How managers can get the most from a strengths approach

Podcast transcript:

The latest findings on engagement at work are startling

Gallup’s latest research on engagement levels at work makes for some pretty shocking reading. If the figures are representative of country working populations, then only 34% of US employees are actively engaged in their work.  In Australia, the figure drops to 20%. In Germany, it’s 16%. But in the UK, the current engagement figure, that is those employees who are willing to go the extra mile and really invest themselves in their work stands at 10%., less than one third of the paltry number reported in the States.

And bear in mind that engaged employees, as opposed to those who are actively disengaged, or the quiet quitting majority who are just ‘not engaged’ have higher wellbeing, better retention, lower absenteeism and higher productivity. This is not ok.

So how can strengths help to improve engagement?

One thing we know is that when people are able to bring their strengths to work…every day…When they are having regular conversations with their manager about how to best deploy their talents and skills…When they feel understood and appreciated for bringing their unique set of strengths to their role…they are far more likely to be engaged in their work.

So in today’s podcast, I want to offer some practical tips to managers as to how they can get the best use from the strengths approach. I’m going to answer three questions:

  1. How can you bring your strengths into day-to-day management practice?
  2. How can you start a dialogue about strengths with your direct reports?
  3. What are some concrete actions you take immediately to get strengths talked about, lived and breathed?

How can you bring strengths into your day-to-day management practice?

Firstly, onboarding is a great place to start. If you understand the strengths of a new recruit, by ensuring that they have completed a validated strengths assessment and that you can sit down together and consider the results, you’re most likely to get the new person off to an energised and motivated start with your team and organisation. The new person feels like they’re seen and understood, they can talk openly with colleagues about where they can fit in and help straight away, and they’re more likely to go above and beyond in their role.

Remember that when we are talking strengths, we are talking energy/passion/what we love to do, NOT ability. Therefore, we shouldn’t feel embarrassed or awkward about talking strengths. It is crucial to own this conversation so that we get to do more of what we love every day – and that starts with you role modelling as a manager. What are your strengths stories, that you can talk to your team about and encourage them to share their stories?  When have you been at your best and what strengths did you bring? When have your strengths been overplayed and what happened, what did you learn? Normalise it so that everyone speaks about their strengths and where they can contribute value plus also where they are struggling because they are drained or triggered into overdrive.

Strengths also relate to well-being. When people craft their roles towards their strengths, so that they are gaining and not draining their energy every day, they will feel happier, be more productive and be less likely to experience stress and burnout. This is easier than you think. When you ask people ‘how can you use your strengths?’ to overcome a challenge that you are facing, or to get more energy from your role, people will start to develop habits in using their strengths more of the time and over time their role will feel more natural for them and they will find it easier to achieve high performance.

Finally, it is also possible to build better collaboration and team cohesion with this approach. When you know who to go to for which strengths – maybe Celia for working on cross-functional projects (because of their Collaboration) or Juan as a friendly ear you can always rely on who can always see the positive in a situation (because of their Compassion and Optimism) – people start to build stronger connections within the team based on what matters most to them, that also keys into their natural energies.

How do you start a dialogue about strengths with one of your direct reports?

I’ll share three ways of doing this (as a start): positive feedback; constructive/negative feedback and finally from day to day coaching point of view. Let’s start with day to day coaching.

“When have you been able to use your strengths in the last month?  Which strengths did you use and what happened? How can you do this more?”. Or…

“When has it been draining for you at work recently? Tell me more about that. Is there any way you could use your strengths here to get more energy from the task? What about bringing in someone else’s strengths to support you?”  This is something that’s really useful in regular coaching checkins and quarterly performance reviews.

Here’s an example of positive feedback I gave someone recently. “I saw you using your Relationship building strength with that customer. It was very powerful how you were able to create that rapport so quickly and start to build trust. It led to an awesome outcome as the customer gave great feedback on you and their experience of the team. How could you use that more, share it with others, maybe teach it out?”

And finally, here’s some constructive or negative feedback, that I gave recently: “In that last team meeting, can I say that maybe your Leading might have tipped into overdrive a little – I could see you really getting into flow talking about our new strategy but it may have been slightly overwhelming for some of the people in the room as I noticed them start to disengage and ask less questions. Perhaps you could bring in another strength next time to help with that?  Remember also that your Leading is STILL A STRENGTH, there are so many times when I’ve seen you get great results with it. Just remember that all strengths have a best time and place.”

Finally, what are some concrete actions you take immediately to get strengths talked about, lived and breathed?

Firstly, ask for feedback on when others have seen you at your best, your most authentic and natural – when you have been playing to strengths.  Also, ask people when they’ve seen your strengths going too far, and as well where they’ve seen you drained. And get their observations and thoughts on why and how that might relate to your strengths.

Second, talk about your own ‘strength stories’ – where you have been at your best using your strengths. And what you’ve learned when you haven’t been the best leader or role model…showing vulnerability is easier when you talk strengths.

Finally, encourage your team to develop in areas of natural strength for them – ask them how they can develop a strength area further for the benefit of themselves, to better perform in their role and for the benefit of the team.  Part of this will be also to encourage your direct reports to ‘teach out’ in areas of strength for them so that their colleagues can gain new knowledge, skills and habits.

Conclusion – strengths can create a positive team climate where people are actively engaged

I hope you’ve found those practical tips useful. It’s much simpler than you think to weave strengths language, questions and prompts into everyday conversations in a team. And it’s so important to do this when there is so much quiet quitting and a lack of engagement at work…because it works. People feel seen and understood, and that their strengths have a place and can make a difference. Till next time, stay strong.