It’s tempting to focus on bridging gaps and improving weaknesses when we want to guide people and organisations to succeed. We do so at the expense of making full use of people’s strengths, says Sue Langley.
Whether you are a coach, organisational psychologist, HR professional, OD professional or leader, focusing on strengths is one of the greatest differences you can make to get the best from people and organisations. Everyone has strengths and the potential to develop them to become more satisfied, engaged, fulfilled and effective at work.
Sue Langley shares critical and emerging strengths research, case studies and strategies for bringing strengths to life in organisations.
Strengths in organisations
Here are Sue’s top tips for realising and developing strengths in individuals and organisations.
1. Focus on strengths rather than weaknesses to increase performance.
It’s a myth that people need to focus most of their efforts on improving their weaknesses to become better at their job. The reverse is true.
A global study by the Corporate Leadership Council of almost 20,000 people across multiple organisations and industries found that when people were encouraged to focus on their strengths, their performance went up a massive 36%. When they focused on weaknesses, performance dropped by 27% (CLC, 2002).
Teach managers or the people you coach how to spot and leverage their team’s strengths. Strengths-based feedback and performance conversations are active, positive and more likely to elicit top performance; and they’re easier to hold. For greater impact, integrate a strengths lens into performance management processes and metrics.
2. Match work tasks to strengths to engage people.
Strengths use is a core predictor of workplace engagement—the most engaged employees are the ones who use their strengths at work most of the time (Capp, 2012). This engagement in turn predicts a range of business outcomes. Chief among these are increased productivity and higher profits (Harter et al, 2002). Others are greater commitment and retention.
If you are looking to increase engagement in individuals or across an organisation, find ways to align people’s work goals and tasks with their strengths. People are more likely to work faster and experience a greater sense of ‘flow’ in their work. This leads to higher quality work. Goals become more satisfying, meaningful and attainable (Linley et al, 2010).
3. Target strengths when recruiting and selecting talent.
When Aviva recruited customer advisors for their strengths, the company experienced 39% reduction in cost per hire, 54% reduced call answer delays and 50% less turnover in the first year (Capp, 2009).
If you are tasked with recruiting, selecting or advising organisations to find and retain the right talent, target strengths. Start by defining the strengths required for the role and organisational context then create a talent strategy to attract and develop people who display those strengths or show potential for growth in these areas. Consider which strengths people need to deliver high performance in a role, what strengths are required to complement strengths already present in the organisation or team, and how managers can support strengths development when onboarding new team members and planning career pathways longer term.
Recent research by Capp (2012) identifies Mission, Personal Responsibility, Humility and acting as an Esteem Builder for others as top strengths desired in managers. Other studies highlight Gratitude and Grit as key strengths that enable people to form strong social networks (Wood et al, 2008) and pursue long-term goals with perseverance and passion (Duckworth et al, 2007).
4. Marshal strengths to motivate behaviour change.
People resist changing behaviour. By equipping people with a positive focus on what they do well and can do more of, and helping them create pathways to better access and develop their strengths, they will feel far more motivated to learn and adopt new behaviour. This is partly because using strengths is intrinsically motivating and rewarding. When people are operating from their strengths they feel more confident (Govindji & Linley, 2007) and competent, and more ready and able to grow (Sheldon et al, 2002).
If you want to motivate people to try something new, ask the person which of their strengths would help them most in achieving the desired change. Motivation will increase as goals are accomplished and setbacks overcome. All this while doing what they enjoy most and feel is aligned to their best self.
5. Develop a shared language of strengths to increase teamwork.
When people know their own strengths and the strengths of others in their team, they are better equipped to leverage them together. Team members can work in complementary partnerships to maximise each other’s strengths and compensate for individual weaknesses.
Use a validated strengths assessment tool, such as Strengths Profile, to give individuals insight into their unique strengths portfolio. One of the most powerful things you can do to increase collaboration is give people a language to talk about each others’ strengths and how they can contribute them specifically toward team goals. A Strengths Profile team report surfaces the diverse strengths available across a team and provides a consistent and positive framework that will unite people in performing at their best.
Learn to leverage strengths
To assess and develop strengths in individuals and organisations we recommend the Strengths Profile tool. We run open Strengths Profile Accreditation Programmes across Australia, or ask us about inhouse programmes for organisations.
Download your free eBook on ‘Harnessing Strengths at Work’ to learn some of the most practical and research-backed ways to realise strengths in yourself and others to achieve better performance, satisfaction and fulfilment at work.
Capp (2012). Ideal Manager Survey. Reported in E. Trenier, S. Harrington, & R. Jamnadas, R., Performance Manager: Managing strengths to deliver better performance through your people.?
Capp (2009). Aviva—Embedding strengths-based recruitment across the UK business: A case study. Corporate Leadership Council (2002). Building the high-performance workforce. Washington, DC: Author.
Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 1087.
Govindji, R., & Linley, P. A. (2007). Strengths use, self-concordance and well-being: Implications for strengths coaching and coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2 (2), 143-153.
Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Hayes, T. L. (2002). Business-unit-level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 268-279.
Linley, P. A., Nielsen, K. M., Wood, A. M., Gillett, R., & Biswas-Diener, R., (2010). Using signature strengths in pursuit of goals: Effects on goal progress, need satisfaction, and well-being, and implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 5 (1), 8-17.
Sheldon, K. M., Kasser, T., Smith, K., & Share, T. (2002). Personal goals and psychological growth: Testing an intervention to enhance goal-attainment and personality integration. Journal of Personality, 70, 5-31.
Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Stewart, N., Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2008). A social-cognitive model of trait and state levels of gratitude. Emotion, 8, 281–290.