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Diverse strengths: make the most of your people’s USPs

Every individual in your organisation has their own set of skills, strengths and insights. How do you work with them to maximise the positive impact for your business?

From speaking Cantonese to understanding the motivations of specific consumer groups, every member of every organisation possesses a different and unique blend of strengths and skills that help them to stand out.

Excellent management of these skills and insights can be the thing that sets a business apart from its competitors, that makes employees feel happy and appreciated and that allows individuals’ unique selling points to become a part of the whole organisation’s USP. An organisation should never treat its staff as interchangeable, attempting to mould them into a hypothetical ‘ideal employee’ template.

We asked Investors in People Practitioner, Lance Cross, how to make the most of the broad range of talents, interests and motivations in your organisation, to turn your people’s USPs into business USPs too.


Individual but fitting in

“You don’t want to create robots,” Lance says. “You want each individual to feel that they contribute in their own individual way with their own talents. Organisations with high levels of staff retention do so by nurturing an atmosphere in which difference is celebrated: the whole organisation’s values permeate through the culture and people learn from each other.

“Diverse perspectives can be invaluable for problem solving, as well as understanding different markets’ unique needs. The key thing is that the organisation’s overall ethos is clearly defined and that it’s applied not just outwards, to its customers, but also inwards, to its staff – whose strengths will become apparent through a robust, two-way appraisals procedure.

“If you’re defining a set of values and, from there, coming up with some competencies against which you performance manage people, then you’re not expecting homogeneity. You’re asking each individual to see how they fit in, in their own way.”


Ensuring values have real value

“Every organisation has buzzwords of the ‘inspire, innovate, empower’ variety. They’ve usually been picked as a crystallisation of what it is that the company sees at the heart of its ethos and the way it would like to be perceived. Work is put into the external face of the company, ensuring that it incorporates these values into its customer-facing role, that they’re included on the website and in literature, and are circulated to staff too.

“But this should only be the start of the process. The next step for business leaders is to turn that around to look inside the organisation. If you make certain commitments to your customers, then why would you treat your own people differently?

“How do your brand values really translate every day to how your people behave, with customers and each other? And while it’s useful to agree on examples of your values in action as a reference point for everyone, your values and behaviours should still allow space for individual difference and interpretation in line with individual skills, experiences and ‘USPs’.


Make it happen: Workshop outline

“To help you apply your values to your own staff, you can start by running a session in the workplace. I’d suggest that management don’t attend – but the event would start with a list of prompt questions, agreed with the leadership in advance. These should be along the lines of:

  • What do these guiding principles mean for us?
  • What does it mean for us if we’re going to be a great place to work?

“I’d put people in groups who don’t normally work together, and ask them to write their thoughts on flip charts. Then I’d satellite them around so everyone has a chance to get involved with all sorts of questions. So they tackle:

  • What specific set of behaviours should we be showing to support our values – both with customers and each other?
  • Who is good at this and how can we be more like them?
  • What skills could we develop to do this better?
  • What do we expect from our managers?

“The result is usually a list of the organisation’s own values with bullet points under each explaining what they mean in real terms for the organisation’s work practices. It’s a commitment to specific behaviours, which can then be incorporated into your performance management system.


Leaders, it's all about your attitude

“A culture of openness, transparency and trust is vital. In some industries, it’s common to find leaders at the top who are really good at a particular specialism – but aren’t as good at managing people. The reality of developing a team can seem too difficult and so it becomes something leaders don’t want to think about.

“In these cases, leaders will often give someone else responsibility for all people issues, freeing themselves up to get their heads down on the technical side of things, while leaving appraisals and inspiring people to others.

 “I once worked for a solar installation company where it took 20 years for the two people at the top to bring in a general manager to do all the people management for them. This was an important step, but it was also important to change their own attitudes and make sure their people knew that they still cared about their happiness and development, and weren’t just shipping out this important element of their work to someone else.


Drawing on strengths

“Any enlightened organisation will seek to find an approach that draws out and appreciates people’s strengths and individuality. The variety and difference of the talents, experience, interests, personalities and passions of the people who make up your organisation should be seen as an opportunity to fulfil employees and help your business stand out.

"Research from PricewaterhouseCoopers recently showed that British organisations are losing £42 billion a year through a failure to retain key staff: anything that keeps people happily committed to your workplace has to be a good thing for workers and customers alike. An appreciation of what makes each of your people unique and an understanding of how you can encourage them to shine at work is an excellent place to start.