StrengthsFinder Series, Part 2: The Clifton StrengthsFinder Assessment
When evaluating which employment tests to leverage within your organization, it’s critical that, among other criteria, you research the test developers’ credentials. In the case of the Clifton StrengthsFinder Assessment, the test was developed and refined by Dr. Donald O. Clifton, who earned his University of Nebraska doctorate degree in educational psychology. Once he assumed the role of Professor of Educational Psychology within the same institution and teamed up with University of Nebraska Department of Psychology Chair Dr. William E. Hall (Ohio State University doctoral graduate), they began their evolutionary research into the key question: “what would happen if we actually studied what was right with people?” At that time, leveraging positive psychology to focus on human potentiality was a significant departure from the norm of diagnosing and treating people’s problems.
Doctors Clifton and Hall first examined students who seemed to relate well with people. Per the Nebraska Human Resource Institute (NHRI), “…through their research they learned that these students shared a common theme: they had people in their lives (“difference makers”) who identified their strengths and provided them with the opportunities to develop those strengths.” The next leg of their research involved the pairing of outstanding college students (counselors) with equally outstanding local high school students (counselees), with this work being funded through the 1949-formed Nebraska Human Resources Research Foundation (NHRRF). Fast forward to 1969, after years of researching and rigorously studying what people did right to achieve top performance, they identified “life themes” which were later translated into “strength themes”. Wanting to apply these themes to the business setting, Doctors Clifton and Hall left NHRRF to co-found Selection Research, Inc. (SRI), SRI grew into a large-scale human resources consulting firm where their strengths-based research continued. In 1988, with the acquisition led by Dr. Clifton’s son, Jim Clifton, SRI purchased Gallup, Inc., with the Gallup name being retained due to brand recognition. Jim Clifton became Gallup’s Chairman and CEO while Dr. Clifton continued his scientific, groundbreaking work as Chair of the Gallup International Research and Education Center. In 2001, Gallup released the original Clifton StrengthsFinder Assessment in their book, Now, Discover Your Strengths. In 2007 Gallup published StrengthsFinder 2.0 and unveiled the new and upgraded version assessment, StrengthsFinder 2.0. In 2002, Dr. Clifton (1924-2003) was named the Father of Strengths-Based Psychology by the American Psychological Association.
While the Clifton StrengthsFinder Assessment is deeply rooted in 40+ years of in-depth, fact-based studies conducted by credentialed and qualified researchers, one must also realize that the tool does have its gaps:
• Assessment results rely on self-reporting, which could be biased given that the tool assumes a high-level of self-awareness and honesty that may or may not apply to the assessment taker.
• The method focuses on strengths versus weaknesses even though weak spots are our Achilles’ Heels ̶ our points of vulnerability. As an example, a social intelligence deficiency can quickly jeopardize a person’s leadership career regardless of the strengths that the person brings to the position.
• Each strength, if applied in excess, can actually become a liability that results in negative consequences.
• The science behind the assessment is proprietary; therefore the research has not undergone peer review and scrutiny. That said, Gallup published “The Clifton StrengthsFinder Technical Report: Development and Validation” (February 2007, updated March 2009) which defends StrengthsFinder’s reliability and validity as measured by The Standards of Educational and Psychological Testing.
It’s equally important to recognize that the StrengthsFinder approach is a talent-focused method that operates under the premise that employees, who are performing in roles where they can leverage their top strengths or talents, are likely to be healthier and more successful. StrengthsFinder, by its own admission, is not a personality or other type of theory-based test.
Now that I’ve provided an overview of the Clifton StrengthsFinder Assessment’s origination, Part III of this multi-part series will highlight the tool’s approach plus key assertions.