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Posts from — July 2017

The Strength-Based Workplace

The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make a system’s weaknesses irrelevant

– Peter Drucker, Professor Claremont Graduate University and Management Consultant


A Strength-based workplace at a glance.

Try this short thought experiment. Imagine you are a hospital patient experiencing a “code” (emergency response team needed). Ask yourself which team you would prefer to have rushing into your room.

The first team is made up of good people (well-trained professionals; e.g., pharmacist, critical care nurse, doctor, chaplain, respiratory therapist, etc.). The members of this team have been assigned to work together for an entire month at a time. When a code is called during the assigned month, this team always responds together. As the month has progressed, the members of the first team have become increasingly comfortable and better working together. It is now three weeks into their month.


The second team is also made up of good people who have also been assigned to work together for a month at a time, just like the first team. However, the second team begins every day by meeting to discuss and practice how they will respond when the next code call comes in. And, each time they do care for a patient, they sit down together afterward and reflect about the care they provided. They also ask the patients and families about their experiences. They reflect as a team about what they do, visualizing, exploring, and testing how they could do an even better job next time, as a normal part of their work.


The third team has all the characteristics of the second team AND the team members (using insights from the VIA Character Survey) leverage their strengths to most effectively and efficiently improve:

  • How they run their meetings and roles played within;
  • How data are gathered, presented and evaluated
  • How they interact with the patient and family and who has those interactions
  • The clinical processes and roles they are using to deliver care
  • Who controls what decisions – at the bedside, before and after
  • How conflicts are managed

In addition, this team (along with hundreds if not thousands of other staff, managers, patients, and other stakeholders):

·   Had been involved in the (re)design of the hospital, the organization of clinical services, the facilities, the IT systems (i.e. how patient info is displayed) etc.; and,

·   Have the authority to make decisions that affect only their team and to interact directly with other teams that may need to be involved in any changes.

We are pretty certain you chose the third team, as did we. Why would you not want that same level of “care” throughout your organization?

Why Strengths?

In a study of more than 1,000 employees in 13 countries the number of “fully engaged” employees was dismally low. China and the U.S. each reported just 19% of such workers, while Argentina and Spain rounded out the bottom of the list at 13%, according to research by The Marcus Buckingham Company (TBMC).

Buckingham says that while corporate methods, behaviors, and values vary by country and by industry, the report indicates that the most powerful human need at work is help to discover strengths and to use them frequently. He says managers would do well to stop trying to fix weaknesses and figure out better ways to leverage strengths.

Why should that make a difference? Because the continual focus on weaknesses and errors generates fatigue, blame, and resistance. In contrast, deep inquiry into what works well and discussing how to get more out of those strengths taps into creativity, passion, and the desire to succeed.

In 1982, University of Wisconsin researchers studying adult learning videotaped two bowling teams. The members of each team then studied their video to improve their skills. But the two videos had been edited differently. One team received a video showing only its mistakes; the other team’s video, by contrast, showed only the good performances. After studying the videos, both teams improved their game, but the team that studied its successes improved its score twice as much as the one that studied its mistakes

The word, ‘Strengths’ has many different meanings. So what do we mean by that term? Let’s start by looking at what we consider the two most relevant perspectives: the Clifton StrengthsFinder popularized by the Gallup organization, and the work of Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman captured in their book, Character Strengths and Virtues.

Gallup defines a strength as: “the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity. The key to building a strength is to identify your dominant talents, then complement them by acquiring knowledge and skills pertinent to the activity.” Hence, strength is a combination of talent, knowledge and skills.

Peterson and Seligman take a very different approach and define strengths as: “positive individual core character traits that make a good life possible.” They describe their classification of strengths as “a manual of sanities” in contrast to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM- the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States, which lists thousands of terms describing mental illness).

We believe that combining these viewpoints provides the most useful way to think about strengths as related to the workplace and to creating the adaptive organizations necessary in today’s world. Hence we define strengths as: the connection of people’s talents, knowledge and skills to the best of who they are at their very core. We believe this offers the pathway to unleashing their full human capability in ways that benefit them as well as the enterprise in which they work.

July 14, 2017   No Comments