Allocate time for your strengths
As we grow a business or advance our career, we tend to spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about what is not working well or what could go wrong in the future. This then sets a subtle trap for us.
From time to time as I worked on growing my business, a very talented and successful person would come to me to let me know they were leaving our company. Early in my career I took this way too personally and immediately got defensive. As I learned to settle myself down and listen to what the company, and our people, were saying, I recognized I had fallen into the subtle trap.
Here’s the thing: when we spend all or almost all of our time focusing on problems and weaknesses in our company or ourselves, we undernourish the good things, the strengths, the people who are working well today.
I often took for granted the people and parts of our company that had things under control, who didn’t need my help fighting fires. I don’t think I mentally or emotionally took them for granted; I often thought about how awesome it was to have such amazing people and so much success. Yet, my schedule told a different story.
I actually used to think it was a compliment to people to leave them alone. If they could handle their work and didn’t need me, great. I had problems that I could spend time fixing. I personally love to be left alone to do my work, so I felt that I was doing people a favor. However, I also loved it when someone went out of their way to thank me or recognize my work. It was that second part that I was missing as a practical part of my routine.
Put a note on your schedule to pause and make a list of the things that are working well in your company and your career. And take some time for practical steps to acknowledge the people, and even yourself, who are behind those successes. Don’t wait for the annual review or even the quarterly business review to highlight success and strength. Do it often, weekly, daily even.
There is a deeper strategic element to this issue. When you have grand ideas and plans, you chart your course and begin to move forward on your journey. When rebuffed by the inevitable issues, you can become consumed by solving the problem. Sometimes the problem shouldn’t be solved. Sometimes the problem is a helpful blocker informing you that a change of course is needed.
Likewise, one or more strengths can be a shining light beckoning you to move toward a more promising and fruitful endeavor.
When we started our company, Benefitfocus, we had this idea of selling our online benefits enrollment platform to medium- and large-sized employers. We envisioned them signing contracts directly with us to provide them our great new product and service. We hired a few sales people and began to knock on doors and set up booths at trade shows.
Quietly, one day we received a request from a Blue Cross health insurance carrier to come visit them and discuss what it was we were doing with their customers, the employers. We had a meeting and explained that we were selling this service to employers and that we would send Blue Cross an electronic file, instead of them receiving paper forms. (Our silly initial slogan was “Focus on the Benefits, not the Paperwork!”)
An executive at Blue Cross made a comment that if we could indeed do that, maybe they would consider buying the service from us in a wholesale fashion and they would provide it to their customers. We smiled and thanked them for the meeting and promptly went back to our employer sales strategy.
We did indeed figure out how to send that electronic file to the health carrier—and accurately. This was something that every one of our competitors was stumbling on. However, we did not have as much success getting employers to sign up for our service.
Fortunately, we did pause to realize that we had something really good happening, actually two really good things: 1) we had a strong engineering team who had built an application that could handle the complexities of health insurance enrollment and transmit data successfully to a large and complex insurance company, and 2) we had a knack for building a close relationship with people at the insurance company.
We created a new set of agreements that allowed us to sell to an insurance company, and we changed the software to display a “private label” of the insurance company logo to their employer customers. We built a small but highly successful insurance company sales, implementation, and service team. Our first insurance customer put over five hundred large employers on our application in the first year, where we had spent over six months and only gained ten large employers directly.
One of the core values at our company, Celebrate, was born out of this experience. We learned to not wait until a good person quit for us to recognize the good people and good things happening in our company. The celebrations happened all the time and in hundreds of variations. We even went on to publish annual books called Winning with Culture that highlighted the people and stories of success and compassion for each other.
Give time to your strengths. Invest in areas of your career and business that are working well. If you beat your head against the same rock too many times, try backing up and seeing if there is a light shining toward a better path. And be sure to celebrate the good things, even when some bad things remain to be solved.
A wise person I used to work for often told me, “Don’t wait for all the lights to turn green before you get in your car and drive to New York.” Get started focusing on the good things today, right now. Get with your team and make a “good things” list; take some time and write down some good things in your life. And develop a habit of spending time on your strengths. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.