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How to create a strengths based culture at work

By Fi Darby | 01 June 2018

The demand for strong leaders across Australia is growing, with over 95,000 workers expected in the ‘Management and Related Consulting Services’ sector by May 2022, a five-year increase of 8.1% (Labour Market Information Portal). An employment sector that is in growth is a dynamic one and it would be a foolish manager, or prospective manager, who didn’t take notice of current trends and act on evidence of a culture shift.

Exceptional workplaces rely on exceptional managers who make the best use of workforce skills and focus on developing employees. In 2015 Gallup conducted an international study of over 1 million workers in around 50,000 businesses and concluded that a strengths-based workplace, i.e. one where employee talent is recognised and best use of skills is encouraged, increases organisational achievement.

Business units that focused on a strengths-based culture achieved increases in both customer and employee engagement as well as 29% increases in profit. The idea of a strengths-based culture where managers move from a hierarchical workforce towards goal-oriented teams built around recognised employee strengths, may not come easily to you, but be warned, if you are hanging back, the culture shift towards strengths-based teams is happening around you. We have some advice on how to create a strengths-based culture in your place of work.


Show that you believe in them coach

shaking hands in agreement


In 2018, strong leaders recognise the impact that pace of change has had on the significance of innate talent as opposed to industry specific skills. Today’s skills may not be tomorrow’s, so the ability to learn and adapt is a key one that should be recognised.

Developing employees is becoming more important than ever. Managers across Australia are experiencing a culture shift towards a deeper understanding of individual strengths supported by formal recognition and appropriate allocation to tasks and teams. Strength recognition should not just be the job of the manager; in a strengths-based culture, a manager must ensure that the whole team understands each other’s strengths and makes the best use of available skills.


Invest in their development

A key step towards becoming one of Australia’s exceptional workplaces is to ensure that employees are working within their area of strength. Decades of study, pioneered by Gallup’s late Chairman, Don Clifton, clearly indicate that employees who make daily use of their areas of strength are more productive than those that don’t.

The benefits to the success of a strengths-based culture don’t end there; employers who give their workforce opportunities to make the best use of skills have a far better employee retention rate than those that don’t. Strong leaders, it would appear, understand their employees and, once they understand them, make a point of developing those employees’ strengths and weaknesses.


Praise a job well done

colleagues clapping

A philosophy of transparency is vital when developing exceptional workplaces through a strengths-based approach. Team members need to trust both each other and you, the manager, in order to allow for the best use of skills. In some organisations trust can represent quite a culture shift but a great way to start is to focus on outcome based praise. If you are opting for a strengths-based approach, employee weakness should not be your focus, ask instead what each team member is bringing to the end result.

In her book about achievement and success, ‘Mindset’, Carol Dweck explains why praise for results can encourage the best use of skills through their expansion, whereas praising for innate ability can limit growth (because innate ability is not improved by additional effort). Outcome-based praise is a great encourager of teamwork and promotes the culture shift necessary for a strengths based approach to work. The strong leader will recognise this and lead the necessary culture shift away from, ‘You are good at…’ to ‘That went well…’.


Build up team cohesion

One of the most effective ways to ensure that you make the best use of skills is to give employees the opportunity to opt into projects as and when they feel they have talents that fit. If you are looking to be one of Australia’s exceptional workplaces, focus on building a diverse team for each project, the more perspectives, cultures and interests represented the better. This approach will encourage innovation and problem solving, but may also result in communication difficulties if team cohesion isn’t viewed as a goal in itself. In a strengths based culture, strong leaders will recognise that providing training to deliver team cohesion is as important a way of developing employees as helping them to recognise their skills.


Don’t let them burn out

guy struggling at work

One of the downsides of a culture that focuses on team effort and praise for results is that a team can run the risk of overworking and burning out. Strong leaders will recognise this risk before a project starts and have a close eye on team morale. Disengagement, decreased productivity, complaints and an increase in scepticism are all indicators that a team is starting to burn out but it is important to be aware that it is not just overwork that can cause these symptoms; lack of challenge, too much stress or personal issues can also be the source.

A strengths-based culture should help you to deliver the right level of challenge and ensure that nobody is experiencing the stress associated with not feeling ‘up to the job’. In exceptional workplaces, workforce burnout will be managed through initiatives such as email cut-off times, enforced lunch hours, creativity time slots and dress down Fridays. It is up to you as the manager to take careful note of the factors causing employee stress and deal with them accordingly.

Management is perhaps one of the most exciting careers out there, as they have the opportunity to change the direction of an organisation and directly influence the work experience of their employees. However, with excitement comes challenge and, in a fast moving world where culture shift is the culture norm, it pays to stay ahead of the game with regular additional training. If you are a manager who is great at developing employees but falls short when it comes to your own personal development, perhaps it is the time to develop your leadership and management skills.

At Upskilled we have a range of online management courses from Certificate IV level to Graduate Certificate level in a selection of management specialisms. Perhaps it is time to make the best use of skills yourself, if so, sign up for a management qualification today.

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