Brian was an unhappy worker. He hated his job and was one of my least productive salespeople. By the time he got 12 sales, the group average was 36. He kept showing up at the office because he needed the money, but his heart just wasn’t in it.
I first tried to retrain him. That didn’t work because the problem was not his lack of understanding how to sell, but his absolute distaste for it. I was afraid I would have to fire him. I didn’t much like Brian, but as his manager I considered it my duty to do my best by him. So I wracked my brain for some work — for any work — that I could reassign him to rather than fire him.
About that time, the monthly accounts receivable report crossed my desk and I noticed that the receivables were getting out of hand. The percentage of people who were agreeing to buy our product, but who were then ignoring the bills we sent them, had taken an upswing — most likely because the economy was in recession. Something had to be done about it.
I don’t know how long it took me to put 2 and 2 together to get 4, but I eventually did. That is, I decided to create a new position — bill collector — and assign Brian to it.
At first, Brian was just as pessimistic about his new job as he had been about his old one. But that suddenly changed sometime in his very first week. When I dropped by on Tuesday to ask how things were going, Brian grinned so broadly that I thought he was going to bite me. And by Friday, Brian was collecting as much money from the past due receivables as some of our salespeople were bringing in from new sales.
Brian began to change. He no longer bitched about everything from the office carpet to his fellow workers. He started coming in early, and was no longer the first to leave. I was convinced he had more energy than I’d ever seen in him before. And, perhaps most astonishing to me, he told me he loved his job.
By hit or miss, I had somehow managed to take Brian out of sales position that played to his weaknesses, and instead place him in a collections position that played to his strengths. In doing so, I had not only avoided firing him, but I had actually helped to make him a happy and productive worker. I will never forget how dramatically Brian changed when he was finally asked to do something he could do well.
According to the scientists who study what makes people happy, there are many factors involved in human happiness, but one significant factor is for people to play to their strengths, rather than to their weaknesses.
Playing to your strengths means that you position yourself to make the best use of your talents and skills. When you do that, the task you set yourself to perform becomes comparatively easy — like bicycling downhill. But if you are unfortunate enough to play to your weaknesses, then just the opposite is true — you might as well set yourself the task of always bicycling uphill through life.
So, there you have it. Whatever the obstacles, anyone who is at all concerned with their happiness would do well to pay close attention to themselves in order to figure out both their strengths and their weaknesses — and then as much as possible always play to their strengths. That is often easier said than done. In a future post, I plan to offer some suggestions about how to play to our strengths and avoid playing to our weaknesses.