team building

Leadership Strengths: Finding Your Highest and Best Use

By Kristen Harris

In real estate, there's a concept called "highest and best use." When appraising a piece of vacant land or property, under this concept the value must be based on the most reasonable, probable, and legal use that is physically possible appropriately supported and financially feasible. For example, if a property is currently an industrial site but would have more value when redeveloped with residential buildings, that higher use is how the property value is determined. (With apologies to real estate experts–I know there are many factors that must be considered, making it more complex than this simple explanation.)

Have you ever thought about your own highest and best use? Are you being appraised and utilized at your top potential value? One way to think about this is to know your strengths and look for opportunities to use them in your work. If you're a leader or manager of others there is also tremendous value in knowing how to leverage the strengths of your team members.

The CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder) philosophy is one of the key tools we use at Portfolio Creative to better understand new team members and each other. If you want to know more about this tool, check out our previous article Be Your Best: Using Your Strengths at Work

Once our new team member has taken the assessment and we know their strengths, what do we do with that information? One thing we look at is how their strengths fall into the Four Domains of Leadership Strength. According to Gallup's research, each strength sorts into one of four domains: Strategic Thinking, Executing, Influencing and Relationship Building. 

These domains equate to how you absorb and analyze information or situations, make things happen, influence others, or build and nurture relationships. Every strength fits into one of these categories, and there is no good or bad category (remember, they are all strengths.) 

Knowing which categories a person's strengths fall into provides a clearer view of their overall balance. For example, three of my five top strengths fall under Relationship Building, one is under Strategic Thinking, and one is Influencing. By contrast, my business partner Catherine Lang-Cline has two strengths under Strategic Thinking, two in Executing, and one in Relationship Building. See how we complement each other? I'm strong where she is not, and vice versa. Together we're better. Now apply that to a whole team of people and you can see the power of this concept. 

Some people are heavily weighted in one or two categories (we have one person with four of their top five strengths in the Strategic Thinking category.) Others are more evenly spread across the categories, with top strengths in three or even all four categories. It doesn't matter how the strengths break down, but it's helpful to know if someone is heavily weighted in one or two categories or more evenly balanced.

Once you understand how individual strengths are categorized, you can also apply the concept to a whole team. We look at strengths categories for the entire Portfolio Creative team, and by each departmental team. Our team leaders can see the strengths of each individual on their team, their team's overall strengths, and gaps, and the strengths found on other teams.

Here a few ways we can utilize this information. If we're working on something that requires a lot of Strategic Thinking, we can reference our chart and pull together the people heavy in those strengths. A team leader can look at how the strengths of their team members are spread across the four categories, see where they are heavy and light, and pair up team members or put people in positions that best use everyone's abilities. Across the company, we can see where strengths fall, and pair up individuals or entire teams to complement each other. 

By understanding and leveraging the individual strengths of yourself and others on your team, everyone has the opportunity to work at their highest and best use. 

Part Two: How Does Creative Workforce Planning Help? Interview with Catherine Lang-Cline and Kristen Harris

We recently sat down with the founders of Portfolio Creative to talk about their Workforce Planning service. We had questions, they had answers.

In Part Two of this two-part interview, we learn who Workforce Planning is for and how it works. For more background, check out Part One: What is Creative Workforce Planning?

What type of companies is this geared towards?

C: Workforce Planning is all about building a team, not just finding a person. It could be a small-to-medium company or a corporate department. They have to be big enough to have a marketing function, to already have at least one marketing person, or be ready to build a marketing team.

K: We’ve found that different-sized companies have different needs. For corporate departments, it could be analyzing the team they have and how they can re-skill some of their people as company requirements shift. We can help the department reconfigure, retrain, and work with the team they already have to get to where they need to be. With a small-to-medium company, it’s helping them build their team strategically over time. With budget limitations, they have to be thoughtful about which position they add next; and then in six months when they can afford someone else, who should that be? We’re helping them stage out how they should build their team. It’s both of these audiences, but different solutions that each of them needs.

How does Workforce Planning help larger companies and their teams?

C: The speed of change is a factor, especially for larger companies that have always done things a certain way. With planning they can get people the proper training or development, while also adding in new or temporary people with the skills needed today. Since we started Portfolio Creative we have seen such a revolution in job description changes...I can only imagine what it is going to be like in the next ten years!

K: This may sound like it could be unkind, like we’re saying someone on the team doesn’t fit the company’s future, but really we want people to be thinking ahead about their team. If we see that a current team member doesn’t fit the future needs, then we can figure out how to work with them and help them get there. As opposed to the company getting to that future state without addressing it, and having that person be totally left behind.For a more established department with a bunch of legacy people, going through this process could be very kind. It gives people the opportunity to grow to where the company needs them to be.

C: It is easy to get complacent, we saw that a lot in 2008. We saw people at leadership levels that had not developed any computer skills, they could only direct others but not do any of the work themselves. How could they be in that position? How could their company allow that to happen? We want to help companies avoid this type of situation.

Why is the creative industry ready for Workforce Planning?

C: This work has always existed on some sort of level, but it is not something that has been strong in the creative industry. General consulting companies may do planning work, but not specifically for this niche. I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people where they are saying they don’t know if they need to be on Facebook or Snapchat, or what. They need someone to sit down and help figure out what they really need.

K: Workforce Planning is a known service that companies provide, but not on a very specialized level. Clients ask us to do this work because of the reputation we’ve built. After thirteen years of hiring creatives and building creative teams, it makes sense that we would know the type of roles a company would need, what the new skills are, and what’s coming next.

What type of job titles or roles do you typically see reach out for assistance in workforce planning?

K: For a small-to-medium company it’s typically someone at the Owner or President level. For larger companies and corporate departments, it’s whoever leads the creative or marketing team; it may be a Creative Director, Marketing Director, Marketing VP. Regardless of the title, we need to be working with the team leader and decision maker.

Would you say the best course of action is to start with Workforce Planning, then continue with staffing or recruiting following that?

C: Ideally yes!

K: The short answer is yes, although the answer is also “it depends.” We do have clients who have a good enough strategic understanding that they already know what they need so we can jump straight to helping them find it. However, a lot of companies don’t, and sometimes they think they need X, but we start talking to them and realize that is not what they need at all. Maybe they need two different people, or they need someone to do X just as a short-term project, but Y is actually a full-time position they need. Ideally any company would start with some form of planning first before they jump in and hire.

What is your ultimate goal in implementing this new service?

C: The ultimate goal is that everybody uses this service before they hire anyone. We want every client saying “I think I want this, can you help me write the job description?” We want to train our clients to think things through before they hire somebody. Granted, there are clients that know exactly what they need, maybe it is a replacement for someone who left, but maybe it is not that easy. Maybe someone left and they want to “up the ante” on that role, so what do they need now? What is cutting edge that we might want to look for? It would be great if people were really thoughtful every time they tried to hire someone.

K: Yes, we would love it if everyone did this work to some extent before they hired anyone, because when companies have an opening often they just turn around and look for another of the same. This is the perfect opportunity to pause and think about what you really need, or what you’re going to need. When you have someone already sitting in that seat it’s really hard to decide to make a change. Once the seat is empty that’s when you figure out the next step, next level, next person you need. Do you elevate the role? Do you need slightly different skills than you had before? It’s such a good opportunity and I don’t think people take advantage of it. They just pull out the old job description for the person that left and ask for another one of those. Which sometimes is what they need, but not always.

Part One: What is Creative Workforce Planning? Interview with Catherine Lang-Cline and Kristen Harris

We recently sat down with the founders of Portfolio Creative to talk about their Workforce Planning service. We had questions, they had answers.

In Part One of this two-part interview, we learn what Workforce Planning is and why it’s important for companies and businesses as they grow.

What is Workforce Planning?

K: Simply put, it’s helping a company figure out their creative team. Identifying the roles and skills they’re going to need, not just now but in the future. Understanding where they’re trying to go and their strategy, defining the team they’re going to need to get there, comparing that to the team or resources they already have, and putting a plan in place to get from A to B.

C: What a company thinks they need may not always be what they really need. This process is about dissecting what the company actually needs.

K: It is really a version of problem-solving. The company has a problem of “I need marketing and I don’t know who I need to make it happen” or “I’m trying to grow my team, I have some people, but I don’t know if they have the skills the company needs.” Portfolio Creative can help solve those problems.

How is this different from what Portfolio Creative has done in the past?

C: It really isn’t different from what we have done in the past. We have always been consultative and helped our clients in this way. We help them identify the roles and talent they need, from one person to an entire team.

How is Workforce Planning related to recruiting and staffing?

K: This is the step that needs to be addressed before you hire. Often companies and hiring managers come to us wanting to hire for a certain role, but they haven’t really thought about the bigger picture–how that person fits into the team they already have, or what they’re going to need a couple of years from now. They’re just replacing someone who left instead of thinking in a bigger picture way about where their company is going, what they need to accomplish, and then hiring for that.

C: It is also understanding where the industry is going. The hiring manager is often only looking at the next day by replacing the person who left. We want them to think about how the person who left could have been even better? What did they not have that you thought they needed? Are there things you wished they knew? We sit down and talk through all of this with the client because they may not be planning for tomorrow, they are just solving their problem for today.

Why do you think Workforce Planning is important for companies?

C: It will save time, money, and frustration in the long run. In fact, the biggest payoff may be in saving frustration. You can hire people and get some work done, but if you are not hiring for the right skill set or aligned with the direction things are going, it gets really frustrating. Having everything thought out before you bring someone in will save a lot of time.

K: We are really addressing the difference between hiring what you need right now and what you will need in the future. We look at the client’s 3-5 year strategic plan because that’s what they should be hiring towards. Companies tend to hire who they need today. We’re helping them avoid making short-term decisions. We want our clients to be sure they’re hiring people who can do what they need today, but also people who can grow with the company. We know there is a lot of value here.

C: It is reducing the stress and pressure of a company trying to figure this out on their own. We have been in “the field” so we know how a creative team functions. If someone asked me to set up an accounting department I would know some general titles, but I would not be confident. We help alleviate this vagueness and knowledge gap by applying our expertise with creative roles and teams.

K: The companies we’ve worked with have found a lot of value in the foresight. They want to hire marketing people to execute a business plan, but don’t always understand what kind of marketing people they need to execute their plan. Which brings us back to saving time, money, and frustration.

C: Especially now that creative, social, online, retail and marketing has become so complex–people don’t even know what they need. It is important for someone to sit down and talk through it, to really figure out what they need. Because of the complexity and fast change that is going on right now, it is just going to keep getting more complex.

What are some common hiring mistakes Workforce Planning can help avoid?

C: Knowing what you need and for how long is important. If you know who is needed on your team consistently, then you can bring in additional people with certain skills or specializations for one-off or multiple projects. For example, if you update your website once a year, you probably don’t need a full-time Web Developer.

K: By planning ahead you’ll know if there is more work that person can take on or morph into. If it’s really just a short-term need, you can bring someone in to do that project and not add an employee to your team.

C: Another issue we see is job descriptions where the role is a mash-up of several different skill sets and needs. By identifying how much each of those skills is needed you can figure out who you should be part of your internal team, and hire the rest as-needed for projects. It is figuring out what the company needs day-to-day as opposed to trying to find a jack-of-all-trades and relieving the frustration of trying to find this hybrid person that does not exist.

K: We also see companies who are using a lot of outside resources. As they grow they often want to start doing more of their marketing and execution work internally, perhaps reserving outside firms or consultants for strategy or larger projects. But they’re not experts in creative hiring and don’t know which roles or skills they need for an internal team.

What makes Portfolio Creative an expert on Workforce Planning?

K: Why us? This really ties back to all our years of experience. We’ve been helping people fill creative roles and build creative teams for 13+ years now. This is just another way to utilize all of the experience we have. We have a respected level of expertise in the creative space that other companies don’t have, and we can bring that to people.


C: Back to what we said before...we have always done this work with our clients. We have always been more than a firm that just puts a person in a seat. We want to have a discussion about it, get the right person in there, and make sure it is someone who is going to be helpful to you in the future too, not just today.