What does it take to unleash the talents of your team? For managers, this is an important question with huge implications for their company, and a growing body of research has a compelling answer: Strength-Based Management. Employees who are consistently encouraged to develop and use their strengths in their work are more engaged, more loyal, and more productive. There is a strong link between strengths and employee engagement, so how can you use the talents, knowledge, skills, and experience of your employees to turn them into a highly productive, highly engaged team?
What are strengths?
In the context of the workplace, strengths are defined as behaviors that are performed well and with ease. If a task brings intrinsic joy and satisfaction to the person doing it, it’s almost certainly an area of strength for that individual. Put another way, using strengths allows people to perform at a consistently excellent level of performance with very little effort or strain. Conversely, tasks in areas of weakness are performed with difficulty and more effort. They drain the person doing them, and take more time and effort to improve.
Employees who are encouraged to develop and use their strengths are more engaged and loyal. Their performance is higher in almost every way: they are more productive, happier and more enthusiastic, faster to adopt new roles, harder working, and have a larger impact on the company’s business goals. There is even evidence that strength-based management can have positive impacts on health and well-being. Less stress, more energy, and fewer sick days taken are all reported among employees who have daily opportunities to use their strengths in their work.
This all makes a strong case for playing off your team’s strengths, and yet, only 3% of employees in the U.S. can say that their companies focus on helping them use their strengths. That’s a lot of potential being lost with unengaged employees, so what can you do about it?
Managers are the key.
The best way for employers to improve the strengths of their employees is through their managers. Managers are the ones who maximize the opportunities their team members have to play to their strengths in everyday work, and managers play a crucial role in empowering employees and positioning them so that their strengths and their roles are well suited to each other.
Companies that identify and develop their employees’ strengths allow workers to become peak performers in their area of greatest strength and competence. In contrast, employees that only have their weakest areas developed are having a lot of energy spent to simply bring them up to average. Now, does this mean companies shouldn’t address and develop the weak areas of an employee? Not at all. Obviously if there is something that’s hindering your worker’s ability to perform at an acceptable level, it’s in everyone’s best interests to address those areas of concern. What it does mean is that there is a much greater potential return to be gained from building up the areas of your employees that are already strong.
I think it’s worth mentioning one more thing about the study linked above. A large group of employees were asked whether their bosses focused primarily on their strengths or on their weaknesses, and then to rate themselves as engaged or actively disengaged at work. At no surprise, the people who had managers who focused on their weaknesses had a stronger tendency to be disengaged at work. But what’s more interesting is this: a large percent of the survey participants said that their supervisors didn’t focus on either strengths or weaknesses. Basically, they were being ignored by their bosses, and the rate at which they were actively disengaged was double that of the “weakness-focused” people. It turns out that even negative attention is better for people than no attention at all.
What does strength-based management look like?
Strength-based management is clearly working, so what are some specific ways you can align your management strategy to focus on the strengths of your team? This is a huge topic, but these few strategies should give you a baseline to start building a style and culture of management that gives your team the opportunities to develop and use their strengths:
1. Identify their strengths
You won’t be able to help your team grow their strengths if you don’t understand what they are. Take the time to get to know each team member and understand where both their strengths and their weaknesses lie. It’s also important that they understand what their own strengths are; don’t assume that they already know. Many people don’t actually have a good grasp of what their strengths are, so as their manager, you’re in the best position to give your team some valuable understanding about themselves. Provide some sort of strengths assessment test to your team, and speak with them one-on-one to talk about what you both see as their areas of strength.
2. Orient the team around each other’s strengths
Once you have a grasp of your team’s strengths, bring everyone together and help them all understand each other’s strengths. How do their talents and abilities complement one another? How can they align their strengths to better serve the goals of the department and the company? Talking about each person’s strengths in a team setting can be a powerfully unifying experience, and can be a great way to get your people to think creatively about how to use their different but complementary talents.
3. Assign projects based on strengths
Most managers would never assign a task to someone they knew was very weak in that area. But it can be easy to mis-assign tasks if you don’t fully understand the strengths of your people. Give your employees tasks that you know will play to their strengths, and that will give them satisfaction. If they aren’t realizing their fullest potential in their current role, try to find some way of changing the role so that they can use their best skills and talents, but can still support the goals of the department and contribute to the company.
4. Incorporate strengths into performance reviews
Talking about strengths in a formal setting can really help shift your department’s culture to one that values strength-based management. Bring up your team’s strengths in their performance reviews and make sure that their strengths and their roles align. Work together to set goals based on the strengths that they display, and talk about how they can turn some of their weaknesses into new strengths that will help them and the company grow.
5. Interact with your employees daily
We already know that neglected employees are the most dissatisfied and disengaged. Daily contact with your team members is an amazing way to empower them and build a sense of relationship and trust. Focus your interactions around your employees’ strengths, and give them reason to believe that you want them to grow and succeed in their role. Encourage them to push further in their roles and challenge them to use their strengths in new and creative ways.
Every one of your employees has areas of strength, and as a manager, you are the one who can unleash these strengths and position your employees to be engaged and successful. By focusing on your team’s strengths, you stand a good chance of making them more productive, more profitable, higher performing, happier, and healthier. There is clearly some unmet potential in the workforce when it comes to strength-based management, but investing in your team’s strengths might create some incredible opportunities for success.
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