Investing in Strengths

{Clifton & Harter, 2003. In Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn (Eds.), Positive Organizational Scholarship}


Our talents – naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that we can productively apply – are our most significant opportunities for success. By refining our dominant talents with skill and knowledge, we can create strength – the ability to provide consistent, near-perfect performance in a given activity.

The most significant gains in human development are based on investment in what people do best naturally, in their areas of talent. Individuals gain more when they build on their talents than when they make comparable efforts to improve their areas of weakness.

The strengths-based organization does not ignore weaknesses, such as when it becomes necessary to correct the behavior producing counterproductive outcomes. Instead, it achieves optimization, where talents are focused and built upon, and weaknesses are understood and managed. Weaknesses may diminish with training, but the efficiency will not reach the one when the effort is focused on talents.

The Strengths Approach and Positive Psychology

Noticing how people are different from us and focusing on what they lack is easy for us. We are keen on finding fault.

A visionary, inclusive alternative may be to understand differences and position people so they use more of who they are, their talents. Measurement of talent provides an organizing framework around positive psychological potentials. They can integrate their understanding of their talents with knowledge and skills to develop strengths.

The positive psychology vision brings a “strengths” approach as an integrating thread woven across the three domains. Positive institutions and communities provide the culture and holding vessel for developing positive personal and interpersonal traits (talents) to position and develop individuals to increase the frequency of positive subjective experiences. A critical mass of individuals having positive personal experiences explains one important domain in positive institutions and communities.

Talents are the basis for approaching a person’s full potential. The story goes like this:

Identify your dominant talents. Now you can thoughtfully appeal to your talents and determine how often you will express them.

Refine your dominant talents with knowledge and skills so they can become strengths. The more you exercise a strength, the more integrated and more potent it becomes.

Ask your teachers, mentors, or parents to base their expectations of you on your talents so they become contributors to accelerating your development. Invite them to become part of your positive emotional experience that serves to broaden and build your thoughts and actions and produce enduring resources for the future.

Understanding and identifying talents, for many individuals, can become positive turning points, triggering changes in how they view themselves in the context of the world around them.

Identification of talent, integration into one’s view of self, and changed behavior are the many aspects of a strengths-based life unfolding.

Identify what you have and how you have it; notice when you utilize a talent, recognize how it comes naturally to the issue at hand, and know that you have what is needed for the task and can bring forth what is useful.

Integration, well, that is a little more opaque process. It entails using strengths in one’s daily work life.

Changed behavior is simply using your talents to do something better than before. Actively using your talents can enhance engagement which acts like a cycle, leading you to invest more of your talent.

Strengths Development in Different Domains


Success is defined for our purposes as exceeding the median performance within one’s company across work units. Performance typically includes productivity (revenue in business), profitability, employee retention, customer loyalty, and safety.

Compared to poor-performing managers, top-performing managers (based on composite performance) were more likely to indicate (in a Gallup research) that they spend time with high producers, match talents to tasks, and emphasize individual strengths versus seniority in making personnel decisions. The probability of success (above median performance) was 86 percent (1.9 times) greater for managers with a “strengths versus non-strengths” approach (Gallup Organization, 2002). Managers with a strengths-based approach nearly double their likelihood of success.

Employee Engagement

Managers who create environments where employees can use their talents have more productive work units with less employee turnover.

Work units scoring above the median on the statement, “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day,” have a 44 percent (1.4 times) higher probability of success on customer loyalty and employee retention, and 38 percent (1.4 times) higher probability of success on productivity measures.

Individual Differences

How people most efficiently grow and develop is dynamically related to who they are. People can change on the “changeables” (satisfaction, subjective wellbeing, engagement, performance, etc.), but most efficiently through who they are, to begin with (their inherent talents).

A development program designed to develop strengths should maximally integrate activities of one’s life around talents and manage weaknesses.

How enduring are various strengths interventions?

At what point does consistently applying one’s strengths reach a threshold at which one has an integrated, fulfilling life?

What are the long-term organizational outcomes of a strengths-based approach to education and management?

To what extent does self-awareness before talent identification interact with the relationship between strengths approaches and various outcomes?

To what extent does a Pygmalion effect (or Rosenthal effect: a psychological phenomenon in which high expectations lead to improved performance in a given area) explain short-term changes?

Refining talents with knowledge and skills.

Strength can be an ability or the capacity to produce an output.

{In organizations, any problem, broadly defined, can be traced back to destructive behavior that originates from a primitive attitude. Positive organizing can become a platform to lift energy-draining attitudes to a more generative, sustainable form of relating and performing.}