Leadership Means Playing to Employee Strengths

Playing to strengths may seem like a cliché, filling chapters of business books and hours of seminars and team-building exercises. Yet a recent study by Gallup shows that playing to employee strengths has measurable benefits for the company and the employee alike.

The study helps to answer the question as to whether managers and leadership development programs should focus on playing to an employee’s strengths or on improving areas of weakness. The answer is decidedly clear.

Leadership Strengths Should Be Main Focus
The study is conclusive in the recommendation that leadership development means playing to employee strengths. Gallup research shows that employees who can use their strengths more hours each day are less likely to experience anger, physical pain, sadness stress and worry.

On the positive side, adults who can use strengths 10 hours or more per day are more likely to report having the energy to complete tasks. Those strengths-focused adults report energy at 22 percentage points higher than those who can use their strengths three hours or less.

Gallup’s recently completed study makes the case that playing to strengths is a critical business strategy move, too. The study looked at 1.2 million employees in 22 companies or organizations across seven industries and 45 countries. Employees exposed to strengths-based leadership coaching, strengths assessments or positioning for success were profoundly more successful when it came to sales, profits, turnover, customer engagement, safety and employee engagement.

Workgroups that had the strengths-based attention showed performance improvements at or above the levels described below, compared to those with minimal or no strengths-based programs:

    • Sales: 10 percent to 19 percent increase
    • Profits: 14 percent to 29 percent increase
    • Turnover: 6- to 16-point, or 26- to 72-point decrease in low-turnover or high-turnover organizations, respectively
    • Customer Engagement: 3 percent to 7 percent increase
    • Safety: 22 percent to 59 percent decrease in incidents
  • Employee Engagement: 9 percent to 15 percent increase

How to Create a Strengths-Based Culture
With such dramatic improvements in bottom-line factors, it may seem obvious that change is needed in organizations without a strengths-based culture. In order to effectively create change, there are a number of steps to take, including:

    • Begin with leadership. Leaders should understand the strategic value inherent in making strengths-based focus a priority.
    • Get managers to commit. Line managers are integral to the success of strengths-based programs. Without their buy-in, proper training, and alignment, employees will not embrace the approach. Those same employees will look to their managers for guidance, coaching, and insights on strengths development.
    • Create enthusiasm and awareness company-wide. Companies need to articulate and demonstrate the importance of employee strengths in order to be resonant. Praise and recognition of units that practice and embrace those tenets should be called out frequently.
    • Focus on strengths when building project teams. Project managers should consider what skills are needed on a particular project and reconcile team membership with employee strengths.
    • Place an emphasis on performance reviews that reflects the development of strengths.
    • For employees and their managers, the performance evaluation is an important time to connect the importance of strength development with business success.

  • Connect the strengths-based culture to the organization’s brand. The corporate brand can capitalize on the company culture to attract like-minded job-seekers and differentiate from competitors.

The measures of impact are a compelling case to incorporate strengths-based competencies into your organization. The company and its employees will all benefit.