Implementing Strengths-Based Professional Development in Your Office

November 21, 2016

By Melissa Vivian

Earlier this year at the NAFSA 2016 Annual Conference & Expo in Denver, I had the opportunity to speak with my NAFSA colleagues about Gallup Education’s Clifton StrengthsFinder, an assessment tool designed to help individuals and organizations identify what it is that they do best and how to boost that greatness in others.

This year’s conference marked the second time I’ve had the pleasure of speaking about StrengthsFinder assessments. In 2015, our StrengthsFinder “primer” covered the theory behind the practice of taking a strengths focus in your career. For 2016, we moved the conversation further to the practical application of strengths for professional team development.

NAFSA 2016 attendees took an hour out of their week to participate in an engaging experiential ice breaker that allowed them to physically see where they “stand” on certain strengths compared to their colleagues. Then we moved into a paper tower-building challenge that put strengths into action and provided an opportunity for powerful reflection. Some towers were tall, some were large, and others beautifully designed, but the real winners of the challenge were those participants who walked away with greater awareness of their strengths and how to identify them in their teammates.

But it was our discussion on how to implement strengths into the office environment that had everyone feverishly taking notes. We highlighted some easy-to-implement “quick tips” to help increase productivity and engagement, and better communication and working relationships. Here’s a quick summary of the top ways you can use strengths in your office right now!

1. Give Feedback
This might seem too basic. Everyone knows that feedback is crucial to development, but most feedback is corrective in nature, focusing on fixing mistakes and ways to compensate for perceived weaknesses. There is definitely something of value to this in comparison to receiving no feedback at all. I’m sure many of us wish we received more attention, even regarding areas for improvement, as annual reviews or even weekly supervision sometimes don’t feel like enough. But how do you know what you are doing right if no one tells you?

Positive reinforcement is the most powerful operant conditioning principle, and what if that positive feedback was focused on your growth and improvement of who you are as a person? Imagine how engaged you or your staff would feel! So, first start with giving more feedback, but preferably when you see someone’s strengths truly shine!

2. Front and Center
One of the most common comments I hear from people who attend the strengths-based team development retreats hosted by the company I work for, Global Experiences, is that after the assessment has been taken and the top five strengths of everyone on the team have been revealed, people stop thinking and talking about them. It was fun to take and learn about it that first day, but that is as far as it goes. If you want a strengths-based work environment, you must keep the strengths front and center, meaning around the office for everyone to see. At Global Experiences’ headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland, everyone’s strengths are printed out and taped to their office door. They are written on a whiteboard in the conference room where they permanently reside. Our business cards list our “Top 5” at the bottom. And you will find them in Global Experiences staffers’ e-mail signatures. Repetition likes this helps ensure that we learn each other’s strengths, that we ourselves reflect on them daily, and that important conversations about organizational design and development really do consider putting the “right people in the right places.”

3. Name It! Claim It! Aim It!
This popular strengths mantra can be translated into three simple reflective questions:

  • Which strengths theme resonates most with you?
  • When has this theme helped you be successful?
  • In what ways can you start using this strength tomorrow?

Just like performance feedback, having the opportunity to reflect daily on your strengths is crucial to seeing those long-term outcomes of career satisfaction and well-being. Are you providing your staff and yourself with the time to do this? If not, I suggest placing more value here and integrating these types of questions into normal office activities. Why not take the first five minutes of a staff meeting to ask each other if there was something you did this week that gave you energy and how do you think your strengths played a role in that? Or when do you feel most valued on the team? And if there is a conflict, what strength do you need more or less of from me right now?

To “aim it,” consider how quarterly goal setting and annual performance reviews can easily take a strengths focus. For instance, I plan to use my “Communication” to give at least three presentations this year, or use my “Maximizer” to polish up our university partner on-boarding tool kit. Perhaps your “Arranger” and “Achiever” strengths will help you plan an experiential retreat for your staff this year where you put strengths into action!

Melissa Vivian is the director of academic internships for Global Experiences. Prior to her current role, Vivian was the European placement director based in London. She is a licensed professional counselor and lecturer with a master’s degree in mental health and wellness from New York University.