They say that a company’s best asset is its people. And it’s true—the unique blend of knowledge and strengths that people contribute to their organisation are resources that can never be exactly replicated by competitors.
However, companies don’t always know how to best capitalise on some of these people resources. The place of knowledge is pretty well understood—companies accept that they need to invest in professional development, knowing that this reliably benefits the organisation with a good return on investment. By contrast, the strengths of employees are often not fully explored, nor properly managed.
So, what is the business impact of using a strengths-based approach to employee development? The 2016 Gallup State of the Global Workforce report showed some amazing results from using strengths-based interventions on workgroup performance. The survey covered 1.2 million employees in 22 organisations in seven industries and across 45 countries.
Ninety % of the workgroups studied had performance increases such as:
9% increase in sales
15% increase in profits
4% increase in customer engagement
10% lower turnover in low-turnover organisations
46% lower turnover in high-turnover organisations
6% increase in engaged employees
37% fewer safety incidents
Ultimately, the strengths-based management approach is shown to improve employee wellbeing and boost productivity in all areas. Taking your people from ‘interested’ in work to ‘engaged’, impacts the bottom line.
‘Strengths’, in this context, are not how well a person performs in a certain area. Instead, let’s describe strengths as those qualities a person has that, if enabled, generally lead to optimal functioning and performance. That is due to the positive impact on a person’s thinking, feeling and behaviour that occurs when the person feels authentic, appreciated and energised. So, strengths support how staff perform. Given that, strengths are ultimately what energises and motivates people to realise their ‘best self’ in workplaces (and, more generally, in life).
This begs the question, “How can a company enable its people to recognise and exercise their strengths to mutual advantage?” Let us now consider elements of the business case for how focusing on strengths development will ultimately improve business performance.
Research shows that by building on strengths an organisation will:
1. Tap into unused talent throughout the organisation: To the extent that the strengths of staff members are not being harnessed, there is untapped talent and ‘latent’ energy in an organisation. Much time and other resources are spent on attempting to improve performance, but without an adequate appreciation of how to identify and activate people’s strengths, the company is unlikely to get optimal ‘bang for buck’.
2. Attract and retain more of the people it needs: People like to use their strengths. Doing so reinforces and re-energises them. A strengths-based organisation will be more attractive in the employment market, especially to younger workers. Without the opportunity to use their strengths, many people leave.
3. Improve individual performance: Individual performance is significantly improved by a focus on strengths, and undermined by a fixation on rectifying weaknesses. The traditional approach of moulding individuals to jobs and focusing development effort on correcting weaknesses has proved unsuccessful.
4. Build employee engagement: Use of strengths is one of the key drivers of staff engagement, which itself is linked to improved employee retention, discretionary effort, quality, customer satisfaction and loyalty, sales, profitability, shareholder return and business growth.
5. Develop flexibility: Staff are more willing and able to accept changes in role and organisational structure when the emphasis on ability is less on the basis of what they ‘have done’, and more on the basis of what they ‘could do’ in a variety of future roles.
6. Improve teamwork: A focus on strengths in teams allows for the efficient allocation of tasks and, with greater role flexibility, encourages cooperation. The positive emotions generated by the use of strengths enhance social integration.
7. Increase diversity and positive inclusion: An understanding of strengths encourages people to value difference. The person who appears so ‘alien’ to me may well have a value-adding role to play and may perform with relish tasks that for me are non-preferred. Teams made up of people who differ tend to be more creative and to perform better.
8. Increase openness to change and the ability to deal with change: The use of strengths generates positive emotions that facilitate performance by broadening people’s mindsets/horizons, encouraging them to discover new ways of thinking and acting, and assisting them to overcome the impact of negative events.
9. Deal more positively with redundancy: A strengths perspective supports people’s understanding of redundancy as a mismatch, rather than a talent deficit. Under this scenario, a staff member who leaves as a result of their position being made redundant does so with a better knowledge of themselves and what they do best is more likely to find work that suits them in the future.
10. Contribute to the happiness and fulfilment of staff: Apart from being more likely to achieve their goals, people who are empowered to use their strengths experience higher levels of energy, well-being and authenticity (the sense that “I am being who I am, rather than living a life that isn’t mine”). This promotes the likelihood of a powerful win-win outcome for the individual and their organisation — maximising the probability of creating a high-performance workplace in which engaged and satisfied staff consistently give their best.
It’s a solid business case. Ultimately, no organisation wants to be average, do they? As Jim Collins wrote in his classic business book Good to Great, “The essence of being A+ is that we need to realise strengths in ourselves and others. We need to become and continue becoming the best that we can be, as well as creating environments that support others to grow and develop into becoming the best that they can be”.
The question is how? How does a business manager make the connection between developing employee strengths and improving business performance? Let’s break this down:
Managing performance is about whether something was done right or wrong. For an HR professional, this conjures up images of bureaucracy, complicated paperwork, and conversations with managers who are often ill-equipped to deal with the associated disciplinary issues and poor performance. By contrast, if managers consider their employees’ strengths when assigning tasks, in terms of both the individual’s capability and energy, they see people working faster, experiencing a greater sense of ‘flow’ and producing higher quality work. On top of this, when people see how their strengths will help them achieve their goals it becomes more meaningful, satisfying and attainable.
Peter Drucker wrote in his highly influential book The Effective Executive, “The unique purpose of organisation is to make strength productive … one cannot build on weakness. To achieve results, one has to use all the available strengths … These strengths are the true opportunities.”
How does a manager spot the strengths of their staff? Other than conducting a profile survey, a manager can look for the following signs when their staff perform a task: - Tasks are completed quickly - A team member consistently volunteers for certain activities - Someone has high expectations of their colleagues - Team members are demonstrably absorbed in what they are doing - They often go the extra mile and offer ‘discretionary effort’.
Where to go from here? Building a Strengths Culture
Research shows that by using our strengths to initiate goal-setting we motivate ourselves to act, increase performance, and be happier. Through focusing on our strengths, we become purposeful and engaged with what we are setting out to accomplish. The following are the profiling tools you can use. Coupled with coaching and team workshops, you can truly establish a Strengths Culture
Strengthen your Experts: By building a group of strengths champions in your organisation, you will be enabling experts to be on hand to mentor, coach and encourage others to build a positive culture.
Strengthen Your People: When everyone in your organisation knows what their strengths are, transformation can happen by everyone berining their BEST self to work.
Strengthen Your Teams: By sharing individual strengths, team members can learn what motivates their colleagues and what they may need support on.
Strengthen Your Managers: After individuals and teams know their strengths, the final step is to ensure managers are enabled to sustain the engagement through strengths based coaching and task assignment.
Contact Julie Gillespie today to arrange a Discovery Call to establish your organisation’s needs.
CAPP (2010) – The Business Case for a Strengths-based Organisation
Collins, J. (2008) – Good to Great
Drucker, P. (1967) – The Effective Executive
SuperFriend (2018) – Indicators of a Thriving Workplace