Secrets of a Brighter Workplace


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10 things to consider before implementing a strengths-based approach

Ready for strengths?


Regular readers will know I’m a big advocate of the strengths-based approach. Recruiting and engaging employees based on what they love doing and are energised by leads to high performance and high levels of motivation. What’s not amazingly helpful about that?

However, having recently been party to a challenging project with an organisation that was not ready for a strengths-based approach, I wanted to share some key considerations with you – things to think about before going any further towards implementation.

From the culture of your organisation, your managers’ mindset, to logistics and planning, here’s my comprehensive checklist to making sure you are ready to implement a strengths-based approach.

1. What’s your culture?

The strengths-based approach is not an average, par for the course, mainstream approach. It’s different. And may be too different for some organisations to handle. Attempting to crowbar it into a culturally-unready or unsuitable environment is not going to go well.

That’s why, my first question when someone asks me about strengths is: “how individualistic is your culture? Are you a Virgin Trains or a Sellafield?”

If you’re like Virgin, you’ll value and praise people for doing things differently, doing things their own way – being an individual.

Whereas, if you’re more like Sellafield, your culture is more conformist; people are rewarded for following set procedures to the letter.

Neither of these cultures is better than the other – they’re appropriate for the circumstances. Energy companies are often conformist to ensure safety standards are met, for instance.

But more conformist organisations can struggle to implement strengths – because it requires such a culturally different approach. One that is more focused on the individual and what they’re uniquely motivated by. It embraces the concept that people can be equally successful in a role by doing it in their own unique way.

2. How do strengths align with your other HR tools and processes?

You may be considering using strengths just as part of your recruitment activity but you need to think about how it fits in with the whole employee lifecycle.

Once you start asking people what they love to do, that changes the conversation at every level. Not just when recruiting but also in terms of how individuals and teams are managed, how roles are performed, how people develop and how they are appraised and rewarded.

3. Who can lead and get buy-in for the project?

If introducing a strengths-based approach is a big change for your organisation, there’ll undoubtably be some cynics that will need persuading that it’s the right thing to do. Can you persuade them? Or do you need someone more senior to sponsor the project?

My advice would be to involve a member of your senior exec team from the get-go, someone who can drive it forward and ensure buy-in from the rest of the organisation.

4. What’s the problem you’re trying to fix?

Why do you want to move from competencies to strengths? Is it simply because it’s new and exciting? If that’s your impetus, you may get a surprise when its wider impact lands in your business!

You need to be really specific about the problem you’re trying to fix. Whether it’s improving team performance, reducing attrition or recruiting people who are motivated to do the job, define the problem at the outset so you can identify your priorities and design the solution accordingly – inline with what the rest of the organisation will need to consider and change.

5. Can you define what highly motivated looks like in your organisation?

To make strengths work for you, it’s essential you understand what a high performer in your organisation looks like. Not just in terms of performance but also in terms of motivation and energy. What does a highly motivated, highly energised high performer look like?

Because it’s no good having someone in your job analysis who is a high performer but who doesn’t have the right attitude. You’ll end up with the wrong data. And therefore create the wrong solution.

6. What is the mindset of the people involved?

What’s the mindset of those managers who will need to implement the strengths approach?

Do they take a traditional approach to management – ruling by fear or command and control? Or do they take a more positive approach – are they good at giving feedback, open to people making and learning from mistakes?

Once set, it’s very difficult to get people to change their view of how to manage. So unless the proportion of traditional-style managers in your organisation is very small (and therefore could be won over by the majority) you may struggle to get strengths off the ground without a clear message of change and a strong retraining programme.

7. What is the mindset of your participants/candidates?

How do you think participants or potential candidates will feel about a strengths approach? What’s their mindset?

Some people aren’t very self-aware or used to self-reflection, so being asked about what they enjoy doing can come as a bit of a shock.

Understanding where their heads are at, will help you determine how much support and guidance you’ll need to give them during the process.

8. How much time can the business give to the project?

How much time do you have to implement the project? How many people can you involve in the job analysis or the pilot – how much time do they have? How many stakeholders do you need to involve and how much time can they spare?

Implementing a project like this can be time-consuming so it’s important to know how much people can give to it at the outset. If they don’t have much time available, you’re better off knowing that early doors so you can scale the project accordingly.

9. Who will be involved?

Who will you need to involve in the roll out of the project? Who will do the interviews, assessments, give feedback? Will they need training?

Sometimes the HR team lead on all aspects but you may need to go wider and involve more people. One business I worked with trained 50 managers on how to conduct strengths-based interviews – so the solution had to be scalable and repeatable for consistency.

10. Can your managers think beyond a competency based approach?

A structured competency approach is very much a tick box exercise. You listen for a candidate to describe the behaviour you’re looking for. If they do, you tick that box.

With a strengths-based approach, interviewers need to listen for feelings, not just behaviours – and use their intuition in a structured way. This does not come naturally to everyone, some can find it an uncomfortable experience. You need to understand where your managers/interviewers are at – how comfortable they feel about having conversations about what people love doing – in order to plan the support and training you’ll need to provide.

Bonus tip – how bespoke can you afford your solution to be?

Time to get down to brass tacks!

The best solution is a bespoke solution – but that comes at a price. Consider what you can afford and how tailored to your needs you need the solution to be. There may be an off-the-shelf solution you can buy but make sure it will give you what you need.

Also, are you going to use a psychometric, like Strengthscope™, to complement the approach? It will provide a useful objective psychometric measure but will also have cost implications.

So – are you ready for strengths?

Are you already fully committed to employing people who love their jobs? Strengths could be a perfect match for you.

Or are you are moving in that direction – you know something’s not working right now, you’ve a problem with motivation and you’re ready for change? You know there’s more work to be done – some managers aren’t quite there yet – but you’re starting to have the right sort of conversations? You should definitely have strengths on your radar, but it may take a while to bed in.

Or is your organisation one that won’t ever be ready for strengths? Process-driven, formal, not orientated around feelings – these businesses are more about facts, tick boxes and policies. Strengths just won’t have the desired impact, I’m afraid.

If you think you’re ready for strengths, or need some help working that out, please drop me an email.

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