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Business Journal
German Managers Not Strengths-Focused
Business Journal

German Managers Not Strengths-Focused

by Marco Nink

Story Highlights

  • 1 in 5 German employees had strengths discussion with manager
  • Strengths are the foundation of high performance
  • Goal-setting and achievement is a key priority for managers

Helping employees to set and achieve goals is a crucial responsibility for managers. But to encourage excellence, it's important for managers to do more than hand their workers a job description or a list of tasks to be accomplished. To empower employees to take initiative and inspire high performance, the best managers focus on their employees' strengths, not on their weaknesses.

The reality for many German workers is much different, though, as Gallup research shows. Only four in 10 German employees strongly agree that "My manager focuses on my strengths or positive characteristics" (37%). And only one in five strongly agree that they had a meaningful discussion about their strengths with their manager in the past three months (21%).

Research among managers reinforces this point. When managers in Germany were asked, "Which of the following statements best describes your leadership style?", only 33% said they focused on the strengths or positive characteristics of their staff.

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Connecting Strengths to Engagement

Each person possesses talents or the innate capacity for excellence. By refining talents with skills and knowledge, they can become strengths -- or the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance. Strengths are the foundation of high performance.

Using a strengths-based approach to promote performance excellence is particularly important because of its connection with employee engagement, which plays a key role in helping companies grow. Engagement is linked to business outcomes, including improved productivity, profitability and customer ratings. It provides a clear picture of a company's work environment and each manager's success in meeting employee needs, including the need to learn, grow and develop.

When employees in Germany strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths, 36% are engaged, while just 4% are actively disengaged, Gallup research shows. Among employees who don't agree that their manager focuses on their strengths, only 2% are engaged, while 38% are actively disengaged.

Inspiring Excellent Performance Through Strengths

Most employees only discover their strengths during their working life through a process of trial and error. But managers can speed up this process by helping their team members become more aware of their talents and coaching them on how to apply those talents to achieve performance excellence at work.

One way is to watch for recurring patterns in team members' behaviors or by looking for moments of what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow" -- or the pleasure that arises when people feel like they are using their talents and performing at excellence -- when managers and employees are working together to solve problems or deliver on customer needs. Another is to use an assessment, such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder, to aid employees in identifying their talents and give managers and employees a common language to use to discuss them.

Most importantly, managers can invest time in getting to know their employees: What motivates them? What kind of tasks do they enjoy the most? What tasks do they learn very quickly? By asking employees these types of questions, managers can learn more about what motivates employees to perform at excellence.

Using a strengths-based approach doesn't mean that employees should ignore their weaknesses -- or that their managers should ignore them. Workers who are aware of what they do well and who acknowledge their own limitations can manage these limitations more effectively. They can also balance their weaknesses by collaborating effectively with their colleagues.

Using a strengths-based approach frees employees to take initiative, encouraging them to achieve their goals by implementing their own ideas. It's a widespread myth in sales, for example, that there is only one right way to sell successfully. Gallup experience shows that the best salespeople don't copy someone else's method, but instead find their own way by building on their strengths. One salesperson may stand out through her expertise, while another one excels through his empathy. What is important is that both salespeople use their strengths to meet their customers' needs.

Benefits of a Strengths-Based Approach

Helping employees to set and achieve goals is a manager's key responsibility, Gallup research shows. To inspire high performance, managers need to set clear expectations, hold employees accountable for meeting them and respond quickly when employees need support.

After managers and employees agree on those goals, managers should give employees the freedom to find their best way forward by using their strengths. Encouraging employees to use their talents to the fullest will help them become more successful. But meaningful conversations between managers and employees about the strengths of an employee is not the norm for the majority of German workers.

If managers give their team members positive reinforcement for their successes, employees will achieve more, become more engaged and will welcome the opportunity to take on more tasks that allow them to apply their talents. This positive reinforcement not only helps employees become more aware of their potential, it creates a positive feedback loop that leads to further success -- and increased performance excellence.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 4-Dec. 3, 2014, with a random sample of 1,000 employed adults. All respondents were living in Germany and selected using random-digit-dial sampling. Interviews were conducted with respondents on landline and cellular phones. Samples are weighted by gender, age, education, region, profession (job type and role), employment status (full time and part time) and adults in the household. Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recently published data from the German Statistics Office.

Marco Nink is a Senior Practice Expert at Gallup.

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