Focus Development

Perhaps the most dreaded word in marketing is “commodity” which, in so many ways, means your product is like everyone else’s and you can’t demand premium pricing.  The key is to always look for the point of uniqueness and then position this against competitors.  If this is needed and desired by customers, they will often be willing to reward you for what your product does better.  We all get this concept for our products but what about for our own personal development.

I have always thought performance appraisals were one of the biggest obstacles to career growth.  Typically they consist of performance against goals, job skill measurements and some development ideas.  It is the skill measurement and development that bothers me, not in what they do, but in how they are utilized.  On most reviews there are perhaps 10 skill traits and usually most are rated as meeting expectations and a few are exceeding.  There are also usually 1-2 areas that need some work.  Immediately all the positives go out the window and the focus is on what needs work.  Usually there is extensive discussion with the boss, and after some fighting, there is agreement to improve in these areas and the development plan is already there to help.

The concern is that in concentrating development on what someone does not do well, the areas of strength are ignored and over time these tend to lose their edge.  By raising everyone up to minimum standards for everything and allowing advantages to lessen, companies in so many ways are creating commodities. Everyone is just about the same.  Nobody stands out.  When it is time to fill a key opening, companies typically have to go outside the organization as all their people are kind of about average.  Seth Godin would say that by creating everyone as interchangeable we have created “factory” workers rather than craftspeople.

Everyone has unique talents that make them different than everyone else.  The key should be to constantly work at developing the things one does better so that they become world class in those areas.  Development plans should be designed to really help continued growth towards CEO level skills in select areas.  Rounding out rough edges should be given a much lower priority unless these are so bad that they will actually derail a career.

Think of a few examples of what I am talking about.  Babe Ruth hit home runs and in fact even gave up a pretty good pitching career to concentrate on home runs.  Volvo makes safe cars and constantly works at staying safer than everyone else.  Steve Jobs was incredible at leading design and innovation but it seems was lousy at working with people.  Warren Buffett works only with companies he understands and refuses to dive into tech, even if that could increase his returns.  Think of the leaders at your own company.  Typically they stand out in certain areas but are only average at others, but where they stand out they really do stand out.

There is something demotivating about always working to improve things you are not good at and totally exhilarating working on those things you do well.  Take l look at Bill Barnett’s blog where he looks at this in a similar way.  He talks about identifying and building your core capabilities and always recognizing the need for a personal value proposition.  This really is kind of like marketing, right?  A great summer read is Po Bronson’s book What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question.  The book shows, in a Studs Terkel fashion, how a wide variety of people wrestle with these issues.

Personal development is so critical, especially in the pharmaceutical world where we need so many leaders.  Take some time to really understand your areas of strength. Read through all those past reviews and only look for the areas of strength.  Build a development plan that really makes these strengths stand out.  Begin to really utilize these strengths daily to show off your unique set of skills.  Notice how much more fun you are having and how this helps improve your overall performance level.

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