By Chad T. Ahern
In my Dec. 12 post I discussed how there are very few places (industries, company sizes, etc.) where Strengths development can't enhance employee engagement.
Over the past few weeks, I've realized that there are at least three environments where Strengths shouldn't be the first solution to improve performance.
Low Trust Environments
The self-awareness information uncovered by the CliftonStrengths assessment can feel extremely personal. At the same time, to best utilize it, people need to be able to talk openly about what they do well, and how projects do and don't match their talents. Such conversations need to involve vulnerability. Brene Brown, Stephen Covey, Patrick Lencioni, Simon Sinek, Amy Edmondson, and many others make clear that trust and vulnerability are key to individual and team performance.
As such, when employees can't trust their managers not to use this self-awareness knowledge against them, then a Strengths-based/CliftonStrengths informed initiative to enhance employee engagement is doomed to fail because everyone will be too scared to share insights on "what they do best."
Akin to the first situation, Strengths development does not enhance employee engagement when self-awareness, and the knowledge that comes with it, is "weaponized"; either by the company or the employee.
Gallup has five guiding principles when it comes to Strengths development. Two of them -- [Talent] themes are not labels, and, [Talent] themes are neutral -- encourage everyone to keep in mind that our talents:
When workplaces or work teams encourage people to segregate their people based on their talents, not only will employee engagement not increase, but will likely decrease. At the same time, if an employee chooses to "weaponize" their self-awareness in such a way as to dismiss or minimize the projects they are assigned, then the company has lost not only that employee's productivity, but also any hope that such an employee's emotional engagement and investment is focused on the organization's larger mission and goals.
Places that haven't addressed Elements One & Two
The way Gallup developed the Q12, each element must be addressed in order. Therefore, if leaders/managers aren't having open, honest discussions with employees about what's expected (Element 1), and they aren't providing the proper resources to do the work (Element 2); then it really doesn't matter if people know what they do best (Element 3). Furthermore, a leader, team, or employee won't be able to address any of the other Elements that establish the basis for true employee engagement; thus making a Strengths-development approach to employee engagement moot.