In my first five businesses I spent a lot of time trying to get everyone focused on what we were lousy at, and how to get better. It didn't work. We just wasted a lot of time and energy, and demotivated people in the process. I'm a slow learner, but in our sixth business I finally tried something else that ignored our weaknesses, but ironically worked much better to fix them. I started focusing on our strengths.
The simple principle is that we're good at things that we love doing. We're highly motivated to get better at our good stuff, and completely demotivated to fix our messes. And we found out that focusing on getting a lot better at our good stuff helped us fix our bad stuff. Here's a four-step process you can use to do the same.
Take a few hours or even a whole day (2-3 hours is usually enough) as a team and answer these simple questions. This applies to teams of any type, anywhere in a company, not just leadership teams. But certainly leaders will benefit from answering these questions:
1) What are we really good at?
List 10-15 things or so in 10-15 minutes. You shouldn't need a lot of time to pull out the few things that make you stand out. They are things you love doing, and make you different than anybody else out there. It could be your products, customer service, relationships, teamwork, processes, passion, solid culture, etc. Once you have the list, pare it down to the top 3-4 things you are best at doing.
2) Why are we good at it?
It's really important to ask and answer this question. It's at the core of what motivates you as people, teams, and as a whole company. And that motivation about your good stuff will help you fix the bad stuff.
3) How can we get even better at the good stuff?
Come up with anything you think can help you get better at each one of the 3-4 things you think make you shine. Pare it down to 1-2 things that you could do to get better at each of the 3-4 good things.
At this point in the process, you might begin to see some of the negatives being addressed. If you think being a fast boat is your biggest asset, you might decide that one thing that could make you even faster is making sure the anchor isn't in the water. Pulling up the anchor is boring and nobody wants to do it. But if you connect it directly to getting better at being fast, people can be very motivated to do it. A negative should only be addressed in light of how it will make you better at the good things. Otherwise, no one wants to tackle it. That's how it became a bad thing in the first place - it was isolated from what makes you great.
Develop one simple, practical, measurable strategy you can employ to get better at your 3-4 good things, and make sure you put a date on when you expect to complete them.
3a) What outside forces could get in the way of getting better at our strengths?
Sometimes the challenges aren't internal, many times they are both internal and external. Think about the external challenges that could keep you from getting even better at your good stuff, and develop a simple, measurable strategy to tackle these.
4) What resources do we need to get even better?
This is critical to help you understand that if you're going to get better at your good stuff, you've got to allocate the resources to doing that. Too often we're throwing resources at every loud weakness that comes at us, which just perpetuates the problem of focusing on weaknesses. It's a downward spiral.
So, figure out the good stuff and what will make you even better at the good stuff, and throw your resources at becoming that. In the process, you will have to fix some bad stuff, but your motivation for doing so will be infinitely better than just "fixing bad stuff".
By the way, I believe this works for us as individuals as well.