kilpin on  5592 3644


Verne Harnish is an author (Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Scaling Up, and The Greatest Business Decisions of all Time); lecturer in entrepreneurship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-founded Gazelles Growth Institute, a strategic planning and executive education company. 

Reprinted with kind permission: Scaling up: How a Few Companies Make It….and Why the Rest Don't, Verne Harnish and the team at Gazelles, 2014