As a consultant introducing positive psychology to organizations I have found that one of the easiest places to start is by using a strengths instrument such as the VIA or StrengthsFinder 2.0.
Over the past couple of years and especially more recently, organizations from international banking giants to small non-profits are examining the power of strengths focus. I offer day-long strengths workshops to employees and managers and subsequently meet with leaders to embed a strengths-focus.
After a comment I wrote last month for Jeremy McCarthy’s PositivePsychologyNews.com article, Putting Your Strengths to Work, I was asked by the PPND editors to offer some of the best practices I use to maximize the use of strengths instruments. I am very aware that many of you also have great ideas and I look forward to reading them in your comments. Here are some suggestions that I hope you find helpful as you debrief VIA or StrengthsFinder results. (Editor’s note: These could also be useful with results of the Realise2 assessment.)
- Start with the positive model of change. Most of you probably already do this. David Cooperrider’s theory that individuals and organizations move in the direction of that which they focus on is my launching pad for the workshop. Then, I contrast the positive model of change to the deficit model that causes people to focus on problems that need to be fixed. This moves employees toward strengths, but also sets up a later conversation I hold with the leaders about their organization.
- Use research selectively. I love research. When I first graduated from MAPP I loved telling everyone about all the research from positive psychology. I’ve learned a lesson. I use research selectively. Most employees don’t care about hearing all the research. A couple of well-chosen studies make the point.
I like to use the 1955 Nebraska school study that Donald Clifton cites to kick off the strengths discussion because it is such a shocker to most employees. It all depends on the group. I offer some studies and have more ready if I need them.
- Discuss weakness early. One of the challenges with the strengths instruments is that most people and organizations still focus on weakness. Ignoring weakness or simply commenting that it will go away if you focus on strengths doesn’t work. I like Marcus Buckingham’s concept that the only weaknesses a person should deal with are their “kryptonite.” Kryptonite is the weakness that can hinder someone’s life or career. Most of them accept that idea.
- Identify the difference between “what” and “how” strengths. Early this year some of the push-back I received over strengths, as identified by the instruments, was that they were not “real.” The strengths were not what individuals did each day. Yet after some discussion they realized that the instrument identified how they did things. I now have individuals first write down and discuss with their fellow employees “what” they do well; their strong tasks and abilities. I then differentiate “what” from “how” strengths, which, as Peterson and Seligman note, are how we do things and can be applied to multiple tasks. By identifying the difference I help employees rearrange their day both with the tasks they do well and how they do their tasks.
- Encourage full ownership of strengths. At this point the results from the instrument are still fairly academic. Since most employees in my sessions sit with their friends I have individuals share their results with their friends. Then I encourage the listeners to identify where they’ve seen the evidence of that employee’s strength. Individuals start really owning their strengths when they realize others have observed them.
- Acknowledge strengths envy. I’ve learned not to do a comparison of strengths in an organization because it creates “haves” and “have nots.” I used to create a matrix of who had what strengths, but employees inquired what strengths the top employees had and wondered how they could develop those strengths. I now acknowledge that some of them might be feeling strengths envy, but show them Tom Rath’s comparison of three CEOs who have totally different strengths and note that it is the use of their unique strengths that creates success.
- Use strengths. Employees want to know how to use their strengths every day. Using Buckingham’s concept I have them redesign their entire day as much as possible. They place their “what” strengths at optimal times during the day as energizers, or rewards for doing difficult tasks. Then I have them identify where their “how” strengths can make the day or tasks more efficient and more enjoyable.
Finally, they either work in dyads with another employee as a coach, or with their entire intact team, to see where they can leverage their strengths even more.
- Embed strengths. I believe in action plans. At the end of the day participants create a personal action plan that acknowledges specifically how they will develop their strengths; i.e., through study, practice, role-modeling, and so on, and how they will use their strengths. Sometimes leaders collect the action plans in closed envelopes and returned them to the employee later. Finally I have the entire group brainstorm how they will remind each other to focus on and use strengths.
Writing this article makes me aware of so many other best practices that make the strengths assessments come alive. No matter which best practices you use, by facilitating this session one-on-one or in a larger group setting you can set the stage for positive individual and organizational change.
Editor’s Note: We added references to Realise2, the strengths instrument described by Alex Linley, Janet Willars, and Robert Biswas-Diener, because the above approaches would be applicable with Realise2 as well as VIA and StrengthsFinder. The VIA assessment is available here, and StrengthsFinder 2.0 is available with several books by Tom Rath including the one listed in the references.
Editor’s Note: This article appears in part 2 of the Positive Psychology News book, Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life
Buckingham, M (2007). Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance. NY: Free Press.
Clifton, D. & Harter, J. (2003). Investing in Strengths. In K. Cameron, J. Dutton, & R. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, pp. 111-121. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.
Cooperrider, D., Whitney, D. and Stavros,J. (2008). Appreciative Inquiry Handbook, 2nd Edition (Book & CD) . Brunswick, OH: Crown Publishing, Inc.
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. & Conchie, B. (2009). Strengths-Based Leadership. New York: Gallup Press.
S is for Superman courtesy of Gareth Simpson
Four Seasons (Model for Change) courtesy of joiseyshowaa
Kryptonite courtesy of Resio
Morning (Reaching for the Ring) courtesy of h.koppdelaney
Just Do It courtesy of Jhong Dizon