Why It Pays for Leaders to Build on Their Employee's Strengths


It should be a no-brainer -- managers and leaders should focus on helping employees build on their strengths.

According to new research from Gallup, organizations that do this see fairly consequential increases in performance, including in the following groups:

  • A 10 to 19 percent increase in sales;
  • A 14 to 29 percent increase in profit;
  • A 3 to 7 percent higher customer engagement;
  • A 6 to 16 percent lower turnover rate (in already low-turnover organizations);
  • A 26 to 72 percent lower turnover (in previously high-turnover organizations);
  • A 9 to 15 percent increase in engaged employees; and, 
  • Some 22 to 59 percent fewer safety incidents.

Peter Drucker made this argument long ago

Building on strengths is not a new concept, but it does collide with the notion that getting people to improve what they aren't as good at is the way to improve overall organizational performance.

Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, used to argue that building on strengths was the best thing for managers to focus on. He wrote about this way back in 1967 in his book, The Effective Manager. In it he said:

The effective executive makes strengths productive. To achieve results one has to use all the available strengths — the strengths of associates, the strength of the superior, and one’s own strengths. These strengths are the true opportunities. To make strength productive is the unique purpose of the organization. It cannot overcome the weaknesses with which each of us is endowed, but it can make them irrelevant.

The Gallup research falls in line with Drucker's thinking and points to how you get managers aligned in building on strengths in employees:

  1. Know your own strengths.
  2. Don't assume employees know how to use their strengths.
  3. Help workers who aren't using their strengths.
  4. Harmonize team strengths.
  5. Keep strengths top of mind.
  6. Individualize recognition with consideration of strengths.

Employees expect help in their development

Gallup adds this to the debate over strengths-based management, and it is well worth considering as you push to improve the overall performance of your workforce:

The best way to help others develop and grow is to identify and build on their strengths. Now more than ever before, employees expect their managers to support or even guide their development.

Managers who take this role seriously should make strengths-based development their approach, consistently enacting proven strategies such as holding frequent meetings with each worker, providing strengths-specific opportunities for growth and helping each worker establish goals based on their strengths.

My take: Who am I to debate with the late, great Peter Drucker? He was way ahead of his time on a lot of things, and focusing on the strengths of your employees is a very important one.

The Harvard Business Review makes this point as well, writing about strengths-based management that,

We believe strengths-based development is definitely here to stay. Its acceptance will be enhanced as some of these lingering myths become dispelled.

For my money, count me in as one who believes this, too.

Editor’s Note: Talent Insider is fueled by Checkster, and Checkster’s 360 Checkup is a great way to find out how employees feel about your organization and how their skills are being developed.