Friday, July 27, 2007

Summary of Marcus Buckingham's Strengths Movement and its Value to Business

A few months back, I wrote a summary of the strengths movement – personal strengths, or employee strengths if you're a manager, according to the work done by Gallup and Marcus Buckingham (previously misspelled Markus Buckingham on my blog).

I've since found myself forwarding this email numerous times to others to give them a quick overview or primer with a focus on the value to the company. This post is the same content and formatting for easier reference.

Overview- Why and How

"Our people are our greatest asset." Correction - your people's talents are your greatest asset, or more precisely "Aligning our people's talents to their tasks so that they play to their strengths the majority of each day is our greatest asset."

The premise of strengths-based teams is that the most effective method for motivating people is to build on their strengths rather than correcting their weaknesses. People don't change that much, and the effort to remediate their weaknesses is much effort for minimal return. Researchers at the Gallup Organization have analyzed results of interviews of over 1.7 million employees from 101 companies and representing 63 countries. Less than 20 percent of employees stated that they were using their strengths every day. And there is no relation to type of work, skilled or unskilled, industry or even within company. In fact, more disparity existed within companies than outside, showing that there is no such thing as "great companies," only great teams within those companies.

One must purchase a book (noted later in this post) in order to get access to the test which reveals their strengths. Once they learn their profile, a manager can begin a process of how to capitalize upon each person's unique traits, aligning them with the goals of their team and the company, resulting in better performance and employee satisfaction.

Summary of Strengths Books by Buckingham and Gallup

For background, here's a summary of the related books. In "First, Break All the Rules," strengths are mentioned as one of the levers that great managers can use to get the most out of their employees. In fact, it trumps all the other tools a manager can use. Then, in "Now, Discover Your Strengths," aimed at management and business, the authors focused on solely on strengths (because it is the greatest single lever to increase team performance), listed all 34 strength types, and gave cases studies and examples. The book includes a code to take the strengths profile test. The new "StrengthFinder 2.0" book is geared more for the individual, and contains a slightly newer version of the test with a bit more guidance on the next steps of how to apply your strengths. Finally, in the new "Go Put Your Strengths to Work," Buckingham explains (and gives great, practical tools) on how to take personal responsibility in turning knowledge into action, because just knowing your strengths alone doesn't change a person into someone who leverages their strengths the majority of the day.

Supporting Facts

Here's an edited down snippet from a Gallup white paper on the results of their strengths study:

Definitions of performance vary, but typically include indices such as productivity (revenue in business), profitability, employee retention, customer loyalty, and safety. Substantial predictive validities have been established between structured interview measures of manager "talents" and future manager performance (Schmidt & Rader, 1999). In a recent study of more than 2,000 managers in the Gallup database, Gallup researchers studied the responses of managers to open- ended questions related to management of individual talents versus weaknesses. In comparison to poor-performing managers, top-performing managers (based on composite performance) were more likely to indicate that they spend time with high producers, match talents to tasks, and emphasize individual strengths versus seniority in making personnel decisions. Success was 86 percent 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.

The ROI of Employee Engagement

The employees who say they "have the opportunity to do what they do best every day" have substantially higher performance. In a study of 308,798 employees in 51 companies, teams scoring above the median on this statement have 44 percent higher probability of success on customer loyalty and employee retention, and 38 percent higher probability of success on productivity measures (Harter & Schmidt, 2002). "Success" is defined as exceeding the median performance within one's own company, across work units. Managers who create environments in which employees have a chance to use their talents have more productive work units with less employee turnover.

The ROI of Strengths Development

Gallup researchers has performed studies of talent identification, feedback, and strengths development activities with a "study group" and a "control group" who were administered the "StrengthsFinder" assessment and given feedback, both individually and in group sessions, with follow-up. Post-intervention measurements of employee engagement in productivity were conducted six months later. Results indicated that the study group productivity grew by 50 percent more than the control group did.

Taken from

Other links:

Gallup's StrengthFinder Center:

Marcus Buckingham's site:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Most of Gallup's reserach is extremely outdated and Marcus is not even employed by them anymore. For real reserach on employee engagement and employee strenghts you should look at a company like Kenexa ( Below are some relevant facts about Gallup's employee engagement tool, the Q12:

•The Q12 items were selected approximately fifteen years ago. At that point in time, the sample from which the items were drawn was obviously missing items measuring many critical issues relevant to employee engagement. These critical issues were therefore not tested for inclusion.
•Since that original limited study, although the items have been heavily marketed, the twelve items have not been improved, changed, added to or deleted from. In fact, the wording of all twelve of the items remains virtually the same. This is true in spite of the fact that so much has been learned over the last fifteen years due to the extensive research that has been done linking a much wider variety of survey items to business outcomes and employee engagement.
•All of the Q12 research Gallup has conducted over the last fifteen years is “confirmatory” in nature and does not test for additional ways of improving their survey. In other words, Gallup has been heavily invested in marketing and “proving” the Q12, but never “improving” it. Recent research has revealed several critical omissions.
•Following are some of the issues that are commonly known to frequently be critical drivers of employee engagement that are omitted from the Q12:
Trust in leadership
Confidence in leadership
Team involvement
Certain other aspects of effective communication
General effectiveness of direct supervisor
Ethics and organizational integrity
•Following are some of the issues that are occasional drivers of employee engagement that are also omitted from the Q12
Work/life balance
Policies and procedures
Pay and benefits
•Organizations can differ greatly. Obviously, the factors that engage employees in a slow growth manufacturing environment can be vastly different from the drivers of engagement in a fast growth technology company. Issues differ from business unit to business unit within the same company and can change dramatically over time. One size does NOT fit all. The survey process should be flexible enough to take into account the important uniqueness of each organization.
•Based on both research and experience, several of the Q12 items are in need of updating and improvement. Following are some examples.
“I have a best friend at work.” This item is poorly worded and frequently becomes a distraction for many managers. First it has low “face” validity. It is not clear to all managers that employees who have best friends at work are more productive. Some even believe that it may be an indication of confused work related priorities. Second, even though best friends are certainly a strong influence, managers do not feel they can control or facilitate these relationships. It is not seen as a credible item because it is not “actionable” and it does not make intuitive sense. Even little things that undermine the credibility of the survey process can add to defensiveness and non-acceptance of the results. This item has created problems in a significant percentage of companies using the Q12.
“In the last seven days, I have received recognition for doing good work.” First, is seven days ALWAYS the most appropriate time period? Some situations need more frequent positive feedback. In other situations seven days is not long enough to justify any measurable success. Good survey items directly focus on the pertinent issue but are flexible enough to apply across a much wider range of relevant situations. Second, the item infers that every single person has actually earned recognition in the last seven days. When employees have a bad week, and we all do eventually, should they still receive recognition? Good recognition items measure appropriate frequency but are worded in such a way that the recognition is perceived to be the consequence of good work.
“My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.” First, “care about me” may be an appropriate phrase for care givers in a health care organization, but it does not resonate with certain other positions in the same setting. It is even less appropriate for a construction crew or within a profession like flight attendants that have only very limited and infrequent contact with their manager. Second it is unclear just what this item is measuring. Is it referring to managers and individuals in positions of authority or is it also referring to peers and subordinates? Different people have different interpretations.