How focusing on strengths boosts performance

Strengths Partnership
Founders and managing directors
Strengths Partnership Ltd
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It has been 10 years since we introduced the strengths-based approach to the UK HR industry.

To celebrate this, we have produced a practical guide to outline key steps to businesses and offer advice and expertise on how the strengths-approach boosts performance in organisations.

Defining a personality strength

When we think of ‘strengths’, the first thing that might come to mind are sports stars flexing their muscles, preparing to show that they are the best in their field using their physical and mental strengths. Or perhaps we think of tasks we are good at, in other words, areas of skill and competence we have learned over the years.

However, our definition is different, as we wanted to capture that the word ‘strength’ has two key main elements – the first is about how much energy or passion you get from a task or activity, while the second is how good you are or can become. The first part is of great importance, as it will determine how much you will stick with a task or activity over time in order to build real strength or mastery.

We therefore define strengths as:  

“Underlying qualities that energize us, and we are great at (or have the potential to become great at)”.

Strengths energize us and enable us to perform at our peak, in both good times and during challenging times. In this way, they are different from our skills and competencies, or what we have learned over the years to be competent at.

You can be energized by a strength. However, you may not yet have had the chance to develop skills that help you use that strength in the most effective way. For example, you may be energized by the strength of ‘Developing Others’, but haven’t yet taken on a role enabling you to put this into practice. Therefore, your skills and effectiveness in this area might still be underdeveloped.

You can also have a competence that is not an area of strength as it doesn’t energize you. For example, you might have learned to be really good at detailed tasks, but are drained by these. If this is the case, you are unlikely to perform well at tasks involving a lot of detail for prolonged periods.

Spotting strengths

The best way to identify strengths is to use an objective, accurate and globally used strengths assessment profiler such as Strengthscope®.

However, there are a number of other ways to spot strengths in yourself and others, including:

  • Work prioritization and preferences: The type of work you prioritize and actively put yourself forward for will provide clues as to your strengths.
  • Positive emotions: You will be happy, positive and energized when doing work that plays to your strengths.  
  • Rapid learning: You will find it relatively easy to learn new tasks when you are playing to your strengths. You are therefore more likely to make rapid progress toward high levels of effectiveness in these areas of your work.  
  • Repeated success: When using a natural strength, you are likely to achieve repeated success when you perform an activity.
  • Focus and perseverance: You are more likely to show focus and determination in areas of strength, persevering even in the face of pressure and adversity.

Zone of peak performance

Our biggest opportunities for peak performance and career success are when our strengths and skills come together, in other words, we become skilled and competent in strength areas we are naturally energized by. This is called our zone of peak performance.

Just like when we build muscle strength, the more we develop and practise using our personality strengths, the more skilled we will become in using our strengths effectively across different situations. In other words, our zone of peak performance will grow and grow, boosting our performance and success.

Of course, strengths are only useful if they are closely matched with the requirements of the job and goals of the organization.

Powerful strength combinations

The true power of the strengths approach comes alive when you combine strengths in new and powerful ways to develop and deliver results.

Peak performers learn how to get the most from their strengths, regardless of the situation. They are agile and adapt themselves to the environment with speed and precision.

The analogy of a graphic equalizer for creating the sound quality that suits a given situation demonstrates this principle well. It’s about knowing when and how to use your strengths in the right amount, the right situation and the right combination. Being able to identify when to turn the volume up or down on a strength is key to achieving agility.

For example, if you combine your ‘Courage’, ‘Initiative’ and ‘Relationship Building’ strengths, this could enable you to enhance your network by connecting with more senior people than perhaps you would normally do; in turn, helping you to progress your career faster.

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