Build­ing a Strength-based Cul­ture

Trillions - - In this Issue - By Dr. Chance T. Ea­ton

“Oh my God this is bor­ing.” I was 100 miles into a trip haul­ing feeder cat­tle to the Mid­west. The scenery was fine, but I just couldn’t sit be­hind a wheel for such long pe­ri­ods of time when it felt like there was so much more to life. My truck­ing part­ner Nate dis­agreed. One night while we were driv­ing, he got on the ra­dio and asked me, “What was that word you once used for when you feel in flow, like you are re­ally in it?” I said, “Not sure – was it ‘eu­phoric’?”

“Yes, that’s it – eu­phoric,” Nate said. “I feel eu­phoric driv­ing a truck late at night, no one else on the road, a tall Moun­tain Dew and coun­try mu­sic.”

I thought, “This guy is crazy. Who could pos­si­bly feel eu­phoric do­ing this crappy job?” I didn’t know why one per­son could love some­thing that I ab­so­lutely de­spised; nor did I have any ed­u­ca­tion or skills to pon­der the ques­tion. The only back­ground and ed­u­ca­tion I had was busi­ness school and the farm/ranch for work ex­pe­ri­ence. And I knew my role at that time was to be a good truck driver, mov­ing feeder cat­tle from the north­ern plains to Mid­west feed­lots and adding eco­nomic value to our com­pany by do­ing my job.

It is al­most amus­ing to look back at that time know­ing what I know now. The rea­son he was eu­phoric and I was not is sim­ple: Nate was play­ing to his strengths, and I was not. He liked the rou­tine, struc­ture, or­der and pre­dictabil­ity – the con­sis­tency. Nate looked for­ward to driv­ing the truck; when he was driv­ing, he felt con­fi­dent and in flow, and when he re­turned af­ter a long trip, he felt re­ju­ve­nated. I, on the other hand, was distressed just think­ing about an­other long haul. Driv­ing it took tremen­dous ef­fort, and when I re­turned, I felt ex­hausted and weak.

A strength is any ac­tiv­ity that makes you feel stronger: You get ex­cited as you an­tic­i­pate the ac­tiv­ity; you feel con­fi­dent and in flow while do­ing it, as if time passes by quickly; and when the ac­tiv­ity is com­plete, you feel re­ju­ve­nated and strong. A weak­ness is any ac­tiv­ity that makes you feel weaker: You feel dis­tress as you ap­proach the ac­tiv­ity, it takes tremen­dous ef­fort to ac­com­plish the task, time feels as if it’s stand­ing still and upon com­ple­tion you are ex­hausted and weak.

The most ef­fec­tive peo­ple on this planet, through­out time, en­gage in self-aware­ness to un­cover how they are fun­da­men­tally built. They be­come re­flec­tive and take no­tice of what makes them feel strong – be it

im­ple­ment­ing so­lu­tions, or­ga­niz­ing data, sell­ing ideas, per­form­ing, lead­ing, solv­ing prob­lems, in­ves­ti­gat­ing, serv­ing peo­ple, build­ing, us­ing their imag­i­na­tion, etc. They take the time to know where they are wickedly tal­ented and where they find the most joy. The most ef­fec­tive peo­ple don’t stop there; they con­tinue to in­vest in their tal­ents with ad­di­tional knowl­edge and skills. When you play to your strengths, you un­leash en­ergy, fo­cus, con­fi­dence and com­mit­ment. The greats all know where they are strong and how to con­tinue grow­ing and in­vest­ing in their strengths, and they have fun do­ing it.

In the work­place, we know that in­cor­po­rat­ing your strengths has enor­mous pos­i­tive out­comes. For ex­am­ple, when em­ploy­ees have the op­por­tu­nity to do their best at work as a re­sult of play­ing to their strengths, they are six times as likely to be en­gaged at work and three times as likely to be en­gaged in life in gen­eral (Gallup, 2012). The Hu­man Cap­i­tal In­sti­tute (2016) re­ported that when or­ga­ni­za­tions em­pha­size strengths, there is a 38% higher prob­a­bil­ity of suc­cess on pro­duc­tiv­ity mea­sures and a 44% higher prob­a­bil­ity of suc­cess on cus­tomer loy­alty and em­ployee re­ten­tion.

Fur­ther re­search on teams fo­cus­ing on strength­based de­vel­op­ment from Gallup (2012) has shown the fol­low­ing:

• Teams that fo­cus on strengths ev­ery day have 12.5% greater pro­duc­tiv­ity.

• Teams that re­ceive feed­back spe­cific to their strengths have 8.9% greater prof­itabil­ity.

• Turnover rates are 24.9% lower for em­ploy­ees who re­ceive strengths feed­back than for those who do not.

• When man­agers take an ac­tive role in fo­cus­ing on their team mem­bers’ strengths, there is only a 1% chance that they are ac­tively dis­en­gaged at work.

What is dis­ap­point­ing is that com­pa­nies rarely play to their team mem­bers’ strengths. They en­cour­age their teams to work on their weak­nesses and be­come well-rounded. Only four in 10 em­ploy­ees ac­tu­ally use their strengths at work (Gallup, 2017). If the ra­tio were to move to eight in 10, or­ga­ni­za­tions would see an 8% in­crease in cus­tomer en­gage­ment, a 14% in­crease in prof­itabil­ity and a 46% re­duc­tion in safety in­ci­dents. At some level, it makes sense that com­pa­nies don’t in­cor­po­rate a strength-based phi­los­o­phy; com­pa­nies don’t ex­ist to build their em­ploy­ees – they ex­ist to ful­fill their mis­sion and, ul­ti­mately, to max­i­mize stake- holder value. To be suc­cess­ful in a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket, com­pa­nies place great at­ten­tion on mea­sur­ing per­for­mance by as­sess­ing job du­ties and com­pe­ten­cies. Fur­ther, man­agers place their fo­cus on ex­pos­ing and fix­ing em­ployee weak­nesses as an in­ter­ven­tion to im­prove job-per­for­mance rat­ings.

The rea­son why com­pa­nies and man­agers are fix­ated on fix­ing weak­nesses is that we are still oper­at­ing from the in­dus­trial par­a­digm. In the in­dus­trial par­a­digm, ev­ery per­son plays a small role in creat­ing a fin­ished prod­uct. Ur­gency, thor­ough­ness, speed and qual­ity are highly val­ued, and peo­ple are just an­other cog in the wheel to ac­com­plish the task. Peo­ple are lit­er­ally looked at as things, as­sets, cap­i­tal and re­sources. This is the very rea­son why we are still fix­ated on im­prov­ing our weak­nesses in or­der to cre­ate greater ef­fi­cien­cies. By do­ing so, we’ll fill in the gaps of pro­duc­tiv­ity and be­come more con­sis­tent – hence the well-oiled ma­chine. As we move into the knowl­edge era, we are start­ing to see that hu­mans can’t be seen as a sheer re­source; they are com­plex be­ings, each with unique tal­ents wait­ing to be un­leashed.

Fix­ing their weak­nesses will get an em­ployee’s per­for­mance only so far. Au­thor Mar­cus Buck­ing­ham (2008) shares a story about Shaquille O’neal’s ex­pe­ri­ence with the LA Lak­ers. Shaq was renowned for his poor free throw shoot­ing per­cent­age with the Or­lando Magic. He spent a lot of en­ergy and time work­ing to im­prove this part of his game. When he moved to the LA Lak­ers, his new coach, Phil Jack­son, told Shaq that he could spend a lit­tle time prac­tic­ing free throws but should fo­cus most of his time and en­ergy work­ing on his in­side game. Shaq replied that he was one of the best cen­ters in the NBA and could be even bet­ter if he could im­prove his free throw per­cent­age. Phil agreed that he was one of the best cen­ters in the NBA but said that if he fo­cused on and im­proved his strength of be­ing a big in­side player, he could be one of the best cen­ters of all time. Play­ing to your weak­nesses will only get you so far; the big­gest re­turn on in­vest­ment will al­ways come from play­ing to your strengths.

I think a lot of man­agers are flat out scared of hav­ing to deal with hu­man com­plex­ity and truly lead­ing peo­ple. The hu­man be­ing is so mul­ti­fac­eted, whirling with unique mo­ti­va­tions, tal­ents, past trau­mas and sub­jec­tive val­ues and be­liefs. It is much eas­ier to treat peo­ple all the same (like cogs in a wheel), mea­sure for per­for­mance and place fo­cus on im­prov­ing weak­nesses. Man­ag­ing for ef­fi­ciency is a much eas­ier gig than lead­ing for ef­fec­tive­ness. If man­agers con­tinue to stay stuck in the in­dus­trial par­a­digm by man­ag­ing for ef­fi­ciency and fo­cus­ing only on weak­nesses, they will get left be­hind.

The next-gen­er­a­tion com­pa­nies are tak­ing note of the grow­ing knowl­edge econ­omy, lis­ten­ing to the needs of the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion and re­ceiv­ing qual­ity lead­er­ship ed­u­ca­tion. They are open­ing up to the fact that hu­mans are not a re­source, not an as­set – they are not a thing. They are see­ing the sheer com­plex­ity of the hu­man be­ing and look­ing to un­leash the un­tapped po­ten­tial that ev­ery em­ployee pos­sesses. They see that when you help em­ploy­ees un­der­stand their unique strengths, en­sure that they are in the right job and then pro­vide them with the knowl­edge and skills to fully ex­press their tal­ents, they un­leash en­ergy, con­fi­dence, own­er­ship, mo­ti­va­tion, en­gage­ment and to­tal bril­liance.

As it turns out, my strengths don’t in­volve the need for con­sis­tency, un­like those of my truck­ing part­ner Nate. My strengths in­clude learn­ing, help­ing peo­ple de­velop and think­ing strate­gi­cally. I also know that the com­pa­nies I work for may not know how to use strength-based strate­gies, so it is ul­ti­mately up to me to in­cor­po­rate my strengths into my day-to-day liv­ing. Specif­i­cally, each week I in­ten­tion­ally set two Strong Week Goals. I look for ac­tiv­i­ties at work where I will ex­press my needs for learn­ing, help­ing peo­ple de­velop and think­ing strate­gi­cally. This keeps my juices flow­ing and makes me more con­fi­dent, self-ef­fi­ca­cious, hope­ful, op­ti­mistic and re­silient. I an­chor to what makes me great, and I press the gas. I do this – and so can you.

My ad­vice for you is to take the time to iden­tify what makes you great. An easy way to get this ball rolling is to take mul­ti­ple per­son­al­ity as­sess­ments. You will be­gin to see a tapestry of how you are built and what mo­ti­vates you. The Clifton Strengths­finder in par­tic­u­lar is my first rec­om­mended as­sess­ment. The first step is to get very clear about your strengths and to start in­vest­ing in the knowl­edge and skills to cre­ate a com­pound­ing per­for­mance ef­fect. Sec­ond, set goals each week around your strengths, as this will keep you lean­ing for­ward with con­ta­gious hope and op­ti­mism. This helps re­mind you of where you are tal­ented and builds mo­ti­va­tion and mo­men­tum for up­com­ing sit­u­a­tions and op­por­tu­ni­ties. Third, if you are in a man­age­ment role, be the leader that your em­ploy­ees de­serve. Help them to iden­tify their strengths, and build teams that are di­verse but sat­u­rated with in­di­vid­u­als play­ing to their strengths. The in­dus­trial par­a­digm is dy­ing, so be­come a next-gen­er­a­tion com­pany by build­ing a strength-based cul­ture.


Buck­ing­ham, M. (2008). The Truth About You: Your Se­cret to Suc­cess. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nel­son, Inc.

Gallup (2017). State of the Amer­i­can Work­place. Re­trieved from­ports/199961/state-amer­i­can- work­place-re­port-2017.aspx

Har­alalka, A., and Leong, C.T. (April 3, 2012). Why Strengths Mat­ter in Train­ing. Gallup Busi­ness Jour­nal. Re­trieved from­nessjour­nal/153341/why-strengths-mat­ter-train­ing.aspx

Hu­man Cap­i­tal In­sti­tute (2016). Per­for­mance Man­age­ment In­no­va­tion: Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Guide.

Dr. Chance Ea­ton has over a decade’s worth of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the field of Learn­ing & Or­ga­ni­za­tional De­vel­op­ment. Due to his unique ed­u­ca­tional and work ex­pe­ri­ences in fi­nance, psy­chol­ogy, lead­er­ship & man­age­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, noetic sciences, and agri­cul­ture, Dr. Ea­ton pro­vides his clients with rel­e­vant busi­ness so­lu­tions grounded in theory and re­search. To learn more about Dr. Ea­ton’s ser­vices, please visit www.hrso­lu­tion­sin­ter­na­

Im­age by Clau­dia Dea

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