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The Secret Weapon to Enhance Your Culture

The Secret Weapon to Enhance Your Culture

by Louis Efron

Story Highlights

  • A strengths-based culture is a crucial attraction and retention strategy
  • Strengths improve employee engagement and position employees to excel
  • With three steps, you can leverage strengths for better business outcomes

When I left a career in the arts to join corporate America, I assumed I would be leaving behind a world where what someone did best mattered most. In theatre, a remarkable product could be produced by a team of artists playing to their strengths rather than their experience. While I knew that experience still mattered, I quickly discovered that strengths trumped experience when it came to winning in the corporate world, too. The only difference on the corporate stage was that some businesses strategically used scientific tools to assess and leverage strengths to enhance their culture and business outcomes.

From my first employer to my last before joining Gallup, it was clear that what I did best -- my strengths -- mattered, not only for my jobs but also for the teams I was joining, the organizations' culture, its strategy and its business objectives.

No matter where I worked and lived in the U.S., Europe, Africa or Asia, the science of strengths mattered to business growth and success. Thriving organizations such as Accenture, Southwest Airlines, Stryker and other 2023 Don Clifton Strengths-Based Culture Award winners continue to prove this fact.

The secret weapon to building a winning culture and business: An unwavering commitment to playing to people's strengths. Winning companies have a clearly defined culture and expertly align individual and collective associate strengths to bring it to life, maintaining its unique competitive advantage in the marketplace.


From my experience, a three-stage approach is needed to enhance culture with strengths:

  1. DEFINE your culture.
  2. ALIGN the strengths of your people to the work they do.
  3. DRIVE an understanding of strengths among managers and team members.

DEFINE: What Cultural Tenets Are You Trying to Enhance?

A strengths-based culture is one where strengths enhance cultural tenets, not define them. Such a culture prescribes that managers and leaders focus on developing each employee’s potential and the teams they are part of (what they naturally do best) rather than trying to turn weaknesses into strengths (which cannot be done). It is an environment where strengths-driven development is leveraged to deliver on everything that forms it culture -- its purpose, vision, mission and values.

As only two in 10 employees feel connected to their company culture, enhancing cultural tenets with strengths is a crucial talent attraction and retention strategy in line with fulfilling an organization’s mission and purpose. However, introducing strengths without understanding the cultural dynamics that leaders are trying to accelerate is like trying to make a race car go faster without knowing what makes it move.

Knowing and understanding your organization's culture is foundational to steering individual and team strengths in the right direction. It is the first step to building a high-performing, strengths-based culture. To begin, a cultural diagnostic that involves an organizational artifact review (employee engagement or pulse survey results or other workplace data), stakeholder interviews, focus groups, and a current- and future-state analysis is recommended.

A strengths-based culture is key to maximizing organizational results and ensuring consistency across teams.

In organizations where employees receive strengths-based development, leaders see 23% higher employee engagement, 19% higher sales, 29% increased profits, 59% fewer safety incidents, and 72% lower attrition (in high-turnover organizations).

ALIGN: Are Employees Doing What They Do Best Every Day?

Considering 49% of employees say they are either watching for new job openings or actively seeking a new job, ensuring that employees and teams are positioned to win every day is critical.

In the sports world, the biggest trophies and most elite titles are won by people and teams playing to their strengths. A football team can go far with the right gear, a good coach and hard work. That team may be passionate about the sport and enjoy it, even excel at it with effort. But if its team members are not naturally gifted at throwing, running, pivoting, catching or executing on strategy, it will likely never win a Super Bowl. Team members’ natural talents for the sport and for each position, together with the right equipment, a great coach, and a lot of practice and hard work, are required to bring home the trophy.

This same principle applies to achieving success in the workplace. For example, a top sales team needs to be committed to long hours of customer outreach and follow-up. Its members need effective sales and product training, the support of an encouraging and growth-minded manager, reliable internet, cell service, phones, computers, transportation, and an excellent product to sell -- but they also need a natural ability to build and grow relationships, establish trust, and close deals.

Winning at work also has a direct impact on employee engagement and retention. Companies that invest in helping employees discover their strengths typically benefit from a 7% to 23% increase in employee engagement, depending on how heavily they invest in teaching each individual to apply their strengths at work. If individuals and teams don’t know what they do best, steps cannot be taken to use strengths to become world-class.

DRIVE: Are Managers and Coworkers Leveraging the Strengths of Others to Deliver Results?

When managers and coworkers know and understand the strengths of each person on the team, it allows for placing team members in the right roles and assigning work in line with what everyone does best.

The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC), a global leader in prestige beauty and a 2022 Don Clifton Strengths-Based Culture Award Winner, puts the strengths of leaders, managers and employees at the forefront of everything they do. As a result, ELC has seen significant business growth over its 75-year history.

If individuals and teams don’t know what they do best, steps cannot be taken to use strengths to become world-class.

ELC fuels the performance of its diverse portfolio of 25+ brands sold in approximately 150 countries and territories by helping employees focus on what they do best, maximizing potential within teams, and integrating strengths-based development into its mission, vision and values. The organization’s focus on what is right with people has been the foundation of its success.

Championed by President and CEO Fabrizio Freda and Executive Chairman William P. Lauder and cascaded down through the organization to departments, teams and individuals, there is a clear expectation of empowering everyone at ELC to lean into their strengths in meaningful ways to maximize wellbeing and strategic value. These efforts, frameworks and philosophies have led to a common language and a deeper understanding of how a strengths-based approach can unlock hidden potential and achieve enterprise goals and objectives across the organization.

Strengths in Action

Ensuring managers and coworkers know and understand the strengths of everyone on their team requires understanding, discussion and sharing.

Understanding starts with taking the CliftonStrengths assessment and receiving one-on-one coaching to identify a person’s top strengths and learn how they work together to help that individual succeed in their role.

Discussing the team’s collective strengths and how to best utilize them in a group dynamic helps focus the team and work to effectively achieve shared objectives.

Finally, ongoing sharing among team members about how their strengths play out in their work and in their personal life provides a meaningful way for others to know, appreciate and normalize discussing what makes their coworkers unique and successful. Knowing others more deeply fosters enhanced trust and more productive, lasting relationships.

To reinforce a strengths-based culture, encourage managers to display team members’ strengths -- on desk plaques, office doors, integrated video backgrounds (e.g., Zoom, Teams, Warmly), office display screens, presentations, posters, email signature lines or screensavers. Company-coordinated “lunch and learns” (in person or virtual) to share and discuss strengths are also a great way to get and keep the strengths conversation going.

Identifying internal strengths champions and coaches is also essential to sustaining strengths initiatives. These dedicated advocates help communicate and enforce the “why” behind strengths, serve as crucial influencers and educators, and help increase awareness and participation within the organization.

Lastly, to be a catalyst for cultural development, strengths efforts must be part of the organization’s DNA when it comes to recognition, performance management, and training and development.

When a company clearly defines its culture, aligns the strengths of its people to the work they do, and helps managers and team members understand how a strengths-based culture can point the organization toward its desired future state, it can significantly accelerate business performance. However, even among companies where nearly half of HR leaders say they are committed to building the strengths of each employee, only 29% of employees agree it is happening. Implementing all three stages of building a strengths-based culture is key to maximizing organizational results and ensuring consistency across teams. Developing strengths in isolation or in organizational pockets does not connect the dots for employees questioning strengths' value or root their importance in enhanced business outcomes.

To be a catalyst for cultural development, strengths efforts must be part of the organization’s DNA when it comes to recognition, performance management, and training and development.

To begin your journey toward a strengths-based culture, start by asking the following questions:

  • What cultural tenets am I trying to enhance?
  • Do I know what my employees do best? If so, are my employees doing work aligned with their strengths?
  • Are my workgroups using their collective strengths to enhance our culture and deliver business results?

Put strengths into action for your organization.


Louis Efron is a Principal at Gallup.

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