How do you feel when someone points out your weaknesses? Defensive, upset and guilty are some of the words that may come to mind. How about when someone focuses on your strengths? You probably feel proud, happy and energized to prove the person's right. Today, a strengths-based approach to company culture is taking hold.
So what exactly is a strengths-based company culture? No, it’s not sugarcoating everything and making employees feel good about themselves at the expense of the company.
It means recognizing each employee’s strengths and finding ways to use those strengths productively on the job.
Strengths come from people’s natural talents or ways of thinking and looking at the world. For example, a pessimistic mind-set can actually be a strength for a risk manager or a lawyer, because it helps them spot things that could possibly go wrong. By cultivating your employees’ talents and enhancing them with training, you can build on your employees’ strengths.
How a strengths-based culture can help your business
When employees have jobs that use their strengths, they’re more likely to say they enjoy their work, according to Gallup. Greater employee satisfaction helps boost productivity and loyalty: The same Gallup poll says employees who get to use their strengths at work every day are 8 percent more productive and 15 percent less likely to leave their jobs.
A strengths-based approach also gives your business an edge in other ways. Most work these days is team-based, and a strengths-based culture helps you field a better team. Just like a football team, a workplace team that boasts a mix of different strengths is much more effective than one with nothing but linebackers.
Steps to building a strengths-based workplace
The first step in developing your employees' strengths is identifying what they are. If you worked with your employees for a while, you may already have a good handle on their strengths. Before I started my own business, I managed a group of employees who worked together for years. We got to know each other’s strengths so well that it was easy to identify who would do best at a certain task.
However, you can also identify your team members’ strengths by conducting aptitude tests, asking other employees for 360-degree feedback about each person, and getting employees’ opinions as to their own strengths. Putting all of this together will give you a pretty accurate picture of employee strengths.
Once you know your employees’ strengths, use them to match employees to the best tasks and projects. You can even use your employees’ strengths to help plan out their career paths with your business. Where could those strengths ultimately take them?
A couple of common pitfalls can hinder your strengths-based culture.
- Don’t use stereotypes as a basis for strengths. Not every millennial employee loves technology; not every female supervisor is inherently collaborative and sympathetic.
- Don’t focus on strengths to the exclusion of all else. Just because an employee is strong in one facet of their job doesn’t mean they get a pass on the others. Require a reasonable level of overall competency, or you’ll end up with a bunch of “employee savants.”
- Don’t use strengths to pigeonhole people. Strengths give us a quick shorthand for understanding people — but that can also limit employees if you’re not careful. For example, suppose certain employees at your event planning firm are more innovative than others. It’s tempting to have those employees take charge of all the most challenging events, but if you do that, the rest of your employees will lose out on a chance to learn and grow.
Need more help creating a strengths-based culture or with any aspect of employee management? SCORE mentors can guide you.