Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Strengths - and why they matter in your communication

Fresh from a recent Strengths workshop with Marcus Buckingham I'm looking at the world slightly differently.

Marcus Buckingham's book "Go put your strengths to work" and one of his recent Sydney seminars was all about how playing to our strengths at work makes us happier and more productive.

And who among us doesn't want that??

This evening I tore the little cards out of the back of Buckingham's book, and started to obediently document when I'd recently "felt strong" (at home, kneading work, meeting an interesting CEO for the first time) and "felt weak" (at home, washing work, in a very routine meeting).

The exercise bears a startling resemblance to the planning methodology we use with clients.

Invariably we look for both organisational strengths and weaknesses. Strategies, messaging and actions plans are most usually based around the company's areas of relative advantage - in Buckinham's world that equates to strengths.

Risk management, and what we might call "preventative" messaging or actions, come from real or potential areas of weakness.

How much time do we focus on strengths versus weaknesses in a client's PR program? About 90% on strengths and about 10% on weaknesses - unless we're engaged on issues or crisis management.

While there are no little coloured cards we fill out for a client, we usually do overtly partner with clients via a planning process or during an engagement to uncover, articulate and promote areas of relative strength - often these are sources of sustainable competitive advantage as well as key levers in a communication program.

Other times the organisational strengths we uncover with clients might be defined entirely by current news or a particular context. For example in internal communication a strength that you want to dial up may well be defined by the culture or current internal climate, as well as the relative allure of other employers and status of the job market.

Buckingham's work makes a strong case for organising our jobs, no matter at what level, around our strengths, rather than around minimising our weaknesses.

I'd suggest, very simply, the same works in public relations. If firms have their value proposition right (for clients, employees or investors) then communicationg strengths allows stakeholders to find themselves a good match - the service or product provider, employer or investment that best meets their particular needs. The organisation that gives them something they need, and value.

Just as playing to our strengths, and helping others play to theirs, enables diverse work mates to co-exist. When we get it right, as teams or service providers, there's a nice symbiosis between one person's weaknesses and the next's strengths.
With that in mind I'm going to check on the bread...I "felt strong" kneading the dough but it might take a better baker than I am to achieve a good loaf.

To skip from the personal to the professional, and in particular the practice of public relations, good communication helps us find that work team, client or service provider who "completes" us.

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