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Performance benefits and surprising insights from a strengths-based focus

Strengths-based development is becoming an important resource in HR's toolbox as organisations seek enhanced performance from their complex hybrid work arrangements and hard-pressed management teams.

A profiling approach developed by Gallup, CliftonStrengths enables companies, teams and individuals to enhance their performance by better understanding their natural talents, applying them to improve their skills, building performance cultures, and growing their capabilities and careers more effectively.

Gallup’s model is data-driven, based on the response of 25 million people and identifying 34 different strength categories that form the basis for understanding people’s talents and motivations.

Research shows that by focusing on our strengths, we are more engaged and energised.

With entire teams and cultures operating in this way, there is a lot of free energy for enhancing performance and problem solving. Teams report that work no longer feels like work while people are more productive and stay in the job longer.  

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In our experience, this approach is proving invaluable for customers grappling with the disruption to company cultures and line management caused by the pandemic’s enforced mix of hybrid and office-based working.

With lengthy isolation and video calls, work became transactional as interactions within individual teams increased but collaboration with other teams declined.

Line managers have found that leading a virtual team is different from an office-based one, as it demands greater intentionality over team actions and more precise communication in new joiners’ inductions and team briefings. 

Through a focus on strengths, managers are addressing these challenges by better harnessing common language to more effectively articulate how they get things done, how they engage with people and what energises them.

By building self-awareness and understanding how our strengths contribute to the business, we are seeing managers building the emotional intelligence to meld teams together despite demanding workloads. 

The Gallup model also enables people to talk more effectively about their shadow sides: when individuals overplay their strengths and how this ‘shows up’ to others.

Instead of getting frustrated at the way someone works, leaders acquiring this social awareness are able to have the conversations that build team understanding and psychological safety, or boost the performance of teams with cognitive diversity, because they are learning to act with more openness and appreciation of how to unlock the unique talents of others.

These programmes are enabling managers to engage with colleagues more effectively while leaders are better at communicating their corporate culture, with a closer focus on key objectives and how teams can deliver them.

This renewed focus on culture and performance is enabling companies to refocus on their service-profit chain – a crucial step forward since managers have had to focus more on keeping teams going and less on individual performance management in recent times. 

Best practice

The model is yielding important insights for practitioners too. In our own internal programme at Hemsley Fraser, we saw high engagement levels, especially from experienced colleagues revalidating their skills. We were surprised by colleagues’ willingness to open up about their natural talents and areas of lesser strength.

Our people are clear-eyed about maximising their contribution – as an individual and a leader –  and how they can bring the best version of themselves to work, and enable others to do the same. 

Ria Rogers is head of people strategy, and Kate Jennings, coach and consultant at Hemsley Fraser