StrengthsFinder Series, Part 3: The StrengthsFinder Assessment Approach
Through Dr. Clifton’s extensive research, he and his colleagues identified 34 discrete talent themes, with talents being defined as people’s naturally recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings or behaviors that can be productively applied in the business environment. The theory is that the more dominant the theme, the greater the theme’s impact will be on that person’s behaviors and performance.
The 34 themes were then categorized into 4 clusters called Domains (aka overarching strengths):
- Influencing (impacting people, e.g., idea/solution sellers)
- Executing (working harder, e.g., idea/solution implementers)
- Relationship Building (working with people, e.g., human connection nurturers)
- Strategic Thinking (working smarter, e.g., idea/solution creators)
When taking the StrengthsFinder Assessment, the participant is offered two flavors to choose from:
- Option 1 – “top 5” predominant or signature strengths
- Option 2 – a complete strengths profile that includes the relative dominance of each of the 34 strengths
I highly recommend initially selecting Option 1 so the assessment-taker can zero in on his/her highest ranking strengths first without becoming distracted by all 34 strengths.
While the mechanics of taking the StrengthsFinder Assessment is straight forward, how one interprets and then acts on their signature strengths may not be as straight forward depending on the assessment-taker’s philosophy. For example, StrengthsFinder operates under 2 major assertions:
- If we spend our lives trying to be good at everything (aka well-rounded), we will never be great at anything; and
- If we focus on our weaknesses it will undermine our confidence.
The challenge I see with StrengthsFinder’s assertions is that they’re not acknowledging two critical aspects: 1) if we “overdo” any one or more of our strengths, they can actually become liabilities; and 2) turning a blind eye to talent shortcomings that are critical given the role that we’re fulfilling, can also become a liability. While I certainly appreciate StrengthsFinder’s guiding principles, like most everything else in life, the goal is to strike the right balance. I would suggest that the following alternative assertions be considered:
- We spend our lives leveraging and optimizing our talents, which includes not going overboard with our strengths, while concurrently building out specific key areas where we’re not as strong; and
- We recognize and positively embrace that identifying and improving upon our gaps is both professionally and personally valuable plus rewarding.
I do concur with StrengthsFinder’s third major assertion however ̶ the most effective teams have a representation of strengths in each of the 4 Domains. As examples:
- A team that is strong in Influencing but light in Executing would struggle with meeting commitments and delivering results.
- A team that is strong in Executing but light in Relationship Building would deliver results, but at the cost of irreparably damaging short and long term relationships.
As I began my StrengthsFinder work, I was fortunate to have partnered with a third party organizational performance specialist (www.TechEdgeLLC.com) who has extensively and successfully leveraged the StrengthsFinder tool to increase performance potential at organization, leader, team and individual contributor levels. The specialist offered the following additional assertions based on her research plus first-hand anecdotal experiences:
- If the assessment-taker is not self-aware, StrengthsFinder Assessment results can become compromised.
- Each StrengthsFinder theme has its own unique strengths plus potential challenges that must not be overlooked. Each strength can become a liability (plus annoying to others) if boundaries are not honored and if the strength is not optimally leveraged. Knowing that we each have “challenge tendencies” is not an excuse for behaving in an undesirable manner. We are capable of self-regulating (we can choose to self-regulate) to ensure that we do not cross boundaries.
- Being overly dominant in one Domain can become problematic if we do not look for opportunities to build out our less dominant strengths – not all 34 strengths, but some subset thereof that are strategically and purposefully selected.
- We must learn to honor each other’s strengths in order to: 1) operate in a highly functioning manner; 2) better understand each other; and 3) approach organizational change in a way that resonates with a variety of strengths and challenges.
- Understanding one’s gaps and seeking out those who have strengths in that area is one example of self-awareness, emotional maturity, self-confidence and collaboration.
- Too many “like strengths” on any one team can result in groupthink, significant talent gaps and ultimately irrational or dysfunctional decision-making, practices plus outcomes.
- Being in roles where we leverage our strengths leads to inner peace, comfort, fulfillment and joy plus exceptional outcomes. Being in roles where we are not leveraging our strengths can lead to frustration, anxiety, emptiness and depression plus less than stellar results.
Now that we’ve walked through the high-level StrengthsFinder approach plus key assertions, Part IV of this multi-part series will focus on tool benefits of which there are many.