Is the use of strengths at work as powerful as many people think?

Is the use of strengths at work as powerful as many people think?

Organisational Success Podcast

Is the use of strengths at work as powerful as we might think? What are the factors that matter?

Keywords: Character, signature strengths, well-being, organisational behaviour, trait affect, job satisfaction, job strain



Does focussing on individuals strengths at work, work? A new wide ranging study looking whether using strengths to task and develop people at work shows that in some cases focussing on strengths is a good idea and in others not so. But when does using an individuals strengths actually make sense and when is it likely to do more harm than good? A new study has looked at this issue.

Personal qualities

Many organisations today recognise the benefits of leveraging the positive qualities of employees, as well as minimising any problematic areas. Research in the field of positive organisational scholarship suggests this approach is well placed, with positive outcomes being seen from the development of employees’ strengths, maximising positive emotional states, and encouraging flourishing. In particular, the use of signature strengths at work has been associated with a variety of positive outcomes over the long term.

Character Strengths

Character strengths can be defined as individual differences in universally recognised and valued positive traits, that are reflected in particular ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. Whilst there is ongoing debate over the number of character strengths, research conducted in 2004 identified 24 universally valued strengths clustered under six higher-level virtues . There is evidence that these 24 strengths apply across cultures.

The Values in Action Inventory of Strengths has hitherto been used to assess individual strengths.

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In this episode Sarah Smith and David Wilkinson discuss this new research about the use of signature strengths in work contexts…

Sarah:                           00:00                So, this particular paper was looking at strengths and the use of strengths in organizational contexts.

David:                           00:09                Personal strengths, so an individual’s-

Sarah:                           00:10                Yes. So, the type of character strengths that an individual might bring.

David:                           00:14                Okay.

Sarah:                           00:15                It’s interesting just even that question really in some senses, because the term is used a lot, isn’t it? I think people go and say, “What are your strengths?” There’s a lot of work now looking at how to redivide those up and categorize them, and do there seem to be a set of strengths that actually replicate across people, across cultures, etc. So, how do we divide some of these things up and thinking about perhaps particularly character strengths. That’s what this particular study was looking at. So, one of the most widely used assessment tools around strengths. There are a variety. There are about four or five different ones that are very widely used. But this particular one is called the VIA assessment, which is the values in action.

David:                           00:59                Right.

Sarah:                           00:59                One of the ways in which they talk about strengths is that strengths are the mechanism, if you like, the means by which we bring our values into action in our lives. They’re often associated or clustered under virtues or character capabilities, [sochas 00:01:18], wisdom, for example, or humanity.

David:                           01:22                So, they’re the kinds of things that you talk about when you talk about character strengths?

Sarah:                           01:25                Yes, yes.

David:                           01:27                Okay, got you. Right.

Sarah:                           01:28                Yeah.

David:                           01:29                Yes.

Sarah:                           01:29                Yeah. That’s what this particular study was looking at those, those types of strengths. In fact, they used the values in action, the VIA assessment tool as part of this, which they’ve identified as the original work that was done by Margin Seligman and Christopher Peterson.

David:                           01:45                Oh, yes.

Sarah:                           01:45                They did a really big piece of work looking at what were the different strengths that are valued in globally. If you look across different cultures and to different societies, what commonly crops up as being the types of strengths that are valued within each of the different cultures.

David:                           02:06                Okay, yes.

Sarah:                           02:06                From that work, they identified 24 main ones, different models, advocate slightly different numbers, and there are slightly different versions of it, but the one they were looking at in this particular assessment were the VIA assessment ones, so these 24 different categories. There’s been a lot of work in this. There’s a big topic in positive psychology, and particularly positive organizational scholarship.

David:                           02:34                All your stuff.

Sarah:                           02:34                So, looking at the use of strengths, yes, in organizational contexts. One of the things this study was interested in, so there’s been a lot … because there’s a lot of very compelling evidence now which suggests that creating opportunities for people to be able to use their strengths, and when people do apply and regularly use their strengths, they achieve very positive outcomes, often increases, things like levels of engagement, it increases life satisfaction, energy levels.

David:                           03:07                Job satisfaction I would say, yes.

Sarah:                           03:08                Yes, in the fields of kind of positive therapy. There’s now a branch that’s looking at using strengths [inaudible 00:03:15] to help with certain mental health issues. So, there’s a whole load of work and a whole load of really great positive outcomes that have come from it.

David:                           03:22                That makes sense, doesn’t it? Because it’s what that saying is that the works align with your values, really.

Sarah:                           03:28                Yes, yes, and that you add value.

David:                           03:34                Yes.

Sarah:                           03:34                So, it recognizes that you are adding value through the strengths that you bring that are kind of core to who you are as a person.

David:                           03:42                Of course.

Sarah:                           03:42                So, there’s that overlap, that match. It aligns with your values, and you are adding value to the organization through that. So, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship or dynamic that you find yourself in.

David:                           03:54                Yes. Now, in fact, that was something I was reading about last week actually, is about this sense of contribution and the effect that that has psychologically on our wellbeing.

Sarah:                           04:05                Yes.

David:                           04:05                That is one of the primary wellbeing indicators, when we get a sense that we’re actually contributing to something, we’re much healthier, much happier, and we tend to achieve more, which is interesting, because I haven’t really thought about that side of things at all.

Sarah:                           04:21                Yes. Yeah. It fuels a whole … when you look at self determination theory and this idea of what be some of the kind of basic needs or drives that we have as individuals, so this need to connect with others, the need to build some kind of mastery, to have some autonomy over our lives, that when you layer strengths use as a mechanism by which people can build mastery, contribute and build relationships with others and have some autonomy in their own life, and shaping that idea of determining their own pathway has enormously positive ripple effects.

David:                           05:06                Actually, yes. Yeah. That whole idea, I’m fascinated by this whole idea of contribution and the opposite of that, when we almost feel like if you’re not really contributing anything, what an impact that must have.

Sarah:                           05:20                Yeah.

David:                           05:20                I’m not sure I want to dwell on that for very long. It doesn’t feel very nice, does it?

Sarah:                           05:23                No.

David:                           05:24                Wow.

Sarah:                           05:25                No.

David:                           05:25                Yeah, that’s quite powerful.

Sarah:                           05:26                Yeah. Yeah, it makes a big difference, doesn’t it?

David:                           05:29                Yes.

Sarah:                           05:31                A struggle for organizations, I think, as they grow, and it becomes harder and harder sometimes for the organization to help or facilitate an individual’s contribution with a connection to contributing to the overall mission of the organization.

David:                           05:56                Yes. It’s a bit like that … I don’t know whether you know this very old [inaudible 00:06:03] story about the team working in NASA.

Sarah:                           06:04                Oh, yes. Yes, yes. Yes.

David:                           06:06                Some visitor said, “What do you do?” She said, “I help launch rockets.”

Sarah:                           06:10                Yeah, “I help put people on the moon.”

David:                           06:11                “I put people on the moon.”

Sarah:                           06:11                Yes, yes, yes. The versions of both.

David:                           06:12                Which is a real sense of kind of a-

Sarah:                           06:14                But some people it’s interesting, isn’t it, because I do think some people seem to make that connection for themselves easier.

David:                           06:23                Yes.

Sarah:                           06:23                I think for some people, it’s harder to make that connection. Organizations sometimes, the roles people are in are so removed from actually the customer, if you like, or the output or the impact that the organization is having. You have to work hard to kind of see that.

David:                           06:44                There’s kind of two levels to this, aren’t there? There’s the level that I, as an individual, or the individual, they contribute to the organization.

Sarah:                           06:54                Yeah.

David:                           06:54                Then the other level is how the organization contributes to society and the planet and all of that.

Sarah:                           06:59                Yes. So, levels of … and this is very interesting from some of the work looking at meaning and the role of … so, it think contribution and meaning are often tightly interconnected. We get a sense of meaning and purpose in the way in which we contribute, but that there are levels of that. So, the kind of sense of contribution and meaning we get from making one person’s day a bit better. You know? That kind of conversation you have with somebody.

David:                           07:33                There’s a whole philosophy around that, isn’t there?

Sarah:                           07:34                Sat next to a colleague, yes. Actually you helped them through a particular situation, and that you really contributed in that way, in that sort of in the moment type of meaning from connecting with others.

David:                           07:48                Yes. Go out and make somebody else’s day.

Sarah:                           07:50                Yes.

David:                           07:50                It’ll make your day.

Sarah:                           07:51                Yes, yes. It’s reciprocal, this kind of positive ripple effect back on us, through to high levels of meaning, through to actually I, at a spiritual level, or I’m contributing to something that is bigger than me, my organization. I’m contributing to something which is a positive future, or shaping and contributing towards humanity, let’s say, in 50 years from now, or the planet, or something that transcends self interest, that kind of thing.

David:                           08:32                Yeah. I’ve seen quite a lot of studies actually around this, around the level of the contribution of the organization that they’re doing, and the alignment of that with that individual’s values, and how it brings about things like organizational citizenship behaviors, engagement, intention to leave or not leave. There’s a whole series of factors here that we really buy into because of the contribution that the organization is making, the feeling that you’re actually doing something.

Sarah:                           09:05                Yep, yep.

David:                           09:09                Yeah. Again, the way my head works is I start then thinking about people who must be working in organizations, I suppose, that are kind of scamming people.

Sarah:                           09:23                Yes, yes.

David:                           09:25                What have you got to cut off inside yourself to be able to do that? To know that that’s what your organization is doing, or the company you’re working for, or the gorup that you’re working for? Anyway, drag it off down the hall, through the-

Sarah:                           09:41                Yes, often, but it is interesting from a couple of different levels. I think one of the things people do is they transfer their meaning then to other parts of their life. So, the work becomes something which is an enabler of supporting their family. Often people can be doing really quite remarkable contributions to society, or in a different area that’s not necessarily aligned or in their workplace environments.

David:                           10:08                Can I just cut that off and compete in a different area?

Sarah:                           10:08                Yeah. Yes, yeah.

David:                           10:15                Okay. No, that makes sense.

Sarah:                           10:17                But I think it’s becoming a more urgent conversation in organizations and in businesses to think about the whole discussion around corporate social responsibility and starting to question some of those things. The evidence is suggesting that creating environments and workplaces where there is that sort of positive contribution actually leads to things like increased citizenship behaviors. So, there’s a compelling reason for doing it for business reasons as well, not just-

David:                           10:52                Yeah, and it makes a difference. This whole tax thing about not evading tax because this is lawful, but actually there’s this moral sense of, “Hang on a minute. You’re making a profit from this community. The taxes are meant to help the community.” Not paying those taxes, it ethically is irresponsible. So, we’re getting more of that thinking coming in, particularly around corporate social responsibility that there’s sense of place within society and that they’re meant to be contributing, at least at that level.

Sarah:                           11:25                Yes.

David:                           11:26                When they don’t contribute at that level and they just take, then it’s kind of justifiable anger, even though it’s not codified in the law.

Sarah:                           11:34                No.

David:                           11:34                It’s not breaking the law, as such.

Sarah:                           11:36                No, but it-

David:                           11:36                It socially is.

Sarah:                           11:38                Yes.

David:                           11:39                It’s non contributory.

Sarah:                           11:40                No, exactly, which is where you’re sucked into some of the stuff around ethics versus morals. Yes, yeah.

David:                           11:48                Yeah.

Sarah:                           11:49                So, this particular study was looking at character strengths. They were looking at these 24 particular ones that are described in the VIA model. But what they were flagging was that a lot of the research that’s been done is looking at, “So, what happens when people use their strengths? What positive benefits are they for them as individual?” There’s been less research looking at what sort of environments get in the way of people using their strengths or facilitate people using their strengths. So, if we start to look at what are the environmental conditions that you need to have in place in order to maximize the benefits that come from strengths use.

David:                           12:29                Okay.

Sarah:                           12:30                So, that was their starting point. That’s what they were interested in. One of the things was they approached it in two different ways. They did a strength assessment, and they were particularly interested in one of the phrases that’s used in strengths work. There’s either signature strengths, so part of the premises that if we take this model and say that we all have access to the 24 different character strengths that this model, for example, defines. The argument is that we have a core set of strengths which are referred to as signature strengths, but our strongest ones are the ones that we can use most easily, that energize us when we use them. They’re like the bits of you that you couldn’t switch off if you tried.

David:                           13:17                They kind of define who you are.

Sarah:                           13:19                Yes.

David:                           13:19                They are your identity, almost.

Sarah:                           13:21                They do. People often do really identify with some of them. The theory does not suggest that these are, some people would argue, the degree to which industries are innate resources, and some people would argue differently. But these are the ones that boost our wellbeing the most often when we’re using them, because they feel so authentic, is often the word that’s used around someone that would feel like that. The authentic you.

David:                           13:52                It is you.

Sarah:                           13:53                Yes.

David:                           13:53                Yes.

Sarah:                           13:53                There’s a test they sometimes use when they’re doing it, which is when you’re identifying, so often you can do a questionnaire. So, the VIA, in fact, if you go to, I think it’s website, there’s a free online assessment. You’ll get your strengths profile and everything from it.

David:                           14:07                Oh, right. I’ll stick that in the show next, yeah.

Sarah:                           14:09                Yeah, it’s really good. You can have a look at which ones come out as your highest ranked ones, and they typically would be the ones that would be suggestive of being your signature strengths. But you can ask people the question, which is, “If you imagine one of those strengths, and you imagine what a day would be like without it, if you could not use that strength at all whenever it was in the day,” so already you’re doing it, the look on your face is like, “Oh, no.”

David:                           14:31                Oh my god.

Sarah:                           14:34                Then you say, yeah, if you had a week without it, what would that be like? That’s a pretty good tell that it’s your signature strength, because you’re then just going, “No. Please don’t take that away from me. I wouldn’t survive.” Yeah.

David:                           14:46                Wow.

Sarah:                           14:47                So, they were looking at signature strengths. They were particularly interested in those. They looked at the individual’s use of their signature strengths. This is the top five to seven or so per participant in the research, and they’re both people within a particular organization that they were doing the research with. What they did was they gathered data at one point, so they looked at things like indicator to leave. They’re measuring what’s the expression of indication to leave at any fixed point in time. They’re assessing their use of strengths at a fixed point in time instead of looking at what’s your strengths use at the moment. There are a couple of other things that they were looking at as well. They were also looking at perceived strain, so the degree to which you perceive your job as having been strained, is the term that’s used in the measure, but stressful would be an alternative kind of version for that.

David:                           15:46                The idea being that if you’re using your signature strengths, that it’s going to be less stressful.

Sarah:                           15:54                Yes.

David:                           15:54                It’s when you’re outside of those signature strengths, life gets harder.

Sarah:                           15:58                Yes.

David:                           15:58                Is that the idea?

Sarah:                           15:59                That they put more demands on … yes. There’s more demands that are placed on you to meet the stressful stuff you encounter. If you are applying and using your strengths, your signature strengths, then you tend to have higher energy levels and you’re, perhaps, more resilient, better able to deal with the stuff.

David:                           16:14                More flow?

Sarah:                           16:15                Yeah, yeah. Flow would be associated.

David:                           16:17                You’re going to be more in flow.

Sarah:                           16:18                You would be more likely to be in flow, so you would typically be more resilient and able to deal with that as well. They were looking at those sorts of things, and what was the other? Yeah, I think they were the main things they measured. There might be something else I’m missing. I’ll dip into the detail in a moment and double check. But the other thing that they did was they did a short longitudinal bit. There was a time difference. They also looked at measuring those things at one point in time, and then measuring them again a month later. So, they were interested in what was happening over a period of time. In the time in between, over the course of a week in between, they asked them to … all of the participants completed a diary, simple checks, things like how often have you used your signature strengths today, what was going on. A little bit of capturing experiences on a daily basis over the course of time. So, the thing that’s particularly interesting with the results from this was that the most positive outcomes came from when individuals were able to use their signature strengths regularly. It was frequent use that made the difference.

David:                           17:39                Oh, okay. Yes.

Sarah:                           17:39                So, if you used them on one day and then didn’t particularly use them for a week, then it didn’t have the same positive outcomes, which kind of makes sense that it needs to be regulated, so you need to be recharging it, if you like. You can’t just do it and then go, “Benefits edition,” that carries you forward without. So, that was one of the things that was quite interesting, because that’s not necessarily been looked at particularly before. The other bit that was interesting was they controlled for something called trait affect. So, when they did the assessments, they also asked participants in the study to complete some assessments which identify something called trait affect, so whether or not somebody has positive trait effect or negative trait affect, which is a general predisposition towards a way of viewing the world.

David:                           18:31                Got you.

Sarah:                           18:31                So, people with a negative trait affect are more likely to generally view the world with a level of displeasure, as if it’s not great. People with a positive trait affect tend to view the world more positively.

David:                           18:47                Yes. So, they’re very interpreting together.

Sarah:                           18:49                So, it’s sort of different to optimistic and pessimism, but yeah, because-

David:                           18:50                Yeah, so interpreting things in a more positive way. They’ll see the good in things more.

Sarah:                           18:55                Yes.

David:                           18:56                Yep, okay.

Sarah:                           18:58                And they feel it, so there’s kind of an internalized state that is a bit different for people with each of those different versions of trait affect.

David:                           19:09                That’s the idea of an affect anyway, isn’t it?

Sarah:                           19:11                Yeah.

David:                           19:12                It’s that combination between our values, our beliefs, and our emotions. They interact with each other and produce behavior, they help produce thinking, and they change.

Sarah:                           19:24                Yes. There’s a general feeling that is associated with that, so there’s a physiological state in that, yeah. Yeah.

David:                           19:30                Yes.

Sarah:                           19:31                It’s a level of excitement or arousal versus not. All of those sorts of factors are associated with some of this. This was probably the thing that made it most jump out for me when I [inaudible 00:19:44] as a study, aside from the other stuff, which was interesting, which is because they controlled for this, which means that when they gathered the data they looked first of all at the relationship between strengths use and then things like the perceived strain intent to turnover.

David:                           19:59                Okay.

Sarah:                           20:00                What they noticed was there seemed to be a correlation between those, but that when they controlled for trait affects, so when they teased out the difference between people that have positive trait affect and people that have negative trait affect, that reduced the relationship to zero. It was only when you put positive trait affect into the mix, that the strengths use across the whole group, so this was the one time measure across the whole group at the positive outcomes associated with less perceived … actually, the perceived job strain I think was still fairly … that still kind of stood fairly in place.

David:                           20:40                Okay.

Sarah:                           20:40                But it was the intent to turnover.

David:                           20:41                So, just let me make sure I’ve got this right then. What you’re saying is that when somebody has a positive trait affect, a positive state of mind, if you want, then their signature strengths are going to be more important for them? Not quite?

Sarah:                           21:03                No, not necessarily.

David:                           21:05                What are you saying?

Sarah:                           21:06                So, when somebody has positive trait affect and they’re using their signature strengths, they’re showing increased positive outcomes around enhanced job satisfaction and lower levels of perceived strain. So, when those two things are in place, you see positive results in both of those areas.

David:                           21:24                Right.

Sarah:                           21:25                However, when somebody is using their signature strengths and they have negative trait affect, their perceived strain is improved, but job satisfaction isn’t noticeably increased.

David:                           21:39                Right.

Sarah:                           21:39                When you look at this across the whole population, so this was the one where they looked across the whole population.

David:                           21:44                Yes, got you. So, the negative trait affect impacts things like satisfaction, whether they’re happy, those kinds of things.

Sarah:                           21:51                Yes, yes.

David:                           21:56                Right. Even though they weren’t as strained because they were operating with their signature strengths, they still weren’t as happy as the people with the positive-

Sarah:                           22:05                There were positive outcomes, if you like. It’s like it kind of got them up almost to a neutral place as opposed to pushed them up into a positive place.

David:                           22:09                Got you. That makes sense.

Sarah:                           22:13                What was also interesting was the bit where they looked at collecting the data over the period of time.

David:                           22:18                Yes.

Sarah:                           22:20                What they also then found was when an employee or a participant in the study, in this case, was using their signature strengths regularly, so there was frequent use, I.e daily of their strengths, positive and negative trait affect did not have the same impact. So, the positive outcomes were across the board.

David:                           22:45                Yes.

Sarah:                           22:45                So, regardless of whether or not employees, participants in the study had negative trait affect, the regular use becomes even more important when you’re looking at the way in which other aspects of an individual’s temperament and character and things.

David:                           23:06                Therefore it’s important that people really all cling to their strengths, I suppose.

Sarah:                           23:10                Yes, completely. The other thing that’s quite interesting as well is that it then also highlights the degree to which there are certain things that haven’t been controlled for in other studies. You start to wonder, actually how much are we coming to conclusions about things without necessarily bearing in mind some of the other influencing, some of the other variables that might be at play, and might things like positive and negative trait affect, for example, because having an impact under certain circumstances. All of studies in this kind of area are relatively new. There’s all sorts of new ways in which that research has been.

David:                           23:57                You kind of would expect that the trait affect, whether it’s positive or negative, would start having an impact o a whole range of this, actually.

Sarah:                           24:04                Yes, yeah.

David:                           24:05                It’s interesting that not a lot of studies have actually taken that into account until now.

Sarah:                           24:11                Yes, yes.

David:                           24:12                Therefore, as this study found, it changes things.

Sarah:                           24:15                Yes, it does.

David:                           24:16                How do you see the world as a big impact on how you’re affecting the world?

Sarah:                           24:26                Yeah, and the difference and importance of being able to work with an individual and meet an individual’s needs versus what you can extrapolate from the research and apply across whole populations. So, if you’re working in an organization and you’re looking at what is at approach we might want to bring to strengths within out organization. We might look at some research and think, “We can do this, and these are the types of outcomes and results that we would expect to get across the organization. What this is suggesting is … actually, it need so be much ore personalized that that. You need to think about how each individual is having the opportunity to user their strengths. They’re at individual variations in the way in which these things play out that are important to consider.

David:                           25:13                Yes. You may not get the result you were looking for, largely because of the difference between people in terms of their positivity or negative view of the world. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I don’t think organizations often consider that. What they quite often think is, “Here’s something. This will change everything.”

Sarah:                           25:35                Let’s roll that out across the organization in one way, and not necessarily look at how we put in other things in place that support individual difference and over time.

David:                           25:50                It makes a lot od sense. We’ve all worked with people who arw miserable gits. It’s not just about eing miserable, but everything’s a problem and everything’s negative.

Sarah:                           26:01                Yeah.

David:                           26:01                That’s got to have an impct, and it’s got to have an impact on their performance, on a whole range of things. Quite often that’s not taken into account when change program become available and think how people are viewing this as their trait affect. When I do see is organizations spinning at in order to get people to buy into something but at a global level. It’s a bit like marketing, isn’t it? It’s like saying. “If we sell it in this way, people are going to buy into it,” and then get surprised when not everybody does buy into it, largely because you’ve got this difference between people in terms of trait affect. That would make a lot of sense.

Sarah:                           26:45                And that it’s not the positive or negative trait affect a good or bad. It’s just there is this range of differences between people, and that too often we approach things as if there is this one size fits all strategy which will work perfectly with everybody. It just so isn’t the case.

David:                           27:08                Oh, yeah. Yeah. I’ve had times certainly in jobs where it’s the cynical people who have kind of uncovered something.

Sarah:                           27:16                Yes. Really important, yeah.

David:                           27:20                And the other people who are the more positive people just wouldn’t see because they [inaudible 00:27:25], and actually they’re noticing the problems. That makes a lot of sense, because almost organizations try to out these people and get rid of them all because they’re too negative.

Sarah:                           27:36                Yeah.

David:                           27:37                You get this whole rhetoric about, “Stop being negative, stop being negative.”

Sarah:                           27:41                Yes, yes, this kind of … yeah.

David:                           27:43                But actually, and this comes back to something that we’ve been talking about previously about the way that people who are comfortable with uncertainty, they will use that diversity. So, they want to know how the negative people, negative trait affect, and the people with positive trait affect is viewing things in order so they can test it to see what the reality is, not just to make a decision about which one is right, because there really isn’t a value judgment about either of them. They see the world in very different ways, and that’s valuable data.

Sarah:                           28:20                Yes. Those different views and opinions and experiences, the world can co exist. Yes. One does not need to rise up more than the other, if you like, but actually you can hold and explore all of those, and they can all be true simultaneously. Using that in a very different way makes your decision making very different on the back of it.

David:                           28:42                Yes, particularly in team situations where they try to get rid of the negative people.

Sarah:                           28:46                Yes.

David:                           28:47                They understand that it can kind of drag you down, particularly if you’re positive, but they may be seeing something that we’re not seeing.

Sarah:                           28:53                Yes, yes.

David:                           28:55                That’s kind of important as well.

Sarah:                           28:55                It’s like some people have almost this amazing pair of glasses that they can put on, which means that when they look at something, they can instantly see all the things that could go wrong with it, all the flaws and the potential pitfalls. Then there’s other people that have put on a pair of glasses which means they see all the exciting opportunities and things. It’s kind of like this mismatch of conversation that you see early on.

David:                           29:18                Yes. It’s like we’ve got rose colored glasses and mud colored glasses.

Sarah:                           29:21                Yes.

David:                           29:22                Nobody is going, “Hang on, let’s just have a look at these, because there’s data in both of these.”

Sarah:                           29:27                Yeah.

David:                           29:29                Just getting rid of or not listening to the people who we would consider to be miserable or not positive can be a huge mistake, actually.

Sarah:                           29:38                Massively. That’s where things like having strategies and ways of working, like the Disney strategy or thinking hats. But things that you use that enable you within a team to kind of pull out and value and embrace all of that type of thinking as an important part of ways of working as them.

David:                           30:01                Yeah, and use those characteristics as a positive in different contexts.

Sarah:                           30:08                Yeah. That’s what, hooking back into the strengths study, that’s one of the things that I think is really interesting around strengths work, is when you bring and apply that. This is much more about that personalized approach to it, to allowing people the opportunity to kind of almost craft and negotiate, and back to the job crafting, which is a favorite topic of mine, but this how you create the opportunity for individuals to be able to on a daily frequently basis use their strengths. You’re looking at collectively, as a team, where do we all overlap? What is our overall team purpose and objective, and how do those things align in such a way that we can negotiate between us multiple way of working?

David:                           30:50                Yes, yeah. This whole idea, because I got quite fascinated by job crafting last year, and I’m still intrigued by it.

Sarah:                           30:57                It’s really interesting, isn’t it?

David:                           30:59                It is. I suppose what that’s doing is it’s allowing people to mold the job to their signature strengths.

Sarah:                           31:06                Yes.

David:                           31:09                That understanding … because as a result of this, I’m kind of thinking, “So, what are my signature strengths?”

Sarah:                           31:15                Yeah.

David:                           31:16                Just straight off the … I’m not going to list them, but I kind of have an inkling, but it would be interesting to know, because I could probably make better decisions as a result of that.

Sarah:                           31:28                Yeah.

David:                           31:30                Maybe I just need to sit down and work that out. There are things … you did that thing about if you were to take this away. You know?

Sarah:                           31:40                Yes, I could see on your face. There was this look on your face of horror.

David:                           31:40                You’re not allowed to write for a week.

Sarah:                           31:42                Yeah, can you imagine?

David:                           31:42                I would have been, “What?”

Sarah:                           31:43                Yes.

David:                           31:43                Bloody hell.

Sarah:                           31:47                Curiosity is one of my top ones, so it would be like, “What if you were not allowed to find out any new information?”

David:                           31:53                Not allowed to ask any questions.

Sarah:                           31:54                You’re not allowed to ask any questions or explore anything at all. You’d be like, “No.”

David:                           32:02                I couldn’t talk. That’s just, what? There’s a question, you can’t ask that question.

Sarah:                           32:02                That’s what people describe. It’s almost like I would have no sense of purpose in my life if you took those away from me. So, they’re often really hooked into your purpose. But the other thing this study doesn’t particularly touch on, and they, the researchers themselves flagged this at the end, just that they were only looking at signature strengths. So, of course the theory that sits behind strengths would suggest that we all have access to all of these strengths to varying degrees, it may just be that the adaptive process by which we develop them means we hone in on five or six, for example, because actually they’re particularly adaptive for us in our environments, for example, or because of what’s needed by others in our relationships. All of those sorts of things that might be at play, our social/cultural context.

Sarah:                           32:51                But one of the other things that’s quite interesting is looking at what’s at the bottom end of your strengths as well, and looking at what’s the overall pattern and dynamic, and then how do those strengths work together. So, I’d be curious to know whether perhaps more sophisticated work with individuals on their strengths, how that affects some of the types of outcomes you might see across teams, for example, and across organizations.

David:                           33:19                That’s interesting. It makes you wonder whether we have a certain capacity for a number of strengths, or whether we can just keep building … I don’t know. Also, that interrelationship between the strengths and … they’re not calling them weaknesses, but whatever the opposite of strengths are, the things that we’re not so good at.

Sarah:                           33:43                I certainly have weaknesses, that’s for sure. I know some people who [crosstalk 00:33:43] yeah, yeah.

David:                           33:44                Just ask my kids, they’ll tell you all about them.

Sarah:                           33:47                Usually your family are the first ones, aren’t they, to volunteer and let us know what our weaknesses are.

David:                           33:50                Yes.

Sarah:                           33:52                So, they haven’t particularly talked about that sort of thing. But the theory around strengths is that signature ones that we can do most easily and we’re more energized by, so it makes sense what they were looking at in terms of things like resilience and perceived job strain, job satisfaction, those sorts of things that those would be affected.

David:                           34:13                Is there a suggestion here that things like training or some kind of coaching or something can help?

Sarah:                           34:19                They didn’t test that.

David:                           34:20                Okay.

Sarah:                           34:21                But there are all sorts of studies that do suggest that coaching, doing strengths development work with teams and with individuals, all of those, there are lots of approaches that can be used in organizations to help them build in more of a strengths kind of mindset and approach and way of working.

David:                           34:40                Fantastic. Yeah, that’s really interesting.

Sarah:                           34:42                Yeah. So, good positive findings, really, from them. I think sort of underlying that bit about it needing to be frequent application, and recognizing that in some ways we’re all the same, in some ways we share a little bit of things, and in some ways we’re all completely different. So, that bit about individuals versus what you can … things don’t just neatly work across whole populations.

David:                           35:08                Yeah. There’s quite an implication here for management and leadership, but also organizational design stuff as well.

Sarah:                           35:16                Yes, yes, yes.

David:                           35:18                Yeah, really interesting. Right, brilliant. Thank you very much.




Disclaimer: This is a research review, expert interpretation and briefing. As such it contains other studies, expert comment and practitioner advice. It is not a copy of the original study – which is referenced. The original study should be consulted and referenced in all cases. This research briefing is for informational and educational purposes only. We do not accept any liability for the use to which this review and briefing is put or for it or the research accuracy, reliability or validity. This briefing as an original work in its own right and is copyright © Oxcognita LLC 2024. Any use made of this briefing is entirely at your own risk.

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page