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Posted: December 10, 2013

Put the right person in the right seat

Tips to identify and leverage strengths

Mary Kaiser

I work with companies across the U.S., including many in Colorado – helping to grow and develop individuals and teams. What I find fascinating in my line of work is that most business owners and executives have a very limited understanding of their own strengths and/or the strengths of others within their organization.  And they have even less of an understanding of what those skills mean and how to embrace them. 

We are inundated by articles, reports and experts telling us that human talent is critical for business success.  So why the lack of understanding and focus on our own talents and those of our co-workers, employees or partners?  

One reason is that we often shy away from taking a hard look at ourselves. It’s time-consuming, challenging and often downright daunting. It’s also hard to be objective in assessing talent – our own or the strengths or deficiencies of others.  I often find that my clients get woo’ed by the resume or personality and miss uncovering key information, which is why it’s critical to have an unbiased, solid understanding of our own skills and strengths and what we’re looking for in others. This is important not only for the hiring process but for building retention, solidifying key leadership and driving culture.

The strengths assessment process is an ideal way to identify each individual’s talents and how to best leverage those talents. This allows for a new teamwork structure that optimizes individual talent, creates efficiencies and increases accountability. Think of it as a SWOT analysis on your most valuable resource – your people.

I can think of many hiring casualties where mis-hires cost the company severely in terms of productivity, team dynamics and revenue loss. Here are a few quick tips and illustrations on the effectiveness of identifying and leveraging strengths.

1. Identify pros and cons. It’s important to know what strength(s) is needed for a particular job and why.  It’s never a one size fits all approach. Some jobs require a collaborator while others require a leader who can give direction under pressure.  Know what’s needed now, what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t.

Example:  I have a client who runs a small business with 40 employees.  She embraces a very collaborative-style of leadership and employs a very young, female-heavy staff who needs a lot of direction. During the hiring process for a new office manager, I advised her to look for someone more directive to help her with situations where employees needed guidance.  The balance between the owner and the new office manager worked because their styles complimented one another and allowed for both collaboration and leadership.

2. Don’t force it. It’s important to identify and understand the strengths AND gap areas of the existing team. Companies often hire for a specific need or resume item but sometimes an individual will not fit in with an existing organizational structure or team dynamic until change occurs.

Example:  I was asked to coach a mid-career hire at a company that was looking to shake things up. This particular individual was a risk-taker and displayed a great amount of innovative. The problem was that the new hire was a big-picture thinker and not a practical, action-oriented individual.  He did not fit into the company’s existing culture that was all about efficiency and bottom line.  Although they hired him for a great resume and the fact that he brought in the new skill they wanted, the existing corporate culture was still in place and this made it impossible for the company to adapt to his style and leverage the unique skills he brought to the table. 

3. Look ahead. It’s important to know where your business or organization is headed. Times change and the profile of your employees or team members will also change.  For instance, in a growth mode, it may be important to put a management or sales team in place that is progressive and has the foresight and ability to create opportunities to expand the business.

Example: I worked with a company who wanted to move to a more consultative approach to stay competitive in their industry -- and this meant having their sales people relate to the customers as “advisors”.  They were ready to invest a lot of money in training to retool their existing sales force.  They quickly realized that training/retooling their existing workforce would not work with the employees they currently had in place. In the end, they recognized the need to hire a new team who naturally had the advisor skill set they were seeking.

Understanding the current talent mix and strengths of your organization and hiring for specific strengths AND compatibility are essential keys to enhancing corporate culture and reaching growth and/or profitability objectives. As Jim Collins wrote in Good to Great, “Having the right person in the right seat on the bus matters.”

Mary Kaiser is the founder of Start with Strengths, a Colorado-based professional consulting and coaching firm. Her experience includes over 25 years of growing leaders and teams for businesses across the country. Reach her at or connect at

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Readers Respond

Recognizing and utilizing talent is indeed a key issue. Thank you for sharing your insights! By Melissa Triplett on 2013 12 30
The idea of 'putting' the person in the right seat is good. I practice 'allowing' the person to take ownership of an area or responsibility. The difference is subtle but significant. People grow into positions, take an interest and start learning, participating, even leading that new function. My job as CEO is not to force, 'give' or 'put' but basically to recognize, accept and formalize with the title. The person 'naturally takes over' by the force of her/his own passion, ability, talent and additional effort. This is very different of someone scheming to undermine a colleague. Recognizing reality, being alert to trends, changes and the dynamics in the organization is in my view, one of the skills required from a leader. By Pablo Vitaver on 2013 12 17
Great article Mary! By Krysia on 2013 12 17
Mary - I enjoyed reading your article. These are great insights for businesses, both large and small.. Putting the right person in the right seat will improve efficiency and productivity in the work place. It's a win-win situation for both employer and employee. Thanks for shedding light on the importance of understanding our own strengths and the strengths of those around us! By Sue Mills on 2013 12 12
Mary, good article, very insightful, you are clearly talking from experience. My epilogue to the article would be to go back to the title of the article and reword it: Allow the right person to sit on the right chair. If the person sits on it (as in 'comfortable'), move on to the next Candidate. Jobs are not places to 'sit comfortable', stationary, static, but launching pads to new ideas, bigger responsibilities, learning and moving on, so your Organization also moves, always nimble and agile, never 'comfortable' sitting. You need people who are ambitious, always growing, forward-looking, highly mobile, risk takers. Makes sense? By Pablo Vitaver on 2013 12 10
Great insights and sound approach to actually utilizing an organization's talent. The examples made the ideas come alive. Would love to read more about how to balance employee's different strengths. By Eileen McMahon on 2013 12 10
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