Strengths versus Weaknesses?
Can you imagine a workplace where your manager played to your strengths, rather than helped you improve your weaknesses? This would be a world where you were celebrated and recognized for the things you do best versus scorned for the things that do not come as naturally. Following a strengths-based perspective, rather than weakness-focused, a five-year-old girl who is technically savvy and loves to deal with numbers would be encouraged to learn more about computer programming than art – to hone-in on that talent and interest, rather than steer her in a direction that distracts her from her natural gifts.
Because modern workplaces are now focused on high engagement and work satisfaction, the idea of strengths-based management has driven countless research around its benefits. The strengths-based approach describes ways “to empower individuals to flourish rather than simply survive” (Liesveld & Miller, 2005) and suggests “capitalizing on one’s best qualities is likely to lead to greater success than would be possible by making a comparable investment of effort into overcoming personal weaknesses or deficiencies” (Clifton & Harter, 2003; Clifton & Nelson, 1992).
Research has shown that using strengths gives people a boost of positive emotions. For example, a study by Gallup found the more time adults believe they use their strengths per day, the more likely they are to report having “ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot” (Asplund, 2012). However, only one in four adults use their strengths for a large part of their day, meaning 3 out of 4 adults carry a negative affect throughout their day.
Considering that full-time American adults work on average 47 hours per week, imagine how the world would change if people spent most of their work week doing things they love to do and are good at doing (Isidore & Luhby, 2015)? To start, workplaces would change. In fact, a study by Gallup found that workgroups who received strengths interventions improved on sales, profit, customer engagement, turnover, employee engagement and safety (Rigoni & Asplund, 2016). Not only does strengths-based management create more engaged and positive employees, but it also facilitates higher productivity and job effectiveness that affects the bottom line.
Creating a Strengths-Based Organization
Harvard Business Review has outlined multiple best practices for taking a strengths-based approach. It starts with leadership and management. Getting the buy-in of leaders, who have the power to make a strengths initiative a part of the vision and strategy, can create the most impact on the organization, as it trickles down to middle management. Middle managers have the most direct relationships with frontline employees and are most likely to have the opportunity to empower employees through strengths development (Rigoni & Asplund, 2016).
Increasing communication throughout the organization by generating awareness and enthusiasm around strengths is another step in fostering a strengths-based organization. This entails allowing all employees to understand what their strengths are and how to use them. When strengths are consistently communicated, employees are likely to use their strengths more frequently (Rigoni & Asplund, 2016). Strengths awareness allows employees to improve their own productivity, as well as the team’s productivity by employing tactics when assembling teams to be more efficient and to utilize what team members do best when assigning tasks. Another way to build such awareness is to link the organization’s strengths-based culture to its brand that will attract the right kind of applicants, is compelling to clients and customers, and sets apart the organization from its competition (Rigoni & Asplund, 2016).
Focusing performance reviews on strengths helps align the company’s performance management strategy to the strengths initiative. Performance reviews should encourage employees to use their strengths, and managers should offer recognition and development aligned with those strengths. It is difficult enough to establish a strengths-based organization that is new to the concept – even more difficult if managers have to couple strengths with a performance management strategy that is focused on fixing weaknesses. Changing the company’s performance management strategy will create alignment throughout the organization (Rigoni & Asplund, 2016).
The Long Haul
Creating a strengths-based organization starts from the top and works its way down. As most of our society is focused on fixing weaknesses instead of optimizing strengths, getting collective buy-in may seem like an uphill battle, as a shift of mindset will be required. However, once employees and managers experience the benefits expressed through their increased engagement, satisfaction and productivity, building a strengths-based organization will be a walk in the park. Every organization possesses the opportunity to enrich lives and promote business outcomes by focusing on what people naturally do best and working around weaknesses.
Tiffany Pires, M.A.
Tiffany Pires joined Talent Plus in 2017 as a research scientist. In her work, she refines The Science of Talent through ROI studies, benchmarking, and building new interviews and assessments. Her primary focus is on driving the initiatives of the Talent Plus research team by looking at the science behind our assessments to measure engagement, turnover and employee satisfaction.
Asplund, K. (2012). When Americans Use Their Strengths More, They Stress Less. Gallup Press. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/157679/americans-strengths-stress-less.aspx
Clifton, D. O., & Harter, J. K. (2003). Investing in strengths. In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship (pp. 111-121). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Clifton, D. O., & Nelson, P. (1992). Soar with your strengths. New York: Dell.
Isidore, C., & Luhby, T. (2015). Turns Out Americans work really hard…but some want to work harder. CNN Money. Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/2015/07/09/news/economy/americans-work-bush/index.html
Liesveld, R., & Miller, J. A. (2005). Teach with your strengths: How great teachers inspire their students. New York: Gallup Press.
Rigoni, B., & Asplund, J. (2016). Developing Employees’ Strengths Boosts Sales, Profit and Engagement. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/09/developing-employees-strengths-boosts-sales-profit-and-engagement