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Workplace
The Management Practice That Makes a Difference
Workplace

The Management Practice That Makes a Difference

by Adam Hickman, Ph.D.

Story Highlights

  • The practice of management needs to change
  • Many managers focus on productivity rather than individual strengths
  • Strengths and coaching lead to improved business outcomes

Around 375 B.C., Plato quotes Socrates in The Republic as saying, "We are not all born alike. On the contrary, each of us differs somewhat in nature from the others, one being suited to one job, another to another."

That was about 2,400 years ago. A few things have changed since then. And a few things need to change more -- including the practice of management.

Managers have not been taught to approach their craft as though each worker "differs somewhat in nature from the others." They know it, of course, but behaving as though the rough edges of human differences don't exist or don't matter simplifies things. Delving into an employee's competitive streak, say, or another's need to know the "why" of everything, or another's paralyzing anxiety about change takes time and energy, and most managers don't seem to think they have it -- or are under the impression that they aren't paid for this. They're paid for productivity.

Managers have not been taught to approach their craft as though each worker "differs somewhat in nature from the others."

That's not a critique of managers. That's a critique of the modern practice of management, which is an artifact of the Industrial Revolution, updated postwar for white-collar work. And the Industrial Revolution didn't tell managers how to identify or develop humans according to their differences.

Don Clifton did.

CliftonStrengths: Revolutionizing Management

In the 1950s, when he was teaching at the University of Nebraska, Dr. Clifton recognized the giant gap between what Plato wrote and what managers do. But unlike anyone else in the two-millennia interim, Clifton found a way to put numbers to those human differences -- and subsequently analyze them, learn from them and apply them productively.

Then he released the CliftonStrengths assessment, which allowed the whole world to name and understand their own unique talents and work on developing them into strengths.

Some business experts recognized this as a peripeteia moment in management because the application of the science of human difference -- the taxonomy of "what you're good at" -- allowed leaders to identify each person's ability to perform at excellence. Those who work in their areas of greatest strengths deliver extraordinary performance.

Indeed, they can accomplish things that look a lot like workplace miracles.

Individuals who are coached to use their strengths are:

  • 6x as likely to be engaged in their jobs
  • 6x as likely to strongly agree that they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day
  • 3x as likely to report having an excellent quality of life

Teams that are coached to use their strengths achieve up to 29% higher profits, 19% higher sales, 59% fewer safety incidents, and 72% lower turnover at high-turnover organizations.

"We will have to learn, first, who we are."

Again, it must be said, talented managers have never been utterly ignorant of human strengths. But it wasn't until the release of Clifton's science -- to be precise, the CliftonStrengths assessment, analytics and advice -- that managers could use those differences productively.

Teams that are coached to use their strengths achieve up to 29% higher profits, 19% higher sales, 59% fewer safety incidents, and 72% lower turnover at high-turnover organizations.

True, one could argue that managing styles that are guided by objectives, goal setting, and Lean are all practical and scientific, but they don't necessarily optimize human potential. They're not based on strengths, which makes them less efficient and less effective. And they miss the art and craft of managing: The art of coaching people to successfully accomplish objectives so that employees can live their purpose, and the craft of individualizing to an employee -- the know-how to apply each person's unique strand of talents to their job.

This can't continue. The practice of management has to change from a relic of the Industrial Revolution to coaching that fuels the contemporary employee's need to learn and grow.

Human development is the mechanism of business performance. Strengths are the key. Coaching brings them together.

Yet, since the Industrial Revolution, managing to individual strengths is not what managers have been directed to do. They've been taught to supervise, administrate, tally up and bring the hammer down -- none of which inspires greatness. Plato knew better 2,400 years ago. Dr. Clifton explained better 70 years ago. And managers can do better now. They can coach.

Learn how:

  • Explore Gallup's course offerings for managers and leaders (including virtual options).
  • Read our bestselling compilation of research and advice on the practice of management needed for today's workplace -- It's the Manager.
  • Give your team the opportunity to discover what they do best and improve team performance.

Author(s)

Adam Hickman, Ph.D., is Content Manager at Gallup.

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.


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