Marcus Buckingham (Buckingham and Clifton, 2001) once asked which grade parents would focus on when their children come home with their school report, if it showed an A in English, a C in Biology and an F in Maths. The answer you might be able to guess, illustrates our natural desire to focus on improving weakness as an approach to development. But there is another way – a strengths-based approach to development.
You may have heard people say that ‘anyone can excel at anything if they try hard enough …’ but is that true? And is that a good approach in every case?
There are people who have the tenacity and determination to stick at things they are not naturally good at and plough on through to make a success. However, is that the best way to do things? And what are the implications of taking the tough way?
An alternative is to take a strengths-based approach. Strengths are the positive parts of us which, when we are applying, we feel engaged, positive and authentically ourselves. They are the ways in which we naturally think, feel and behave, and when people are using these strengths, they are most engaged, motivated and happy (Gallup, 2012). A focus on identifying talents and developing them into their strengths facilitates people’s performance, confidence, satisfaction and success.
Committing to a strengths-based approach is like saying that a person’s best chance for success lies in building on what they are already and what they already have, and not by an endeavour to be become someone they are not.
There are many ways to identify a person’s strengths and every way will support the start of an exploration into what natural talents a person has. In Ascolto we tend to use the Clifton Strengths Finder produced by Gallup, as it has thirty-four items that have been developed from extensive research, but there are other research-driven alternatives which can be used, such as the StrengthsScope and Values in Action.
People completing these surveys receive comprehensive reports on their talents and ways to develop their strengths. We find this to be a starting point for people, and that it is most powerfully supported by skilled feedback – to explore the strengths – and coaching – to develop action plans to apply their strengths more widely. In our experience a trained, professional, and experienced coach helps turn the report into to higher levels of self-awareness and to the more effective development of strengths.
It takes time, energy and effort support from others (and often opportunities) for someone to develop their talents into strengths that they can then consistently draw – and so be successful and effective. The prize for organisations is a happier, more engaged, and more productive staff as outlined by the various Gallup studies which are accessible on their website CliftonStrengths Articles and Videos | EN – Gallup
You have recruited your people based on what they can do and the fit for the role – not on what they can’t do and seem an ill fit for!
Of course, there will be a place for individuals to develop to address their weaker areas – we generally encourage our clients, however, to put that behind in priority, and behind in performance conversations, and engage with strengths and strengths development. People perform in roles because of what they do well. The highest chance of an engaged and productive workforce lies in knowing what people have to offer, and how their strengths can be developed, sometimes this compensates for weaknesses, sometime is renders then irrelevant.
If you are interested in deploying a strengths-based approach:
- Choose a strengths inventory that matches your organisations culture and values.
- Communicate to your staff the new approach you are taking, and the reasons for doing it.
- Ensure you have qualified and experienced coaches to provide feedback and development for your staff.
- Build a consideration of strengths into your selection and assessment processes.
- Ensure that your performance development conversations at all levels follow a ‘strengths-first’ approach.
- Monitor and review factors like engagement and well-being as well as performance when evaluating your programme.