By the end of this article, I strongly encourage you to unlock the winning combination of 40 - 22 - 1.
First, answer this simple three-question strength test:
- How strong am I at work?
- How well do I spot the strengths of employees in the organization?
- How strong is my workplace?
If your responses were very positive to the above three questions, you may want to read this article to see how you might further strengthen employee engagement. If your responses to the questions were poor or weak, I encourage you to not only read the article but also to start actively doing strength training at work.
I'm not asking if you can bench press your own weight or if your employees can tie a long rope around the front wheel of a 777 and pull it down a runway. I am asking if everyone at work knows and acts upon their best qualities, attributes and contributions at work.
Before I focused my writing on employee engagement, I wrote hundreds of posts on strength-based leadership. I became increasingly convinced of the positive contribution that strengths bring to engagement
and how engagement helps bring out employee strengths.
Yet, it has been my experience - giving thousands of speeches in workplaces and organizations - that most organizations are anaemic.
Employee strengths need to be known
Many people don't know their strengths. If they do know their strengths they perceive them as fluffy extras, and there's little intention on the part of the workplace to build and leverage employee strengths in the service of work and engagement.
There is a very compelling case for the full engagement of your strengths at work.
Peter Drucker, the grandfather of management, stated in a 1999 Harvard Business Review article on Managing Oneself, that, "A person can only perform from strength. One cannot build performance on weakness..."
Tom Rath in StrengthsFinder 2.0, stated that Gallup found: "People who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general."
Marcus Buckingham, in summarizing the research on strength-based work in Go Put Your Strengths to Work, concluded that the master lever for engaging people and driving performance is to get employees to play to their strengths.
Martin Seligman, in his work on Authentic Happiness and other researchers from the Positive Psychology movement, found that people who knew their strengths, used them on a daily basis, and leveraged their strengths in the service of others reported higher levels of both happiness and wellbeing.
Robert Kaplan and Robert Kaiser recently wrote a book on Fear Your Strengths. They suggested that what you are best at could be your biggest problem. Although I believe it's possible to overplay our strengths, especially as a senior executive, I believe most of us have not done enough work on and with our strengths.
Five exercises for driving stronger engagement at work by leveraging employee strengths
Self-awareness is key to understanding strengths and weaknesses. Do these exercises yourself and have your employees do the same.
1. Reflect on your strengths.
How quickly can you state your top five strengths? Does this seem weird or creepy to you - or do you experience it as an authentic acknowledgement of what you do best? Now reflect a little further. When was the last time you used each of the five strengths? How often during the week do you intentionally put your strengths to work?
2. Take an inventory of your strengths.
If you're ever challenged to state and declare your best qualities, attributes and contributions, completing one or more strength inventories could be very beneficial to you. There are many strength inventories available. Here are three of my favorites:
3. Engage the social pathway to strengths determination.
The Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship offers a social pathway to strengths identification through the Reflected Best Self Exercise
. This pathway enables you to identify your unique strengths and talents by requesting positive feedback from significant people in your life and synthesizing the feedback into a cumulative portrait of yourself. We sometimes best see ourselves through the eyes of others who care about us.
4. Determine your strengths through engagement.
Marcus Buckingham encouraged us to find our strengths by determining what we looked forward to doing at work
, what we enjoyed while we were doing it, and what gave us the most satisfaction. This exercise is less about completing an inventory and more about developing increased mindfulness about our passions and appetites at work.
You could schedule a great series of six lunch-and-learn meetings based upon watching his engaging six-part video series on Trombone Player Wanted
5. Unlock the winning combination at work.
Do you remember the combination 40 - 22 - 1 that I mentioned at the start of this post? In a 2005 study, Gallup found that active disengagement can almost be eradicated by strength-based conversations.
- If a manager primarily ignores you, the chance of being actively disengaged is 40 percent.
- If a manager focuses primarily on your weaknesses, there is a 22 percent chance of being actively disengaged.
- If a manager focuses primarily on your strengths, there is only a 1 percent chance of being actively disengaged.
This research indicates how easy it may be to decrease disengagement in organizations, and within individuals, through ongoing strength-based awareness and conversation.
Be mindful of employee strengths
We don't need steroids at work to enhance engagement. We need to be mindful of strengths and intentional about engaging fully with them. We need to enable and extend our strengths by holding powerful and pervasive conversations at work built upon a foundation of communication and intentional action
(think feedback and development).
Can you go too far with engaging employee strengths as suggested by Kaplan and Kaiser? Yes, you can, but the vast majority of us have not gone far enough. Be strong. Be engaged. Build relationships. Achieve results.