One of the major questions facing management across companies is how best to guide their employees toward optimal work performance in a positive work culture. Should it be done with a carrot, through focusing on positives for the employee? Or should a stick be used judiciously, with an emphasis on correcting weaknesses? A recent Harvard Business Review article posed the question this way: “Should companies primarily focus on playing to the strengths of their employees or help them improve on their weaknesses?”
The answer, overwhelmingly, was that companies that have chosen to focus on employee strengths are better off in almost every way.
Organizations that focus on strengths rather than weaknesses have happier and more engaged employees. People who feel that they are performing in ways that play to their strengths report six times the engagement level of those who don’t. They also report three times the level of believing that their quality of life is excellent.
Engagement especially is driven by a management culture that believes in investing in its employees’ strengths rather than focusing on improving weaknesses. The study showed that almost 70% of employees who felt their managers emphasized their strengths were engaged. And of those that strongly felt their managers didn’t? Engagement was just 1%.
The Positive Effects of Engagement
Engagement is a particularly powerful tool across organizations, as it can boost sales and profits. According to the Harvard Business Review, companies that have strengths-based management practices saw a rise in sales between 10% and 19%. Profit advanced 14% to 29%.
Turnover also decreased. These companies enjoyed from a 6- to 16-point decline in turnover (if they were low-turnover firms) to a 26- to 72-point drop in turnover (if they were high-turnover firms). Safety incidents declined from between 22% and 59%.
Managing to emphasize employee strengths can also curb lost productivity. Lost productivity stemming from disengaged employees drains an estimated $300 billion from U.S. firms every year.
Investing in Employees = Positive Work Culture
To manage to employee strengths, policies and attitudes must be planned, integrated, and nurtured across an organization, you may find that some companies may invest into vendor management staffing companies to take care of this for them. Managers must be on board and make it a strategy priority for the firms. Strengths-based management that is not led by top management will be difficult for mid-level managers to implement.
Performance appraisals should be frequent and specifically geared to communicating strengths. Training for strengths-based management is advisable. It doesn’t mean that managers should never expect weaknesses, only that assessments and appraisals are aligned with expectations of strengths rather than weaknesses.
In addition, communication of strengths shouldn’t stop in the employee-manager dyad, but be spread throughout the organization. One firm went so far as to place lists with each employee’s five top strengths by their workplace.
Managers should assign teams with strengths in mind.
Training and development – clear and demonstrable investment in an employee’s career path and future – needs to be available and discussed at performance appraisals. Training and development are a key component of employees’ taking responsibility for their performance, and it is also a factor in building loyalty to the organization.