Is strengths-based employee development right for your business?

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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 in a team, you would probably tell them that they need to focus on improving their teamwork. Recently, however, a new approach to employee development is making waves: strengths-based employee development.

As the name suggests, strengths-based employee development focuses on and builds on employee strengths, rather than trying to fix weaknesses. There are several ways a small business owner can benefit from strengths-based employee development.

  • While a weaknesses-based approach seeks to bring everyone to a basic uniform level, a strengths-based approach will develop a diverse team with a wide range of specialized strengths. It can give your business a real competitive advantage.
  • Because it focuses on what employees are good at, rather than what they are not, it motivates and energizes employees.
  • This makes employees feel important and valued as individuals. This is especially effective with millennial employees, who make up a growing percentage of the workforce. Millennials like to feel like they’ve made their mark as soon as they join your company. By focusing on their strengths, you allow 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 the strengths of your business. Are you innovative, reliable or fun? Just like a person, if your business tries to be something it isn’t, you’ll work harder, but you’ll get poor results and feel dissatisfied along the way. By knowing the strengths of your company, you can use the strengths of your employees to develop them.

2nd step. Identify the strengths of your employees. There are several ways to do this. Start by sitting down with employees one-on-one to discuss their strengths. Just ask, “what do you consider your strengths to be?” may not produce anything very useful. If so, try asking these questions:

  • What are you most looking forward to doing at work every morning?
  • Is there anything you do at work where time seems to slip away?
  • What do you like to do the most in your free time?
  • What did you enjoy doing the most in your previous jobs?

You can also ask employees to identify each other’s strengths – much like a 360-degree performance review, but focused only on the positive. There are also online assessments to help you identify your own strengths and those of your employees. The Clifton StrengthFinder is popular; it was developed by the Gallup organization as part of a 30-year study of the strengths-based management approach.

Step 3. Match employees’ strengths to their tasks. You can assign employees to specific tasks based on the strengths you have discovered, or you can also simply explain something that needs to be done and ask who would like to do it. When employees volunteer for jobs, they are more likely to choose tasks that highlight their strengths.

This part of implementing strengths-based employee development can involve trial and error. Chances are you need to move employees to different positions or assign them 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 into teams for projects or tasks. The ideal team includes people with varying 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. A diverse force 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 during a performance review, it usually goes something like this: “Steve, you did a great job planning and overseeing our client appreciation lunch. ” This type of feedback focuses on how a task was accomplished. Strengths-based employee development goes one step further: “Steve, you did a great job planning and overseeing our client appreciation breakfast. It really showcased your strengths in organization, coordination and relationship building.

Step 5. Make public acknowledgment of strengths part of your daily 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 accomplishments, but also for their strengths.

You should also encourage employees to share feedback and recognize their strengths: “Thank you for helping with the new marketing campaign. Your creative strengths have really helped us think outside the box.

What do you think of strengths-based employee development? Do you already use this approach?

Strength Photo via Shutterstock


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