Selling in strengths

Sometimes clients ask, “What will convince my senior management to embrace a strengths-based approach”? Here, I present a simple yet compelling rationale, including the business and personal benefits, for adopting a strengths-based approach to working with employees in any organization. The overall goal is to explain the meaning of “strengths-based,” provide examples of the benefits, and relate all of that to the organization.

First, it is important to understand what a strengths-based approach is – and what it’s not. Unlike the self-help or management model du jour, a strengths-based approach is built on years of research in the areas of positive psychology, positive organizational behavior, positive organizational scholarship, and appreciative inquiry. Namely, the focus is on identifying and building upon one’s strengths rather than expending time and money to abolish weaknesses.

Does this mean a strengths-based approach ignores problems? Not at all! People still need to learn to mitigate their weaknesses in their quest for professional excellence, but in a strengths-based organization, this is not the primary focus. Instead, as Buckingham and Clifton so eloquently stated in their book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, the greatest room for growth is through our strengths, because they are enduring and unique.

Next, explain the benefits of using a strengths-based approach. Namely, when opportunity permits, we use our strengths reliably; strengths contribute to positive emotions; and, positive emotions afford us greater engagement. As I just mentioned, we tend to use our strengths consistently, which makes them easily available to us, particularly in the right environment. Just as importantly, using our strengths contributes to positive emotions. In other words, when we do what comes naturally to us (use our strengths) and we see good results, we experience positive emotions. Positive emotions buffer us from distress, help build our resilience, and allow us to “undo” the physiological effects of our response to negativity.

How does this help the organization? A workforce encouraged to use their strengths meets difficult business times with resilience. Resilient employees are more likely to stay through difficult times, meaning less attrition. This is particularly important for organizations that strive to keep their top talent, along with their skills and knowledge. Further, if they are able to undo the physiological responses to negative events, the organization is probably going to have a healthier workforce.

Perhaps more importantly, positive emotions contribute to higher engagement. Engaged employees are more apt to enjoy greater work and life satisfaction, part of what Martin Seligman refers to as “The Engaged Life.”  Such employees show greater creativity, flexibility, and productivity. Research shows engaged employees working in a group are more likely to meet the goals of that group. Individually, engaged employees are more successful.  Again, all of these findings can contribute to the overall bottom line of the organization, ranging from less attrition to greater productivity.

Although many organizations do not think about this, the use of our personal strengths also contributes to “The Meaningful Life.” According to Seligman, this occurs when we use our strengths in service to something larger than ourselves. When employees are able to equate the use of their strengths at work to either the organization’s mission, or even placing it in a larger context, they experience meaning. It follows then, that those who find their work meaningful will likely contribute to the overall organizational goals and stay with the organization. Meaning matters, for your high-potential talent through to your pre-retirement executives, if they are to view their work as a calling and be a part of the organization’s success.