Building on strengths for engagement and performance

Newsletter articles

1 Jul 2013

HR Insight Issue 17

Paul Fairhurst, IES Principal Consultant

For a number of years now, we have worked with individuals and teams to identify, develop and deploy their strengths. The research evidence is very clear that where people are able to spend more of their time using their strengths, the individuals and the business perform better.

We continue to work with organisations in the private and public sectors using Strengthscope, a robust, practical psychometric tool. Strengthscope helps individuals identify their own strengths and then receive 360 degree feedback on how they can use them to be even more effective. But it isn't just about identifying strengths and then using them all the time. One powerful part of the process is flagging the risk of someone's strengths going into overdrive. Using our strengths comes naturally to us and so the temptation is to use them all the time and in every situation (particularly when we are tired or stressed). Yet, if we overuse or inappropriately use a strength it can turn into a weakness; think perhaps of those who are great critical thinkers but who can overanalyse situations leading to the classic paralysis by analysis.

There is often a knowing laugh when we begin to discuss a strength in overdrive with a coaching client as they recognise their tendency to overplay one of their strengths, and feedback from colleagues will usually reinforce this recognition. This recognition and then working out when and how to deploy strengths effectively, can be one of the most useful parts of the coaching conversation. This is particularly relevant as people move from producer to manager roles or from manager to director; some strengths that have served them well so far may need turning down and others that have been less used may need to come into play more.

Recent work we have done in this area has involved helping individuals in one organisation prepare for a major organisational change that included significantly different sets of jobs requiring new skills. Using a strengths approach, we were able to help people decide for themselves which of the new roles would suit them best, not just in terms of what they were able to do but also that they would enjoy (and hence perform better). We have also worked with management teams in another organisation to help them understand and deploy their individual strengths to best effect in particularly challenging market conditions.