Home All StandOut Strengths Assessment: A Review

StandOut Strengths Assessment: A Review

written by Lisa Sansom 8 June 2011
Ultimate consultant

Lisa Sansom, MAPP '10, is the owner of LVS Consulting, an independent consulting firm that helps to build positive organizations. Lisa provide services such as individual and leadership coaching, team facilitation, effective communications training, Appreciative Inquiry and change management consulting. Full Bio.

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It recently came to my attention, through a friend’s Facebook update, that Marcus Buckingham has produced a new strengths assessment. There are, as the positive psychology community knows, several strengths assessments out there.

Talent Themes


One of the original assessments is the VIA Survey, created by Chris Peterson who scanned time and space to find the strengths that were most valued historically and cross-culturally. Their final list encompasses 24 strengths, and versions are available for children and youth. The VIA has been taken by over 1.3 million times by people around the world. A VIA report will give you insight into your ability to access all 24 strengths.

Another early strengths assessment is the Clifton StrengthsFinder from Gallup. StrengthsFinder has been updated over the years to reflect trends in business and application. It has been taken by millions of people who have either purchased a book or a code, and it provides information about relative strengths of 34 talents themes. Gallup researchers, notably Donald Clifton, Marcus Buckingham, and Tom Rath, created the list of talents based on studies of human behavior in organizations that occurred over 40 years. A StrengthsFinder report will give you insight into your top 5 talent themes that become strengths when you bring them into play in the real world.

More recently, the Realise2 has come onto the scene. Realise2 was developed by the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) in the United Kingdom. Where previous strengths assessments were based on the assumption that all you needed to do was know and build on your strengths. Realise2 is more nuanced and provides insight not just into your realized strengths, but also into your learned behaviours (those strengths that you can use well but do not energize you), your unrealized strengths and (gasp!) your weaknesses.

StandOut Assessment

Marcus Buckingham

And so now we see StandOut from The Marcus Buckingham Company.

StandOut is positioned as both an individual and team assessment. It is clearly business-focused, as the report has sections to help you build on your strengths in leadership, management, customer service, sales, and forming your ideal career. The slogan is “Find your edge. Win at work.” This assessment promises to help you stand out in your professional work environment. As the website says, the purpose of the strengths assessment is not to affirm, but rather “to help you accelerate your performance and contribution.”

The assessment costs $15.00 US online. It takes about 20-30 minutes to complete. Once you log in, create an account and process your credit card payment information, you are presented with a series of timed multiple choice questions. Questions include workplace issues, work-life balance decisions, ethical choices, and etiquette. Of course, with only four options to most questions, it can be hard to find the selection that fits you best. No matter – make your choice and move on, because the clock is a-ticking!

What do you learn from it?

Your final report is available immediately and you can download the pdf and use the interactive version online. There are a total of nine strength roles, and you do get your complete role ranking, although the focus is on the top two.

Your top role is highlighted for you in gold, and the report not only defines the term, but also explains when you are at your most powerful, how you would describe yourself, how to make an immediate impact, how to take this to the next level, and what to watch out for in this role if you over-use this strength. Your secondary role is highlighted in silver, and includes all of the same information.

Then, the assessment shows what happens when you combine your top two roles. The early studies and research into strengths has been largely siloed – how do we label and define strengths separately and what are the implications of individual top strengths. There has not been much work into strengths constellations (as Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener call them) or how strengths work together. StandOut is starting to take a step forward in this direction.

By combining your top two roles, you access a new report that explains how your strengths interact and what your comparative advantage is in the work world. This report goes into detail about how to build your ideal career, as well as how you could win as a leader, manager, or in client services or sales.

StandOut offers next steps – you can deliver this assessment to an entire team, you can join the online community, you can purchase the Strengths Essentials workshop in a box, and you can purchase TMBC executive coaching.

Where did StandOut come from?

The website alludes to the notion that the roles were gleaned from closely correlated themes, using the StrengthsFinder language. Apparently, in the Clifton / Gallup research, there are certain clusters of talents that are statistically distinguishable, but naturally closely correlated. Marcus Buckingham, in his very applied way, took the top 9 clusters of correlations and created these StandOut roles. Each role is measured using 14 questions, and the limited time per question ensures top-of-mind responses. Quoting its website, StandOut was created to provide solutions for 3 pressing questions:

” 1. How can managers become better performance coaches?
2. How can employees take responsibility for their own performance and development?
3. How can you accelerate the uptake of best practices in your organization?”

Personal Response

Ultimate consultant

Ultimate consultant

I enjoyed taking this assessment a great deal. I have taken each of the strengths assessments that I mentioned above, some more than once. What StandOut did for me was to showcase my strengths in very practical and applicable ways. There were no surprises – my top two strength roles are Advisor and Teacher, and when I combine them, the report says, “You’re the Ultimate Consultant,” which, apart from being a great ego boost, is also aligned with my chosen professional direction. Score! My top strength roles also aligned with top strengths from other assessments, such as Relator and Learner from Gallup, Love of Learning from VIA, and Explainer and Connector from Realise2.


This assessment would clearly appeal to people looking for a workplace application, something that other strengths assessments have shied away from so far. Career coaches would probably have a great time administering this assessment to their clients, and it would likely be a strong tool for team-building and awareness. Like any other assessment, it’s a starting point only, but it seems like a pretty solid one.


Buckingham, M (2007). Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance. NY: Free Press.

Buckingham, Marcus, (2009). Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently. Thomas Nelson.

Linley, P. A., Willars, J. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). The Strengths Book: Be Confident, Be Successful, and Enjoy Better Relationships by Realising the Best of You.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York: Gallup Press.

Talent Themes (close up of Phrenology) courtesy of liz west
Ultimate consultant courtesy of HikingArtist.com

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Colin R 8 June 2011 - 11:32 am

Why bother taking the new “strengths assessment?” It will just be deemed passe once Mr. Buckingham needs to earn money by writing a new book – just like Marty Seligman – every time he starts to fade from the public view and his book sales lag, he writes a new book “re-packaging” positive psychology. When will you people realize your gurus are in it for their own enrichment and self-aggrandizement. By the way, who but Seligman would call his own new book “visionary?”

Kimberley Seitz 8 June 2011 - 11:50 am

Thank you, Lisa, for bringing this new assessment more public. As an avid strengths proponent, I’m not sure how it slipped by my attention. I’m grateful to you for the resource as well as your easy-to-follow style of comparing the 3 strengths assessments. I’ve found that many times people are confused on the differences between the VIA, Gallup, and Realise2, so your information should be helpful to those trying to learn more.

As someone who has taken all of the assessments, I was wondering if you could share your thoughts regarding the best applications to use each one, and if there are some situations where a particular type of assessment is not as effective as one of the others?

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Lynne Berrett 8 June 2011 - 11:51 am


Thanks for elucidating the background of Stand Out. Just a note that CAPP is now sending out fairly regular discussions of strengths constellations based on the Realise2. So that seems to be a new direction they are fruitfully exploring. If you are on their mailing list, you probably get them as well.

Margaret Greenberg 8 June 2011 - 12:02 pm

Lisa, thank you for educating me on this new tool and how it differs from the others out on the market. And so nice to hear you’re living your strengths.

Dan Bowling 8 June 2011 - 6:24 pm

Hi Lisa

Like most of the others who have commented so far, thanks for this concise, well-written, and useful summary. Questions (to all): Have you used it in a workplace setting yet? If so, how did it go? Also, I assume it is based upon typology, like StrengthsFinder, Myers-Briggs, and most other personality measurements. Does that bother anyone else? Personally (although I offer the Gallup option; nothing against those folks), I usually rely upon – and strongly recommend – VIA. I prefer how it keeps “types” at arm’s length. Also, its more literary/philosophic language appeals to a more senior corporate audience (caveat – this is in my experience; no hard data on this).

Lisa Sansom 8 June 2011 - 7:47 pm

Thank you all for the comments!

Lynne – The Realise2 is one assessment that I’d like to learn more about. Do you know how I’d get on the CAPP mailing list? I didn’t see a sign up on their website.

Lisa Sansom 8 June 2011 - 7:49 pm

Kimberley – I’m most familiar with the VIA and the Gallup SF and I use VIA more with personal coaching clients and SF more in business / professional settings. The names of the strengths and the styles of the reports just seem to lend themselves more naturally to those different situations.

It seems to me that StandOut would be more appropriate for career coaching and professional settings (where people are trying to “stand out” at work or leaders wish to do team assessments). A couple of people I know were slightly put off by the aggressively corporate-speak of the StandOut. I didn’t see it that way, but I do have a business background so I might be immersed in it. 😉

I think the Realise2 could be applicable anywhere as it links directly to goal attainment and personal development. The titles of the Realise2 strengths are equally applicable to professional and personal coaching I would think.

How do you use these different assessments?

Lisa Sansom 8 June 2011 - 7:50 pm

Colin – I’m a life-long learner and I’m happy to see people making successful businesses predicated on positive psychology. I think that your accusations of profiteering could be levied at almost any author in almost any discipline. Have you read “Flourish”? If so, then you will see it’s much more than a repackaging – it’s a new theory (which some disagree with and feel it’s the wrong direction) as well as updates on new areas in which positive psychology has grown. Agree or disagree, it’s worth a read.

Lisa Sansom 8 June 2011 - 7:51 pm

Margaret – Thank you so much for the encouragement! I’d like to be living more of my strengths at work. The journey continues…

Lisa Sansom 8 June 2011 - 7:53 pm

Thanks Dan – I have not actually used StandOut with clients yet, though I’m keen to try it. I may start bringing it into my practice more intentionally. I’m not sure what you mean by a typology for SF, though. I understand it in the MBTI context, but that wasn’t my understanding of the basis of the SF assessment.

I’m also interested in hearing if anyone else has tried StandOut with clients. Thanks for opening up that discussion!

Kimberley Seitz 8 June 2011 - 8:34 pm

Hi Lisa,
I’ve used the VIA and SF with coaching clients. I’ve also used the VIA in a team building workshop where we learned about and appreciated the diversity of our strengths. It was very helpful in shifting people’s perceptions about their colleagues.

I took the Standout assessment today, and then realized that I should have waited for the book to be released, so that I could at least have the info along with my results. That being said, the results validated what I have come to know about myself from other assessments as well (MBTI, SF, VIA, Birkman, Realise2).

I’m not sure that I understand where people’s complaints stem from regarding the language being too corporate, but I too have a business background, so like you may be innocuous to it.

I recently had the opportunity to take the Realise2 assessment, which again validated what I knew; however, I’m not sure that I’ll use it with my own clients. It comes with a very comprehensive section that people can complete on their own, so if they do that and they are motivated, it may seem like duplication to coach on it too. That being said, I would think that some people may benefit from the extra coaching and support, so my comments are meant toward my own practice and not against anyone currently using it or the assessment itself.

I’m grateful that people continue to create resources that allow us to gain insight into ourselves.


Dan Bowling 9 June 2011 - 5:09 am

Lisa, I wrote a essay, long but in a humorous vein, comparing and contrasting the various surveys, which spends a good bit of time on the bimodality of the questions in MBTI and Gallup and the problems that creates in terms of typology. Tone is probably too snarky to publish in PPND, but I will email you a private copy if you are interested (or anyone else interested in this topic).

Jeremy McCarthy 9 June 2011 - 10:29 am

I haven’t taken the StandOut yet (but plan to.) But one thing I have noticed is three different people whom I have heard from that have taken it have all said essentially the same thing: that there were “no surprises” or like the comment above, it “validated” what people already knew about themselves. I think this is a problem. There is not much value in an assessment if it does not provide you with some new insight that you wouldn’t have otherwise had.

That being said, I know from speaking with the people at StandOut that they are trying to set themselves apart by being more prescriptive than the other more descriptive assessments out there. So it may be the value comes not from identifying strengths you didn’t know you had, but learning what to do with the strengths you have.

This is a great topic and would be interested in hearing from people who have used StandOut and/or Realise2 in organizational settings.

wayne 9 June 2011 - 3:50 pm

Lisa – I agree with Jeremy. I had the same experience with the VIA and the gallup instruments – they really told me nothing I didn’t already know from using other instruments such as the Team Management Systems, Myer Briggs and NEO.

The big advantage of TMS and MBTI is they start to accommodate the complex interactions that instruments like the VIA don’t

I always keep thining that when it comes to organisational development there is nothing really new – just rebranding of the same old concepts.

By the way if you go to Buckinghams site he has his profile up – salesperson. I think this provides lots of insights and probably affirms some of Colin R’s perspective.

At the end of the day its what works for the client – if they want simple then give them the VIA. If they want to learn more then go for more advanced instruments like TMS and MBTI.

There really is scope for research lining all these instruments up side by side and looking at their efficacy – and naturally controlling for the skills of the trainer. Probably find its all the dodo effect.

By the way I have also read seligman’s book – it’s not a new theory – just rebranding. Sounded like the same old same old. And ironically some of the research he quotes is outdated. But I was glad he mentioned HRV – at least he’s taking up some research outside his paradigms.

Lynne Berrett 9 June 2011 - 8:51 pm

Lisa, I just forwarded you one of the “Strengths Dynamics” articles from CAPP. I’d suggest contacting them at their website to ask how to get into their system. I think I got in by buying the newest Strengths book in a special deal. But I’ve found them to be welcoming once you get to them.

I also have to add that I think Stand Out is useful in the way it approaches eliciting information about strengths. If it does validate what you already know from other assessments, remember that most of your clients are not as intimately connected with their inner dynamics as most of us “professionals” are.

Lisa Sansom 10 June 2011 - 8:17 am

Thank you all for the back-channel information. As to the “I didn’t learn anything new / surprising” matter – a few thoughts:

1. People who subscribe to and post on PPND are, I would argue, fairly self-aware coming from a psychology interest / background and probably have taken other self-assessments.

2. So what if an assessment tells you things you already know? It does validate your understanding of yourself – and perhaps normalizes it a bit too. Eg. if an assessment tells you that you have “Competition” or “Empathy” or “Capacity to Love and be Loved” (etc) as a strength, then it means that others do too and for someone who feels isolated in that strength (they don’t see it in others around them, or it is not encouraged in their environment), then it can be reassuring to see that come up in a valid and reliable assessment.

3. As to the StandOut specifically – I do believe that its strength may not be in telling you something new (esp if you’ve already done other strengths assessments), but rather it is in
a) its applicability – it is very prescriptive and action-oriented
b) its team uses

Now I’m not defending StandOut particularly – I’m not familiar enough with it to defend it, and I haven’t used it with clients yet – this was just my first blush impression and research. But my experience with team assessments *generally* is that if it gives a team a common language to talk with, then it is helpful to team dynamics.

I used to teach something called The Change Cycle (by Interchange International) and when we used this with teams going through change, it was extremely helpful for them to normalize their reactions and speak a common language to support each other as they were going through some tumultuous times. I could see StandOut working similarly (though for different situations and reasons).

As to Wayne’s specific comment about “nothing new in OD”, I tend to agree. I’ve worked with several seasoned OD practitioners who, when they see the new trend, grumble “Oh, this is TQM again” or something like that. 😉 Peoples is peoples.

Thanks all for the continued conversation! Very enriching!!

And we do need to remember that there is still 90% of the population “out there” for whom learning about strengths and building on those is a radically new concept…

Elizabeth 10 June 2011 - 1:12 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience with StandOut. I am going to explore the assessment to see if it holds any value for the teachers and school leaders that I coach. I appreciate the overview.

Elizabeth 🙂

Judy Krings 23 September 2011 - 8:38 am

HI, Dan,
I would love a copy of your snarky report! I, too, have taken I think every assessment under the coaching sun. I may take this one, but I am happy to be forewarned it is probably nothing new under the sun. Thanks for a great discussion all. Cheers!

Dan Bowling 25 September 2011 - 7:52 am

Send me your email again, Judy, and I will do so. dabowling@gmail.com


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