To Engage Employees, Focus on Their Strengths

One of my favorite things about joining Namely has been the opportunity to use my natural strengths in communication, providing input, and learning. Traditional management theory teaches us that we should focus on an employee’s weaknesses and make them stronger. While that is important for overall job performance and task orientation, it’s simply not an effective way to motivate employees in the long run. 

Tom Rath wrote a book, StrengthsFinder 2.0, that helps people uncover their personal strengths versus their weaknesses. In his book, Rath states that individuals that work on their weaknesses will only see incremental improvements and those weaknesses will never become a strength. However, individuals working on enhancing their natural talents will see these talents strengthened and make those talents extraordinary.

Allowing people to focus on what they are naturally good at can lead to feelings of satisfaction, plus greater productivity and longevity with a company. It can even make them happier. 

Shawn Achor, in his book The Happiness Advantage, rethinks what it means to be happy and questions the idea that success leads to happiness. He states: 

“When 577 volunteers were encouraged to pick one of their signature strengths and use it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed than control groups. And these benefits lasted: Even after the experiment was over, their levels of happiness remained heightened a few months later. Studies have shown that the more you use your signature strengths in daily life, the happier you become.” 

What Is a Natural Strength? 

Take me as an example: I have always been able to easily converse with people. I have always been able to speak in front of a group with ease. I am also often the person people tell their secrets to (even if I don’t ask). I have a hard time articulating how I do these tasks with ease because they are a natural strength. 

Natural strengths are those tasks or actions you are innately good at, and that makes it difficult to explain the how or why behind what you do. 

As someone who also likes to provide input and learn, I am naturally curious. My curiosity leads me to research more information on topics that grab my attention or ask a lot of questions of my colleagues. It extends to people too. I want to know more about my coworkers, friends, and employees. 

Recently, I saw a sticker on a colleague’s laptop that made me ask if he was a duck hunter. He seemed surprised, but the answer was yes. This allowed us to have a short conversation that we may not have had otherwise. Another time I was speaking with a new client who was telling me his weekend plans to go cross-country skiing. He was headed there during the off-season. I was curious and asked, “Off season from what?” It turns out he was a triathlete. “Olympic distance or sprint?” I chimed in. Really engaging with someone changed the dynamic of our relationship for the better.  

Embrace Your Employees’ Skills

As a leader, knowing your employee’s strengths can help you better manage and motivate at an individual level. Management is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Being able to understand and utilize another person’s strengths can help them have higher job satisfaction. I have had employees with a knack for persuading people and utilized their strengths to have them help organize team gatherings and functions or volunteer efforts (things I am not particularly talented at doing).

Project work can be assigned based on strengths, not just tenure or other arbitrary reasons. This is not to say everyone will be 100% in love with their job when utilizing their strengths, but if 80% of the time they can be working on what they love and have a natural inclination towards, the other 20% is more tolerable. Writing this blog is a perfect example: I enjoy writing and it comes easy to me and leads to job satisfaction (even though it is not a part of my actual job description). 

Ask The Right Questions

StrengthsFinder 2.0 comes with an assessment for employees called The Clifton StrengthsFinder that helps them determine their top five natural strengths.

If you do not want to have employees take a formal assessment, you can start by simply asking some straightforward questions. What work do you enjoy doing most? What work do you enjoy doing the least? What work would you want to try, but have yet to be given the opportunity? If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be? What makes for a great day at work? These questions provide insight into the work they are currently doing and work they could be doing in the future. 

Not everyone can be promoted, but providing meaningful work and opportunities for growth within a role can help an employee stay engaged. These questions may also provide valuable insight into how process may be changed to make work more efficient for all. 

I encourage you to check in with your teams and see how focusing on strengths can change your work environment for the better! 

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