How To Correlate The Skills You NEED With The Skills Your Company VALUES Most

How To Correlate The Skills You NEED With The Skills Your Company VALUES Most

By Jack Zenger –

Today I have interviewed Zenger Folkman President, Joseph Folkman about the keys to building a great organization. What are the critical issues? If the answers were clear, every organization would likely change.  There are literally thousands of variables that leave leaders baffled as they sift through the clutter of needs and options to decide what is crucial. Most organizations are not able to fix everything; therefore, they need to prioritize the capabilities that if changed, would have the greatest impact on the organization’s results.

At Zenger Folkman, we recently completed a study to measure the impact of organizational effectiveness and the key capabilities that differentiate the very best organizations. To do this, we studied 122,000 employees in 10,000 groups from different organizations.  The research distilled thousands of variables down to a few key capabilities that leveraged organizational effectiveness. Even with the distilled list of key variables, we discovered that when you ask employees what is going well and what needs to be improved, the process invariably produces a substantially longer list of problems that need to be fixed. Most leaders who examine their employee survey results can also identify with the long list of areas they’d like to improve.

Says Joe: “In life, I have generally found the issues that people complain about most are seldom the elements that make the greatest impact when changed. For example, many years ago my daughter desperately wanted a certain toy, but on Christmas morning she spent more time playing in an empty box than she did with the long anticipated new toy.”

“At times, we don’t understand what our organization will value,” he continues. “For example, before I owned an iPad, I didn’t think I would find an iPad beneficial for anything but playing games like Angry Birds. But after I received one as a gift, I found myself constantly checking my schedule, browsing newspapers, and taking pictures and notes.”

We have found that with groups of employees, we can often predict the things they will value highly. Improving these highly valued issues will generally produce a dramatic positive impact. However, pushing improvement in lower valued issues costs a great deal, but produces little measurable improvement impact at all.

There are many areas in every group that need improvement, but there is a much smaller list of key areas that are valued most by the members of a particular department or team.  The problem we have is that most leaders are so preoccupied with “fixing weaknesses “ that they don’t seek feedback from group members to identify which of the changes they would appreciate most.

For example, consider the following example from one of our airline clients. The issues that members identified as most negative were very similar from one group to the next.  Using a new algorithm, the employee survey was then able to measure both what was needed and what was most valued for their primary three groups: pilots, flight attendants, and baggage handlers.


  • Being valued and respected
  • Recognition for extra effort
  • Cooperation and collaboration
  • Clarify company strategy and direction

Flight Attendants

  • Effectiveness of supervisor
  • Growth and development
  • Teamwork
  • Customer reservation accuracy

Baggage Handlers

  • Satisfaction with top management
  • Learning from mistakes
  • Pride
  • Respect

Each group’s tasks and responsibilities to the airline are very different, so it should not be surprising that they needed and valued different things.  By integrating the factors of “what are people frustrated with?” with “what is valued?” leaders could address their problems more specifically. This meant that leaders could more accurately eliminate those factors where there was negativity, but the value wasn’t that high.  By focusing improvement in areas that each group of employees valued most, the organization improved its effectiveness dramatically.

However, let me issue a word of warning: discovering only the needs for improvement should not be the priority when companies are seeking to increase their effectiveness. We find that when it comes to recognizing superior execution or avoiding mistakes, the companies’ area of focus and emphasis is wrong.  Sadly, most employee surveys center on what’s wrong, what we aren’t doing well, or what we need to fix.

We strongly advise you to consider a new and different approach. While you will always need to address your organization’s serious defects, the better approach is to also identify the organizational strengths you should build. We maintain that organizations who build on their strengths greatly increase effectiveness. But organizations who only focus on what is wrong will miss out entirely on the wonderful opportunity to build and expand on the things they’ve do right.

In short, the balance is vital. Organizations should do the following:

1)   Identify items in the organization that are both needed and valued by different work groups.

2)   Identify organizational strengths, and build on them.

The beginning of your most profound improvements is as simple as that.

If you would like to learn more, you can attend our upcoming webinar, Building Organization Muscle, by signing up here. For more results from our most recent set of studies, you can get our newest eBook, Chapter 1 of How To Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying your Strengths here, or you can order the complete book from Amazon here. We welcome your remarks.

The research for this article was provided by Joseph Folkman, Zenger Folkman.

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