Everyone is different. Fact. Our thoughts, motivations and talents are entirely unique. It’s one of the many fascinating aspects of human psychology. And yet, when it comes to relationships, we expect everyone to react in the same way as we do. This can lead to all kinds of tension and misunderstanding at work.
If you want to build high-performing teams to propel your company forward, you’re going to need a certain set of tools. One of my big recommendations is Gallup’s CliftonStrengths®. I’ve been a fan since reading Marcus Buckingham’s ‘First Break All The Rules’ which set me off on a strengths-based path. It was instrumental in helping me scale two technology businesses and I’ve recently gained Gallup’s coaching certification. I now offer CliftonStrengths® assessment to all my clients as I’ve seen its power to transform.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be a bit sceptical of personality tests — so many of them have a faint whiff of astrology about them. I’m a rational person who likes to use scientifically proven methods. CliftonStrengths® is perfect. Gallup has poured 50+ years of research into this assessment tool so you know it’s got a solid, scientific base. To date, it’s been taken by 21 million people worldwide and is used in 90% of Fortune 500 companies.
What is CliftonStrengths®?
Created by Donald Clifton, the grandfather of positive psychology, CliftonStrengths® is based on the assumption that in high performing teams, successful people will use their strengths to get an outcome. It grew out of Clifton’s work on recruitment. Recognising how hard it was for companies to identify the right people for a role, he started to profile characteristics. CliftonStrengths® is the evolution of this work.
Participants take a half-hour, online assessment, providing responses to 177 paired statements by choosing which one best describes them. The evaluation measures natural patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. When you’ve finished the assessment, you’re provided with an explanation of your results and identified talents.
The beauty of this is you’re given an entirely unique profile of your top 5 strengths. Because of the accuracy of the test, the chances of someone else having the same combination in the same order is 1 in 33 million. So only 2 people in the whole of the UK will have the same top 5 as you! It’s not like Myers-Briggs, where you’re dropped into one of only 16 boxes. CliftonStrengths® will tell you about your personality, yes, but also how you solve a problem.
This is so useful. It really helps get under the covers of why people do what they do. The Gallup framework says you have 34 strengths and your top 5 are driving your every action, subconsciously, in response to any situation you find yourself in. Your unique strengths will be different from everyone else, so if you’re given the same challenge, you’ll go about it in a different way.
One of my top 5 strengths is ‘Achiever’. So, I have an innate personal drive. No surprise there! You can count on me to be self-motivated and work hard. But there’s a flip-side. I don’t instinctively celebrate success and don’t say ‘thank you’ nearly enough. CliftonStrengths® has given me immense self-knowledge — it’s not an exaggeration to say it’s changed my life. The job I do now (and the way I do it) entirely plays to my strengths. It’s been uncannily accurate, placing ‘Input’ and ‘Learner’ in my personal top 5. That explains my compulsion to read and gather useful information to share. And ‘Achiever’ means I do this every week, without fail!
My first ever guest for my Melting Pot podcast, Evgeny Shadchnev from Makers Academy has ‘Empathy’ in his top 5. This fascinates me as ‘Empathy’ was at the bottom of my list of 34 characteristics! It’s just not something I can deploy. That’s not to say I don’t have it, but it’s not my strength. Evgeny thinks and feels the impact of every decision he makes as CEO in a truly visceral way. He makes decisions conscious of the impact on his team, whereas I might just bulldoze straight ahead!
Unlike many other personality tests, CliftonStrengths® has utility. It can be woven into the fabric of your company, shifting your thinking away from a focus on minimising weaknesses to maximising strengths. And this can have transformative results for your company.
Finding the right person for the job
In all the organisations where I’ve been MD, I’ve used CliftonStrengths® in the recruitment process. If you’re looking to build diverse, well-rounded teams it can be really useful for identifying ‘spiky’ people ie. those who have specific strengths that will complement the rest of the team.
Similarly, it can help you identify the strengths that make someone more likely to succeed in a specific role. When I think back to recruiting tech support people at Rackspace and Peer 1, we knew that lots of these guys and girls had ‘Responsibility’ as a strength. If this was identified as one of their top 5, they couldn’t help but keep a promise. They wouldn’t go home until they’d followed through on their promise to their clients or colleagues. Ownership was part of their DNA so when we hired for this role, ‘Responsibility’ was the characteristic we looked for.
There were sometimes ‘blind spots’ in the make-up of a team. Perhaps they had ‘Strategic Thinking’ and ‘Execution’ in abundance but were missing ‘Influencing’ or other relationship skills. The knowledge from CliftonStrengths® enabled us to recruit the right staff for that team.
A new vocabulary for coaching conversations
Any organisation that’s looking to grow needs to put coaching at its very centre. My view is this should be the main focus of every manager’s role. And because it’s so detailed and specific to the individual, CliftonStrengths® provides a vocabulary and mechanism for these coaching conversations.
It’s a fantastic framework that can sit alongside all the other things I recommend to my clients. So, if your managers get into a rhythm of weekly check-ins, how do you ensure they have a more impactful conversation with a member of their team? You put in CliftonStrengths®.
As the manager talks through the team member’s OKRs, they have a mechanism for discussing what they’re trying to do and how they’re making progress. Knowing their team member’s strengths enables a manager to look at a challenge and say, ‘This is how I would tackle it but I know you will tackle it differently, according to your strengths. I can’t tell you what to do.’ They can then agree an objective and talk through ways of tackling it.
By training your managers in CliftonStrengths®, you will shift their thinking away from a focus on minimising weaknesses which is the core of more traditional appraisal systems. Focusing on strengths is a far more positive, motivating approach.
Gallup’s research shows that staff are 6x more engaged in workplaces that use CliftonStrengths® — that represents a massive boost in productivity. It helps identify the things that give people energy in their work because they’re deploying their strengths effectively. This is important. You want every one of your staff to spend their time on areas where they feel happiest and most fulfilled.
In any job, there are things you’ve learned to do that aren’t innate. These are the things you gain least satisfaction from. You do them because you have to do them. If you can, you want to minimise these for your staff. It’s a far better use of their time and yours if they’re focusing on the things that energise them and utilise their unique talents. There will always be someone else in the organisation who will enjoy the areas that others hate.
This is why I loathe job descriptions. One size fits all just doesn’t work. People shouldn’t be forced to do things that aren’t playing to their strengths. You wouldn’t expect a centre forward to be in goal. The goalie is six foot four with massive hands! The two positions require completely different strengths. So, if you’re looking at the composition of a team, identify the parts of each person’s role that doesn’t suit their strengths. Then recruit a new team member with the right strengths to take over this work. Horses for courses.
By doing what they do best, your staff will be happier. By using strengths, your managers can coach them to overcome obstacles and progress quickly. The resulting sense of satisfaction will result in greater employee engagement and, ultimately, higher productivity.
Promoting understanding and trust
When I’m rolling out CliftonStrengths® in teams, I get all the members to sit down together and discuss their individual results. I get them to say what it feels like to have certain strengths in their top 5. How does that show up for them? Discussing these things in a group situation enables teams to gain a vital understanding of how each team member ticks.
Again, it’s about vocabulary. Being able to speak openly about how something makes you feel promotes trust. It also diffuses potentially challenging conversations, bringing an element of impartiality to discussion. Without doubt, CliftonStrengths gives staff the self-awareness to understand interpersonal gaps between them and others. When this is missing, people can get annoyed or frustrated by differences in approach. CliftonStrengths® removes this tension by saying, ‘You may not be like me, but I accept that there will be something that you do better’.
These objective conversations are so useful in business. Suddenly, it’s all about you and not about me.
In Gallup’s own words, ‘CliftonStrengths® will get the best out of your people to get the best out of your business’. A strengths-based approach will empower your managers, develop your staff and improve your organisation’s performance. All of which are essential ingredients for growth.