Strengths are an integral part of positive approaches to promote thriving in individuals and organisations. Building on research on the benefits of strengths use, new studies are showing what happens in workplaces when each person is recognised for their strengths.
Realising strengths and the energy that fuels them is a natural route to enhancing valued business outcomes while at the same time enabling people to fulfill their potential and become the best they can be.
Coaches, consultants, human capital managers and leaders can help organisations shift focus from fixing problems and weaknesses to building strengths and identifying opportunities to leverage them. A strengths approach can be used at all levels: from talent selection and recruitment to leadership and team development, and outplacement. Perhaps most importantly, it can reach beyond traditional approaches to access hidden value and talent that can re-engage and invigorate individuals and the whole organisation.
Why is harnessing strengths such a powerful approach?
Research shows that using our strengths is associated with significant benefits such as increased wellbeing, goal attainment, job performance and engagement. These individual outcomes seem to have a maximiser affect in terms of an organisation. A seminal study by Jim Harter and his colleagues at Gallup (Harter, Schmidt, & Hayes, 2002) found that the opportunity to use one’s strengths each day is a core predictor of workplace engagement, which in turn is a core driver of a range of positive business outcomes such as employee retention, discretionary effort, quality, customer satisfaction and loyalty, sales, profitability, shareholder return and business growth.
Recent studies have also linked strengths with higher work engagement. Cheri Botha and her colleague Karina Mostert (2014) found that when employees perceive that the organisation focuses on and supports them to use their strengths they appear more willing to dedicate their efforts and abilities toward their work tasks. Together with previous research that shows strengths use naturally leads to greater wellbeing over time (Wood et al, 2011), they conclude that if organisations focus on supporting strengths use among managers and employees, they can build long-term work engagement and optimise individual performance.
A strengths-based approach to management is increasingly what employees want. In Capp's Ideal Manager 2012 Survey, 87% of employees reported feeling that the best managers manage differently according to individual needs.
In a recent survey by the VIA Institute (McQuaid, 2015) of over 1000 American workers, 64% recognise that building on their strengths will make them more successful at work - while 36% believe that fixing their weaknesses will. This reverses the Gallup findings on the same topic in 2001. Of employees who believe their managers can name their strengths, 71% feel engaged and energised by their work and 61% say they leap out of bed in the morning to get to work.
This certainly is my experience in my team and when guiding organisations to adopt a strengths-based approach. People want to feel their strengths are recognised, particularly by their managers, and this improves relationships and generates positive emotions that motivates people to contribute their strengths toward organisational and team goals.
The emotional aspect of strengths seems to be a major motivator for people applying and developing their strengths. Strengths as linked to the Broaden and Build Theory developed by Barbara Fredrikson (2001) that shows how positive emotions broaden our strategies for thinking and action and build our resources, leading to an “upward spiral” toward greater performance and wellbeing.
When Marianne Van Woerkom and Maria Meyers (2015) looked at the effect of a strengths-based climate in organisations, they found that it elevated employee mood, potentially translating into a more positive and satisfied workplace. They also found that the positive emotions generated in people working in this environment caused performance to increase. The researchers also conclude that when employees perceive their workplace to be strengths-based, they are highly likely to feel their organisation is investing in them as individuals and reciprocate with positive behviours that benefit other people and the business (a measure known as organisational citizenship behaviour).
Benefits of a strengths-based approach
So how can a strengths-based climate impact your workplace? Here are four ways focusing on strengths can help acheive strategic goals:
1. Connect leaders and their teams
When leaders know their own strengths and the strengths of their team, they can create a positive climate where strengths are harnessed and people excel. Leaders can act as climate engineers by understanding their team members’ strengths and supporting them to use them to reach goals and perform their role.
2. Improve teamwork
A focus on strengths in teams allows tasks to be allocated efficiently giving people greater flexibility in their roles. The positive emotions generated by contributing their strengths and partnering with others whose strengths are complimentary increases cooperation and helps people get things done more quickly and enthusiastically.
3. Increase diversity and inclusion
When people understand and appreciate that each person has a unique set of strengths that can be leveraged, it encourages them to value individual differences and contributions. A person who once appeared aloof or disconnected from the group can now be understood to play a vital role and may absolve others from non-preferred tasks. Appreciating strengths helps diverse teams maximise creativity and perform better.
4. Realise untapped energy and talent
When the strengths of employees are not being harnessed, there is untapped talent and energy. Organisations spend a lot of time and resources trying to improve performance and often those efforts are not intrinsically motivating for employees. How much more performance and potential can be realised collectively when each individual is playing to their authentic strengths?
To find out people's strengths and get the most from them, we recommend R2 Strengths Profiler, which incorporates the latest research. You can learn more about strengths assessment and development options for yourself, your organisation or your team, including upcoming courses and online training, on our R2 Strengths Profiler comparison page.
Botha, C., & Mostert, K. (2014). A structural model of job resources, organisational and individual strengths use and work engagement, SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 40: 1–11.
Fredrickson, B.L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, American Psychologist, 56: 218–26.
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: 268–79.
McQuaid, M. (2015). Strengths @ Work Survey. VIA Institute on Character.
Linley, P.A. (2010). The business case for a strengths-based organisation. Centre for Applied Positive Psychology.
Trenier, E., Harrington, S., & Jamnadas, R. (2012). Performance manager: Managing strengths to deliver better performance through your people.
Van Woerkom, M., & Meyers, M.C. (2015). My strengths count! Effects of a strength based psychological climate on positive affect and job performance. Human Resource Management, 54(1), 81–103.
Wood, A.M., Linley, P.A., Maltby, J., Kashdan, T.B., & Hurling, R. (2011). Using personal and psychological strengths leads to increases in well-being over time: A longitudinal study and the development of the strengths use questionnaire, Personality and Individual Differences, 50: 15–9.