The Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback, the igniter of a great team performance that earned him Super Bowl MVP, the man who got sage pre-game wisdom from a hall-of-fame quarterback and supporter, almost quit football.

And I don't mean a long time ago, like when American Idol was still relevant. It was quite recently, actually.

Nick Foles was on a camping trip right after the 2016 football season, reflecting on brutally disappointing stints that year with the St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs and on the intensity of having a wife with serious medical problems. On that trip, he decided he would call it quits. That was that. 

While a subsequent conversation with his wife and more reflection changed that decision the fact remained, he hadn't been performing well as a quarterback. He came back to Philadelphia (where he started his career) with his tail between his legs and was relegated to the role of backup to the Eagles Carson Wentz (an early candidate for league MVP). 

That is until Wentz went down with a season-ending injury and Foles became the starter.

As ESPN writer Neil Paine put it, "Nick Foles is not Carson Wentz. And the Eagles adjusted."

How did they adjust? Eagles coach Doug Pederson put in place plans that sought to leverage Foles strengths as a player rather than focusing on what Foles would need to improve.

He changed the offense to incorporate more short passes--one of Foles's core strengths--and to capitalize on Foles's quick release. He also built in more run-pass option plays to take advantage of Foles's keen ability to read defenses.

Pederson chose to focus on what Foles was already good at to dramatic effect--and you can do the same with your charges.  

It might sound simple but it would be a game-changer in many places.

I used to work in a giant company with a classic performance rating approach: You get a numerical rating based on your performance and stress about your weaknesses and how they will affect your rating. My business unit got a new high-level leader who showed up saying he was only interested in talking about and fully leveraging employees strengths, not drilling down incessantly on their opportunity areas.

It felt like a revelation.

Revelatory or not for you, here are four ways to create a culture of focusing on strengths, with help from Gallup research:

1. Don't assume employees know what their strengths are.

Just like people can't always articulate exactly what their values are, likewise they might not have really put "mental pen to paper" to get clear on their strengths. They might take their strengths for granted or simply be unaware. There are a lot of tools available to help an employee find their strengths.

2. Build collective team knowledge of individual strengths.

The quicker you can share each team members strengths with the entire team, the quicker the team can start leveraging the combination of strengths to achieve a unified goal.

One team I worked on was way behind a deadline for a huge product launch--and in-fighting among key team members wasn't exactly helping. It wasn't until we spent time understanding, communicating, and appreciating each other's strengths that we got back on track.

3. Build work plans around strengths.

What good is knowledge of strengths if you don't flow that knowledge into the construction of the work that people actually do?

Design the work--and corresponding goals--to maximize the chance of fast and furious success, obviously ensuring that the work aligns with overall business objectives.

4. Start performance reviews with discussions about the employee's strengths.

Change the usual conversation which can quickly shift to a focus on weaknesses. What you measure and review is what the culture is. When you prioritize the review of strengths, accomplishments that emanated from those strengths, and how to further leverage those strengths, guess what happens?

You'll get more behavior that leverages those strengths.

Since the Super Bowl, Coach Pederson has been widely lauded for his bold strategy and play calling. Whether its a bold move in your case or not, draw up plays that start from the most strategic position on the field of all--the position of strength.

Published on: Feb 7, 2018
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