I spend a lot of time with CEOs and senior sales executives talking about the qualities of great people. Often, because of what I do, the conversation focuses on sales people–but the discussion is valuable for all areas of your business.

The key takeaway: Learn to leverage what people are best at.

As an example, let's use the sales process as a way to evaluate a team. Start by creating a grid to rate your sales people in each of several areas. For each skill or activity, score them this way:

1=Top performer
2=Good performance
3=Performance is below expectations

Understand that there is no such thing as the "perfect" person; everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and no one will be a "top performer" in every category.

Now here is a list of potential categories–in this case, for sales, although you could build a similar model for any department.

  • Generating new, qualified leads
  • Creating interest
  • Discovering needs and opportunities
  • Developing greater interest among other influencers
  • Packaging and pricing solutions
  • Presenting/proposing solutions for purchase
  • Getting commitment and payment
  • Expanding business with existing customers
  • Handling customer issues

Most people who study performance agree that the highest yield comes from developing strengths rather than trying to improve weaknesses. (Strengthfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath does a nice job of exploring this idea.)

So after scoring, follow these ideas to best leverage the skills you just identified:

Are most of your employees' hours used in their 'best' or 'worst' categories?

This is an issue of allocation. Few jobs allow someone to spend 100% of her time in her best categories; reality requires that we do other work as well. So, the question is how much time is spent in each of the categories?  Can you intentionally change those ratios to strengthen performance? You want people to spend the maximum amount of time on what they are best at.

What can people automate, delegate or eliminate?

To max out performance, try to help your team members strip back their average- and low-effectiveness activities to as few as possible, giving them time to re-invest in their best areas. Trim out every wasteful or non-essential thing you can.

Do employees own their 'best' skills/activities?

Reallocate activities to allow people, as much as possible, to own the activities for which they are top performers.

One of the best teams I have worked with had a very honest session on this topic. We mapped the overall sales process into similar categories as those listed above–then we scored, compared and debated to discover what the team looked like.

It was a little raw–but very effective. We recognized a gap that no one was good at; we also found some overlaps and some real specialties. We then built our approach to growing revenue around those specialties, and defined the gap-filler hire we needed to make.

This is how great teams compete and win.