Can you really create a strengths-based organisation? How?
I highly recommend that you listen to part 1 of this episode before this one. But if you haven’t or don’t have time, that’s ok, I’ll also make sure it’s standalone. So the question that at Strengthscope we pose ourselves on a regular basis is how can we support our clients to create strengths-based cultures? To truly breathe life into the strengths approach? And so that’s what I want to focus in on today: can you create a strengths-based organisation? And if so, from a practical point of view, how?
What does the research tell us about strengths-based approaches? Do they really work?
Before we get to that, let’s remember the ‘why’ – according to research, organisations using strengths-based approaches are more successful commercially, with higher customer engagement, higher staff engagement and better staff retention. Also, people who use their strengths report higher levels of well-being, motivation, career success and self-confidence and lower levels of stress. I’ll put the research references for those studies at the end of the blog version of this episode over on the Strengthscope website blog page.
So how do other people introduce strengths into their people processes?
Based on that research, and the fact that you’re listening to this episode, let’s assume that to introduce a strengths-based approach to most organisations is a desirable aim. But how do you do it? Before I go into the various application areas of strengths across the employee lifecycle, I want to tell you how we typically work with our clients in this area.
The first thing we notice is that most of our clients come to us with an area that needs attention and they’re exploring the possibility of a strengths intervention to help. Examples are team development after a period of change, it could be appraisal conversations that aren’t energising people, a lacklustre personal development planning process, leaders who are lacking a connection with their people, a need to revamp a career management system to empower employee mobility. Whatever it is that piques their interest in the strengths approach initially, they’ll typically start with a single point of application.
Related to this is the relative rarity of a client approaching us with an express desire to build a strengths-based culture across the whole organisation. At least not at the outset. No, instead they are usually keen to understand how they can develop a solution for the particular need that they have and go on to pilot that solution with us. Only when they’ve gained enough evidence for the approach working, gathering feedback from employees and discussing with their HR, learning and development and executive colleagues are they likely to push ahead with a wider rollout.
So the conclusions we can draw here are that most organisations introducing strengths will start with one application area, pilot it, gather data and start to build a case for or against a wider rollout.
It’s also important to gauge your organisation’s level of ‘strengths readiness’. The strengths approach ideally needs people to be ready to have conversations about what energises them, where they may feel more drained and how they can bring their strengths more to work every day. We have had experiences with some organisations where they need to stabilise their people processes before they can move ahead with piloting the strengths approach. So being sure that you’re strengths-ready is another criterion to consider.
What are the areas that can most benefit from a strengths-based approach?
I’m now going to take you through five key areas of application for strengths and will share my learnings from supporting organisations in each one, with some top tips and watchouts. There are more, but I don’t want to overload you. So let’s start with performance management.
- How does strengths-based performance management work?
The reason that traditional performance management or appraisal conversations tend not to be motivating is that they can create a defensive dynamic between a line manager and their direct report. The line manager will be defending the examples they share of where the employee could improve and the employee will often feel misunderstood, misrepresented and/or will defend the approach they took in the examples given. In short, it’s not a basis for a great conversation.
When you introduce strengths into that conversation, essentially you’re asking:
- Where have you been able to use your strengths in the past month/quarter/year most effectively and what results have you got?
- When haven’t you used them, i.e. when have you been in more ‘draining’ territory and what has happened as a result?
- When have your strengths tipped into overdrive? What have you learned from that?
This exploration of strengths first makes sure that the employee is ‘seen’ first at their best and as someone who can bring their talents and energy to their role and to the team, with positive results. It also eases into the trickier territory of development feedback where strengths may have been overplayed or where part of the role is less energising and so being delivered less effectively. It takes practice for managers to explore these areas but when they do, they get so much more back than when using a traditional approach.
- What about strengths-based personal development plans? Do they work?
Often, the second half of an appraisal conversation will focus on the year ahead and which areas an employee can target for development. The key to using the strengths approach here is to major on strengths and to focus on weaker areas only where they are role or career limiting.
The conversation should home in on key strength areas for the employee and what they can do in order to build greater skill and fluency in areas where they have the potential to naturally excel. Can they get more direct experience of strategic planning is they have a Strategic mindedness strength for example, or be more involved in project management activities if they have Efficiency or Results focus strengths? What about broadening the range of influencing skills they develop when they have Persuasiveness or Empathy strengths?
In areas where there are potential weaknesses, consider how these could be addressed creatively, potentially using strengths, collaborating with colleagues or perhaps by developing that area so it stops holding back the person’s performance in their role or career. But start with strengthening strengths and you’re on a more energised footing from the off.
- What does strengths-based career development look like?
All too often, people assume that their careers need to involve them taking tough decisions and choosing the most difficult and challenging path if they are to be successful. Sometimes, that can be a helpful strategy (like particularly if you have a Resilience or Self-improvement strength) but for most people, seeking out career opportunities where you’re most likely to be able to maximise your natural strength areas seems like a more constructive, realistic and practical choice.
In this way, career conversations and career management strategies based on strengths help people explore the opportunity a role or career move is most likely to give them to play to their strengths. As well, they can consider the extent to which they will need to flex beyond those strengths, potentially into more draining areas for them, in order to deliver the role. Yes it’s true that any role can be delivered with the smart use of any combination of strengths but it’s also true that some roles and career paths will more naturally lend themselves to the easy use of certain strength combinations than others.
Going into a career move with your eyes open on that can be more empowering than being surprised when a career move doesn’t work out as you expected because you hadn’t been realistic in assessing the fit for you and your talents and energies.
- Can strengths help people navigate change and become more resilient?
The next application area for strengths I want to cover is change. Which is everywhere and forever and will never stop coming at us it seems. Spending time planning exactly how you will use your strengths to get through a period of change, allied with understanding the emotional impact of change and the process that all humans go through to adapt to new circumstances, can be extremely empowering.
Better to head into a period of change or challenge with a clear plan for using one or more of your standout strengths than to feel shocked and overwhelmed and out of control (and potentially stressed), by the changes you’re facing. Questions to ask of employees or of yourself are:
- What specific challenges will you be facing in the next week/month/year that will drain your energy or that you will find particularly stretching?
- Which strengths will you take with you to ease any pressure or stress you might feel around these challenges and how exactly will you use them?
- Which of your strengths may be triggered into overdrive by the challenges ahead and what strategies do you have to minimise the impact of this?
- Is it possible to create a strengths-based team?
Creating strengths-based teams is more than possible when combined with sustained work on good team behavioural practices and an understanding of the stage of a team’s development journey. The approach we take at Strengthscope with our team profile covers all of that neatly and helps teams:
- Identify the strengths that define them as a team and which they can maximise and build out as part of their brand
- Identify the risks that may exist where strengths are underrepresented or where they may be being used too much or in the wrong context
- Establish good team habits for allocating tasks, ensuring accountability, setting objectives, celebrating success, making the most of meetings and so on.
So stronger teams are most definitely possible. There’s too much here to go into but in short, the areas to explore to do this are to 1. identify individual and shared strengths within the team and build on them, 2. find potential risk areas and mitigate them through better teaming and collaboration, 3. establish which areas of team behaviour are currently strong and where the team falls short and then 4. make a plan to build on strength areas and address improvement areas.
In conclusion – starting small and building on strengths is well worth considering
So are strengths relevant in 2023? I believe now more than ever, as higher employee expectations around being understood, appreciated and appropriately utilised, combined with an organisational need to keep people’s energy up during ongoing change means that the strengths approach is more relevant today than at any point I can think of in the past.
How can you make it work in your organisation? Assess strengths readiness, then start small, pilot, gather evidence and then build out the application areas where it’s being used. The beauty of using the strengths approach (as long as you’re using a tool that measures consistently over time…and they don’t all do that) is its ‘reuse’ potential in different application areas.
Once you know your strengths, you simply need to ask yourself a different set of questions to get value in areas as diverse as performance management, career development, learning strategy, leadership development, team contribution and so on.
I hope you’ve found today’s episode helpful, let me know if you have any questions – me and the team are always happy to help. I’ll also include a list of other past podcasts to explore in all the areas and more that I’ve talked about today and I’ll put that in the blog version of this episode on the Strengthscope website’s blog section. Till next time, stay strong.
Reference podcasts/blogs to help you strengthen your employee experience
- Performance improvement/coaching: S5E5: Upgrade your performance management process – setting expectations the strengths way
- Personal development and personal development plans: S12E10 What is strengths-based learning and development and why does it matter?
- Team performance: S7E8 Empowering your team with strengths
- Authentic leadership: S10E4 What is strengths based leadership and how can you get it?
- Resilience/overcoming challenge/dealing with change: S14E3 How to use your strengths to manage change and transformation
- Career conversations/management: S11E4 Busting career myths to build a strengths-based career
- Creating the culture: S11E7 Why building a strengths-based organisation is top priority for leaders
Rigoni, B. and Asplund, J. (2016). Developing employees’ strengths boosts sales, profit and engagement. Harvard Business Review, Sep 1 2016.
Boniwell, I. (2012). Positive psychology in a nutshell: the science of happiness (3rd ed). Berkshire: Open University Press.
Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2013). The application of signature character strengths and positive experiences at work. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 965-983.
Harzer, C. and Ruch, W. (2014). The role of character strengths for task performance, job dedication, interpersonal facilitation and organizational support. Human Performance, 27, 183-205.
Littman-Ovadia, H., & Davidovitch, N. (2010). Effects of congruence and character-strength deployment on work adjustment and well-being. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 1 (3), 138-146.
Luthans, F. (2002). Positive organizational behavior. Developing and managing psychological strengths. Academy of Management Executive, 16(1): 57-72.
Luthans, F., Avolio, B.J., Avey, J.B., Norman, S.M. (2007). Positive psychological capital: Measurement and relationship with performance and satisfaction. Personnel Psychology, 60, 541-572.