Imagine this: it’s a regular meeting. You go in, and your manager announces that now, suddenly, everyone will learn their “strengths”. You take a test (I mean, an “assessment”), send it away, and at the next meeting, you get some report and a consultant comes in and shares with everyone what their “strengths” are. You get a list of your strengths, a list of your colleagues’ strengths, a list of the average team strengths, and you all get to talk about your strengths. The next day, when you enter the office, your cubicle has a list of your Top 5 strengths at the entry-way. So do all of the cubicles of your co-workers, and the offices of your manager and so on up the hierarchy. At the outset of every meeting from that point on, different strengths are discussed and shared. People talk about their favourite strength. They ask questions to find out what your strengths are. Soon, everyone is talking strengths. Everyone just knows and shares the same language.
What changes has this produced in the organization?
Except now, everyone is bored of strengths.
We’ve seen this before – with various personality typologies (think Myers-Briggs or DiSC) and with management trends (think TQM or MBWA or open-door policies) and with a whole host of other flavour-of-the-month business “imperatives”. Bookshelves are filled with the latest do or die approaches, and businesses have embraced them.
Except they haven’t really – and strengths are no exception.
I’m a clear believer in strengths. I use a strengths-based approach in much of my coaching and consulting. However, just knowing your strengths and the strengths of people around you won’t make an organization grow – it won’t get you engaged employees, and it won’t get you a flourishing workplace.
To truly reap the benefits of strengths (and many of these other organizational development frameworks), the organization itself has to change.
What about strengths-based performance appraisals? What about strengths-based succession planning? What about strengths-based project allocation? What about strengths-based job rotation and sharing?
As long as the words on the page stay on the page, very little will change and employees will see right through that thin veneer.
If you truly want to harness the full potential of a strengths-based organization, it takes more than a few questionnaires and some reports. The research is pretty clear – at an individual level, just knowing your strengths doesn’t change much. When you start to apply them in new ways, however, you can grow wings. Getting to use your strengths in new ways and getting to build on them is empowering, productive and meaningful.
How will you re-organize your people and processes around this new insight? That’s where the real flourishing lies.
(Thanks to my strengths-weary friend for the inspiration for this post!)