strengths based

Once upon a time, employee evaluations focused on identifying employees’ weaknesses and coming up with plans to improve them. Today, however, the pendulum has swung the other way, and businesses are increasingly creating strengths-based cultures.

A strengths-based company culture takes a more positive approach. It focuses on recognizing each employee’s strengths and applying those strengths productively at work. Strengths typically come from our natural talents or ways of thinking and looking at the world. By cultivating those talents and combining them with training, you can enhance employees’ strengths.

Why use a strengths-based culture?

There are many reasons to value a strengths-based workplace culture. For one thing, when employees have jobs that use their strengths, they can be more productive right off the bat. That helps your small business get an edge on competitors.

In addition, research has shown that a strengths-based culture leads to greater employee satisfaction. According to Gallup, employees who report being able to use their strengths at work every day every day are 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs. They’re also more likely to say they enjoy what they do each day.

Finally, a strengths-based approach to the workplace is extremely well suited for the team-based work that most companies do these days. Just like a football team, a workplace team with a mix of strengths is more effective than one that’s all quarterbacks.

How can you create a strengths-based culture?

To develop and enhance your employees’ strengths, you first need to know what they are. You might learn what your employees’ strengths are simply by working with them for a period of time. For example, before I became an entrepreneur, I managed a group of employees who worked together for many years. Eventually, we got to know each other’s strengths so well that pretty much everyone on the team could identify who would do best at a specific task.

Of course, you may not want to wait to find out your employees’ strengths. If that’s the case, you can also identify strengths by conducting aptitude tests, getting 360-degree feedback from other employees about each person’s strengths, and asking employees to identify what they think are their own strengths. With input from all these sources, as well as the person’s previous work history, you should be able to put together a pretty good idea of an individual’s strengths.

Once you’re aware of your employees’ strengths, you can tap into them to assign tasks and projects at which employees are likely to excel. You should also use your employees’ strengths to help chart their career paths with your business. Don’t be too wedded to specific job descriptions or roles; be flexible and give employees opportunities to use their strengths at work outside their core job duties.

Don’t let strengths become stereotypes

There are a couple things to be aware of when creating a strengths-based culture. First, don’t grab a hold of stereotypes and turn them into strengths. Not every millennial employee is a whiz with social media; not every female manager is inherently empathetic and collaborative.

Second, just because an employee is strong in one area doesn’t mean they can completely ignore other areas that are important to their jobs. You still need to require employees to attain a reasonable level of competency at all their duties — otherwise, you could end up with overly specialized employees and a bunch of round holes with only square pegs to fill them.

Finally, be sure that your embrace of employee strengths doesn’t devolve into pigeonholing people. For example, suppose you know that certain employees at your graphic design firm are more creative than others. It’s tempting to give all the most challenging design jobs to those employees, but if you do that, your less creative workers won’t have a chance to learn and grow. Not only will they be less satisfied at work, but your business will lose their potential contribution.

This is where employees’ views of their own strengths and career paths comes in. Talk to your employees to make sure they’re satisfied with what they’re doing and to get insights into how they want to grow. Then you can ensure that everyone on your team has the chance to step outside their strengths from time to time.