Traditional or conventional development focuses primarily on fixing weaknesses. Unfortunately, that approach most often leaves individuals struggling with mediocre performance.
The organizational impact of strengths-based development is well documented. Gallup’s social scientists have studied the impact of such interventions, and their discoveries are compelling.
Researchers looked at the impact of workers’ engagement levels in three different categories: Engaged, Not Engaged, and Actively Disengaged.
A 2004 Gallup Poll asked 1,003 U.S. workers to select one of the following options:
- My supervisor focuses on my weaknesses or negative characteristics.
- My supervisor focuses on my strengths or positive characteristics.
Gallup discovered that the best way for a supervisor to create an actively disengaged workforce is to pay employees no attention, and ignore them completely.
It appears that it is better for a supervisor to be negative toward employees than apathetic. The jump from apathetic to negative brings increases in engagement and decreases in active disengagement. However, if a supervisor is truly serious about building a highly engaged workforce, the most productive approach seems to be one that pays primary attention to employees’ strengths and positive characteristics.
Supervisors who focus on employees’ strengths were able to engage employees at a 61% rate, compared with weakness-focusing managers who only engaged employees at a 45% rate.
Managers who predominately focused on weaknesses stimulated active disengagement among their employees at a 22% rate while strengths-focused managers reduced active disengagement to an astoundingly low 1%.
In addition to improvements in employee engagement, there is also a strong correlation between strengths-based focus and important business outcomes such as productivity, profitability, and retention.
A study of individual employee productivity found that productivity went up 7.8% following some kind of strengths focus. When considering team performance data, teams whose managers received some form of strengths education saw a 12.5% boost in productivity and an 8.9% increase in profitability. Finally, employee turnover was significantly reduced among those employees receiving some strengths focus. Their turnover was 14.9% lower than that of their peers who received no strengths treatment.
To summarize, there is a strong connection between how people feel when they focus on their strengths, and how they perform. Let’s encourage people to focus on their strengths.
Adapted from Gallup Strengths, 2012 – Judy Preston is a Gallup Trained Strength Coach.