The traditional approach to employee development is to focus on employees’ weaknesses and how they can improve them. For example, if an employee works better alone than on a team, you’d probably tell him he needs to focus on getting better at teamwork. Recently, however, a new approach to employee development is making waves: strengths-based employee development.
As the name implies, strengths-based employee development focuses on what employees’ strengths are and builds on them, rather than trying to correct weaknesses. There are several ways a small business owner can benefit from using strengths-based employee development.
- While a weakness-focused approach seeks to bring everyone up to a basic uniform level, a strengths-based approach will develop a diverse team with a wide range of specialized strengths. This can give your business a real competitive edge.
- Because it focuses on what employees are good at, rather than what they aren’t, it motivates and energizes employees.
- It makes employees feel important and valued as individuals. That’s especially effective with Millennial employees, who make up an increasing percentage of the workforce. Millennials like to feel they are making their mark from the minute they join your business. By focusing on their strengths, you enable them to contribute right away.
How to Use Strengths-Based Employee Development
Here are five steps to using strengths-based employee development in your business.
Step 1. Identify your company’s strengths. Are you innovative, dependable or fun? Just like a person, if your business is trying to be something it’s not, you’ll work harder but achieve poor results and feel dissatisfied along the way. By knowing your business’ strengths, you can use your employees’ strengths to build on them.
Step 2. Identify your employees’ strengths. There are several ways to do this. Start by sitting down with employees one-on-one to discuss their strengths. Just asking, “what do you think your strengths are?” may not produce anything very useful. If that’s the case, try asking these questions:
- What do you look forward to doing most at work every morning?
- Is there something you do at work where the time seems to fly by?
- What do you most enjoy doing in your time off?
- What did you enjoy doing most at previous jobs?
You can also ask employees to identify each other’s strengths — kind of like a 360-degree performance review, but focused only on the positive. There are also online assessments to help you pinpoint your own and your employees’ strengths. The Clifton StrengthFinder is popular; it was developed by the Gallup Organization as part of a 30-year study of the strength-based approach to management.
Step 3. Match employees’ strengths to their tasks. You can assign employees to specific tasks based on the strengths you’ve uncovered, or you can also just explain something that needs to be done and ask who would like to do it. When employees volunteer for jobs, they’re more likely to choose tasks that play to their strengths.
This part of implementing strengths-based employee development may involve some trial and error. Chances are you’re going to have to move employees around to different positions or assign different types of tasks to see what their true strengths are.
Once you have a clear understanding of each person’s strengths, you’ll be able to better group employees in teams for projects or tasks. The ideal team involves people with a diverse range of strengths. For example, if everyone on a team is good at strategizing and planning, but no one is good at executing, you’re going to be in trouble. Diverse strength will also lead to more creative thinking and new approaches to problems.
Step 4. Provide ongoing feedback. Whether you’re praising an employee in front of the team or in a performance review, it typically goes something like this: “Steve, you did a great job planning and overseeing our customer recognition luncheon.” This type of feedback focuses on how well a task was completed. Strengths-based employee development goes a step further: “Steve, you did a great job planning and overseeing our customer recognition luncheon. It really showcased your strengths at organizing, coordinating and relationship-building.”
Step 5. Make public recognition of strengths part of your day-to-day business. For strengths-based development to really work, employees need to be aware of each other’s’ strengths as well as their own. That’s why it’s important to publicly recognize employees not only for their achievements, but also for their strengths.
You should also encourage employees to give each other feedback and recognition for strengths: “Thank you for helping with the new marketing campaign. Your creative strengths really helped us think outside the box.”
How does strengths-based employee development sound to you? Do you already use this approach?
Strength Photo via Shutterstock