“People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough” (Buckingham & Coffman: First, break all the rules: What the world’s greatest managers do differently, 1999)

Whilst the human resources department has the daunting task of understanding business needs and coupling those needs with an employee development plan that will equip the organisation to perform well, managers often sit back relatively comfortably with the perception that they have communicated their needs, their respective jobs seemingly complete. On the contrary, the expression of needs by managers to human resources practitioners should be followed by managers identifying strengths in each team member and matching those strengths to the roles that they need for the team to function effectively. Identifying and utilising strengths within the team is a leadership skill and should not be underestimated.

Unfortunately, most conversations with employees centre on weaknesses, job expectations not being met and key performance indicators that suggest failure – strengths are seldom discussed nor truly brought into strategic planning exercises. As a result, most people think focusing on weaknesses will help them improve more than focusing on strengths. A Global Gallup Poll discovered that only 41% or less people worldwide focused on their strengths and managed their weaknesses. Almost two thirds of people spend their energy on attempting to improve their weaknesses, but with little success. Gallup concluded: “There is clearly a need to educate the world about positive psychology in practice and the importance of understanding and focusing on strengths”.

A strengths-based development process requires focus on strengths, talent, and themes. Donald Clifton & Timothy Hodges from Gallup) note: “A strength is the ability to provide consistent, near-perfect performance in a given activity. The key to building a strength is to first identify your dominant themes of talent, then to discover your specific talents within those themes, and to lastly refine them with knowledge and skills. Talents are naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied. One of the three “raw materials” used in strengths building, talent naturally exists within you, while skills and knowledge must be acquired”.

The key from an organisational productivity perspective is that people get excited, thrive, and produce more effectively when their strengths are utilised. Their focus is heightened, and their energy is applied appropriately. They feel valued and this engenders a sense of belonging. They perceive that their respective contributions are appreciated and so offer discretionary effort, going above and beyond expectations. They become more engaged and submit suggestions freely. Commitment levels increase, with loyalty being experienced as a net result. Overall, they become desirable talent, the same of which now needs to be retained.

Organisations should focus on strengths-based development processes for their employees. Both managers and the human resources department have critical roles to play in helping employees with identifying their strengths, honing their skills, and utilising them in appropriate roles. Organisations reap the best results from employees when they are employed in roles where they can utilise their strengths.

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