Transform good into great – creating value through your people can drive profits by 30%

According to business analytics firm Gallup, just 13% of employees are engaged in their workplace. That’s based on a worldwide survey, which covers 1.2 million employees.

It’s a worryingly low number, but what is management’s role here?

Well, we all know that management has an impact on employee engagement, but Gallup’s research shows that it accounts for 70% of the variance between engaged and non-engaged staff. So the question is, how can you combine management techniques and learning and development opportunities for your people to bridge this gap and ensure that you are creating a happy, motivated and, above all, productive workforce?

The answer lies in the way you develop your employees.

A new approach to developing your people

Many businesses work on the principle that, in order to be more successful, they should help their employees improve on their weakest areas. This is well intentioned and may seem sensible, but all the evidence points to the fact that this approach is ineffective by comparison with doing the opposite – building on their innate talent and playing to their strengths.

Many businesses work on the principle that, in order to be more successful, they should help their employees improve on their weakest areas.

‘It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first rate to excellence.’ This is from visionary management consultant Peter Drucker in Managing Oneself. This logic is strongly supported and is seen as the most sure-fire way to increase employee engagement and ensure your learning and development programme has a positive impact on ROI.

So let’s explore why helping employees become even better at things they’re already good at is the best way to increase the productivity of your workforce – and how it can not only drive engagement and reduce staff turnover, but also make a positive impact on your bottom line. 

Know your employees’ strengths

Research finds that only 43% of companies feel they have a good understanding of their employees’ unique talents, skills and experience. You can’t hope to forge a solid employee relationship without creating a robust overview of your staff’s strengths. Yet the same study also notes that 70% of companies review performance regularly. This suggests that there’s a disconnect somewhere between the process of gathering feedback and translating this into actionable data.

It’s shown that the most effective way to gather information that will have real value in developing performance is to ensure that well thought out, measurable targets are set, with high-quality indicators to give a true sense of the progress being made. To achieve high quality indicators, involvement of the stakeholders being assessed is essential. This means that opening lines of communication with your employees and establishing dialogue with them is key to understanding their strengths.

But what is the true benefit of understanding an employee’s strengths? It boils down to mobility, a tactic that will allow you to boost employee retention, increase internal promotions and start on the road to a more engaged workforce. Talent mobility is recognised as an important part of the talent management strategy by 75% of organisations. It is based on an effective understanding, development and deployment of the workforce, facilitated through accurate appraisals and the provision and communication of opportunities to gain new skills and experience. By understanding what your employees are best at (and helping them develop in these areas) you open up opportunities that allow them to benefit both themselves and the business.

A key thread of this tactic is to give managers a focus on their responsibility for the development of their people. Effective organisation and communication with the workforce can then be utilised to ensure that the best possible learning and development outcomes are pursued and achieved.

But how can you ensure your managers are on the right path to develop their people in the most effective way? 

Develop those strengths

Generally speaking, learning and development has a positive effect on employee engagement. Studies even show that you can empower your employees through well-implemented training, giving them more autonomy and further solidifying their connection with your business, paving the way for better performance.

Studies show that you can empower your employees through well-implemented training, giving them more autonomy and further solidifying their connection with your business, paving the way for better performance.

This comes as part of a refocus from HR thought leaders on the role of engagement in talent management policies. It has been suggested in some research that HR practitioners should start embedding engagement in a number of their policies and practices, including learning and development, rather than just relying on annual surveys. This kind of thinking is urging employers to find new ways to keep their employees engaged and to give more serious consideration to finding the correct path to yield the best results.

But is it best to focus on areas in which your employees are already competent? Is that the strongest way to improve employee engagement and retention?

Gallup’s research very much suggests that it is. When looking at the impact of strength-focused employee development, they took several factors into account to measure success: profit, customer engagement, sales, safety and employee engagement. The results they came up with included:

  • 14-29% profit increases
  • 3-7% higher customer engagement
  • 10-19% increase in sales
  • 22-59% decrease in health and safety-related incidents
  • 9-15% employee engagement increases

On top of this, 67% of engaged employees stated that their manager focused on their strengths.

These statistics show that focusing on strengths when developing your employees can have far-reaching benefits, not just impacting the happiness of your staff (an essential goal for any manager) but also having a positive impact on your bottom line.

It makes a strong business case for ensuring that managers are ready to push employees’ strengths to the next level. What’s more, there are more benefits to unlock once a high level of engagement has been achieved via the implementation of strength-focused development programmes. One problem that is always associated with low engagement is an increase in sick days (absenteeism). It’s often thought that many sick days are taken as a result of poor engagement and job apathy, but what’s proven is that businesses see a 41% drop in absenteeism and a 70% fall in safety incidents when implementing strength-focused development. This is in addition to a 17% jump in productivity.

It makes a strong business case for ensuring that managers are ready to push employees’ strengths to the next level.

Low aims lead to low morale

Despite evidence that making your company a strength-led organisation allows employees to develop their best qualities, many businesses are still stuck trying to train their staff to improve in areas where they are underperforming. In fact, another Gallup study showed 77% of employees saying that their training was focused on trying to fix areas of weakness.

It’s easy to see this approach to development as little more than damage control, encouraging employees to reach a ‘satisfactory’ level of performance in an area they are currently performing ‘unsatisfactorily’. You can imagine how this can be viewed negatively by individuals and how that will affect their level of engagement. Conversely, it follows that employees who undergo training that focuses on their strengths and gives them an opportunity to revel in and develop their best assets come away with a much more positive mindset.

This again links back to the concept of mobility. On the one hand, you can take those who are performing at a low level and attempt to bring their performance up to the desired baseline, or you can use a strength development process that utilises mobility to make sure your employees are in the best position to play to their strengths. 

Strengths-based learning and development leads to better ROI

When deciding how to focus your employee learning and development programmes, you need to ask what kind of business you want to be. If your policy is to play it safe, then perhaps the traditional and widespread training practice of correcting areas of weakness is your best route. If, on the other hand, you want to use your talent management programme to really push the limits of the company and add value in ways that can deliver a new level of productivity and engagement from your workforce, there’s a clear winner in terms of how to go about it.

Focusing on strengths may sound like shorthand for creating a blind spot to your employees’ problems, but with the right processes and culture in place, it’s really a way to circumnavigate them. Use strength-focused learning and development so the talents of your people are fully utilised to turbo charge the profitability of your company.

tanvir 150x150 fsAbout the author: Tanvir Haque, Founder of Freshstone Consulting. 
Tanvir is currently the Chief Commercial Officer at Lifecare International, and he is the Founder and Non-Executive Director of Freshstone Consulting. He thrives on developing customer-centric business relationships, and as such he is currently focused on revolutionising Lifecare’s customer experience and driving the company’s digital transformation plans – all with the aim of unlocking Lifecare’s full technology potential. With a career spanning back more than 20 years, Tanvir’s experience has been gathered in professional services, banking, and telecommunications, having worked with PwC in Sydney, Andersen in Sydney and London, and Standard Chartered Bank in London. He relocated to Dubai in 2008 and spent a number of years advising and consulting international businesses on how to drive growth before joining Lifecare in 2015. Tanvir graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the Australian National University in his home town of Canberra and is a qualified Chartered Accountant and a member of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.