Move from Average to Exceptional with Strengths Based Development

October 15, 2015 | Kara Schott | HCI
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In the HR industry, we are constantly being asked to quantify productivity and find more innovative ways to drive it among employees and teams. This question is increasingly important in the face of globalization and expansion, as the nuances of cultures and individuals can easily come to a head without a proper strategy to guide those shifts. So, what is the magic bullet that increases productivity and performance, and how can we leverage that?

Recently, I heard a presentation from CEO and author Margaret Heffernan around the meaning of work, in which she shared a well-known experiment conducted by Purdue University researcher William Muir. Muir, an evolutionary biologist, wanted to examine the productivity of chickens as a social experiment; productivity measured as number of eggs produced. He separated a group of chickens into two categories - ‘average’ egg producers versus ‘superchicken’ egg producers and over time he monitored their levels of egg production. Six generations later the ‘average’ egg producers were doing well, and were actually producing more eggs per chicken than they had before the separation of the groups. Egg production in this group had increased by 160 percent over six generations. These ‘average’ chickens were plump, healthy, and contributing to the flock. So, what about those ‘superchickens’? After six generations, all but three of them were dead. In their race to dominate, they had practically pecked each other to death. 

Does this sound like any of the teams you have heard of? Worked for? Worked with?

It’s understandable to think assembling the smartest people in the room on a single team is the easiest path to success. And yet, Muir’s chickens teach us that that inclination can be harmful. Long-term success and productivity doesn’t come from solely relying on a group of super-stars. In fact, too many high performers on a team can contribute to dissidence or groupthink. True organizational progress is achieved by identifying, leveraging, and developing the innate strengths of each individual to move the collective forward. So, how do we get there?

A big initiative in our work this year at the Human Capital Institute is around implementing the concept of Agile Performance Management. The evidence that traditional performance management rating systems don’t support employee development or performance - and may actually decrease employee engagement - is clear. And so, in our Agile Performance Management model we highlight six, equally important key elements:

  • Strengths-based development
  • Effective continuous feedback
  •  Coaching for performance
  • Agile goal setting
  • Rewards
  • Recognition

At the top of our list is the need for regular strengths-based development conversations, which are closely tied to increases in employee engagement and productivity. All employees need routine updates on how they can best build and deploy their strengths for the benefit of the business. And yet, many organizations struggle to implement a system that enables managers to have these ongoing discussions. Managers are rightfully asked to be held accountable for engagement, but all too often they lack the training and resources necessary to do so. Yet, we know managers need real-time, reliable data in order to truly impact the development and engagement of their teams. 

This issue is further complicated for global organizations that need to create engagement programs that are consistent across cultures and geographies. A recent report published by TMBC, who has been studying engagement for over four decades, addresses that challenge by providing a reliable baseline of engagement levels internationally. Surprisingly, in spite of cultural, demographic, and psychographic differences in every country that was studied, one item was consistently identified as the greatest driver of engagement:

 I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work.

According to TMBC and its research, employees at all levels, around the world, crave this approach to engagement and performance. At its core, strengths-based development requires managers to not just know the skills and abilities of their team members, but to then take the next step to leverage those strengths by aligning organizational and team objectives to them.  Providing the right tools and data to managers and team leaders is the key to driving these initiatives throughout the organization.

Learn more strategies to maximize your influence and ways to take a new approach to engagement and development at the 2015 HCI Global Talent Management Conference. Hear from Marcus Buckingham as he shares even more findings from the Global Engagement Index and reveals a radical new approach to employee engagement.

TMBC is a leading global provider of employee engagement and performance management solutions. The company’s proprietary StandOut platform encompasses coaching and technology tools that enable team leaders and organizations to fuel engagement and accelerate performance. TMBC clients include many of the world’s leading companies including Chevron, GE, HP, Intel, Starbucks and many others.