Strengths-based Approach to Development

by Stephanie Walters

In a nutshell

1. A strengths approach to personal development

Traditionally we think of personal development as a matter of improving the aspects of ourselves in which we are underperforming.

  • A strengths approach focuses on raising awareness of your strengths and then helping you to harness and apply these strengths more in your day-to-day work.
  • Strengths can be used to help overcome weaker areas and build confidence in your ability to tackle difficult or challenging situations.
  • Your strengths can be areas that can be enhanced and incorporated as development points in terms of finding ways to use them more.


2. Building awareness of your strengths

The first activity in any strengths-based approach is to find out what your strengths are and how you use them effectively at work.

  • There are a number of online tools and resources that can help identify your strengths.
  • There are a number of great coaches who specialise in applying the principles of positive psychology and the strengths approach.
  • You can also find out for yourself by questioning yourself, your colleagues, team and managers.
  • If you make this a team exercise, you will overcome the embarrassment that can come with discussing our strengths.


3. Using strengths to tackle challenges

To create a strengths-based personal development plan that focuses on overcoming problems or weaker areas, you need to go through three simple stages:

  1. Build awareness of your strengths and how you use them at work
  2. Prioritise a development area you would like to work on
  3. Identify ways you can use your strengths to help you in that area


4. Using the strengths approach to get promoted

The process involved in using your strengths to work towards a promotion is very similar to the one used when you would like to overcome a weakness or a problem. There are three questions to answer when beginning to prioritise an area to work on. These questions will enable you to

  1. Identify what promotion you would like to achieve
  2. Explore how ready you, your manager and key stakeholders feel you are to make that move
  3. Prioritise what you need to develop in order to get promoted.


5. Using a strengths approach with your team

You can use and embed a strengths-based approach with you team in almost every stage of their employment.

  • When identifying who you need to recruit in your team to fill a vacancy, think about what strengths you would like the new recruit to have and what strengths are missing in the team as a whole.
  • When carrying out weekly one-to-ones to talk through how they are doing, ask them where they think they have used their strengths that week and highlight and praise them where you have seen them using their strengths.
  • When carrying out performance reviews, identify if the person is an underperformer, a steady performer or an over performer, taking a different strengths approach with each.
  • When carrying out career discussions, identify roles in the organisation that may fit with what the person most loves to do.
  • When building a high performing team, identify what areas the team are collectively strong in and how you can harness this more in pursuit of the collective team goal; also work out what strengths you still need in the team.
  • Identify what type of leader you would like to be, then look at your strengths and think how you can use them more to lead in the way you would like.
  • Help your team to overcome the challenge and uncertainty that change brings by listening to any concerns they have and helping them feel understood, while reminding them of their strengths.


6. Measuring the effectiveness of the approach

There are ten steps to go through when measuring the effectiveness of a strengths approach:

  • Identify what measures you want to change
  • Identify what aspects of performance you want to change
  • Create a questionnaire of about five questions to measure the current state
  • Record the current results in key measures (KPIs)
  • Get employees to fill in the questionnaire at set intervals and then measure results against the KPIs.


7. Selling the approach to your organisation

There are a number of great articles and bodies of research that can help you to explain to your organisation how and where a strengths approach can produce tangible and lasting results.

Govindji and Linley (2007), in a study of 214 university students, showed that people who used their strengths more reported higher levels of happiness and psychological well-being.

Rath and Conchie describe Gallup’s analysis of years of research with over one million work teams. They found that one in 11 (nine per cent) of staff were engaged when leaders focused on weaknesses, and three in four staff (73 per cent) were engaged when leaders focused on strengths.

In a research project undertaken at Toyota North American Parts Centre California involving over 400 employees on 54 work teams, a strengths-based team intervention with the objective of building effective work teams contributed a six to nine per cent increase in productivity per employee over a one-year period.