You probably know by now that I believe in the power of individual strengths and how they can be transformational in our personal and professional lives.
I even made the statement last month in my newsletter that I am going to be more focused on my strengths this year to help me grow my business and create a stronger sense of well-being in my life. How’s that for putting it out there?
There’s something else you need to know that gives additional meaning to this declaration. Strengths are not new to me, in fact, I have been reading, studying, and practicing for over ten years. My very first experience with strengths taught me a powerful lesson and eventually led to a new career in coaching, training, and consulting.
My Powerful Strengths Based Lesson
I was first introduced to strengths, by accident, when I went to a seminar to hear a speaker and author that I enjoyed and followed regularly. On the program was another speaker that I had never heard of. He was the “oh, by the way” speaker; at least, I thought so. He laid out the case for strengths, shared some research, and triggered my curiosity (a signature strength for me).
I left that seminar and immediately bought one of his books, then another, and another. I read everything I could find. I took the test and identified my strengths. I became aware of how my strengths showed up for me and how I used them, but that’s not where the story ends. This was in April of 2006. I was managing a team of eleven people in the fine paper sales and converting industry. We were easily the smallest division in a national company of seven divisions.
We had managed to grow at a modest rate each year, but the industry was mature and wasn’t growing more than about 2-3% each year, and the company, as a whole, wasn’t doing any better. The veteran managers in our company couldn’t figure out how to crack the code for accelerated growth, and then, I got an idea.
I knew how much identifying and understanding my strengths had impacted my life. What if the members of my team could benefit as well? Would it impact their success at work? I decided to give it a try. I bought a book for each member of the team, including the sales people, customer service, credit department, and warehouse manager. Each team member took the assessment and we shared our results. We talked about our strengths regularly and looked for ways to use them more often.
As I mentioned before, I was introduced to strengths at the end of April and by the end of May, we were immersed in our strengths. I could see the impact our strengths focus was having. We were learning a new language, the language of strengths. Every team member wanted to be involved. The sales numbers were also telling a story and when we closed out the year; the results were far better than I could have imagined.
The industry was still at 2-3% growth and the company matched that. Our little division, in Dallas, posted a growth in sales of 20.5% and that number was, by far, the highest percentage growth, in sales, of all the divisions. Could it be that a strengths-based focus impacted our sales that much in a seven-month period? The following year, we had our answer as the Dallas division once again led the way in sales growth. With another double digit growth year, we were no longer the smallest division in the company.
As I have reflected back on that time, I realize that even though I didn’t really know what I was doing, our action was enough to start something special. Since then, the Gallup Corporation has done a worldwide study on companies that have adopted a strengths-based approach. It included 1.2 million employees, representing 49,495 business units, across 22 organizations, in seven industries, and 45 countries.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Here’s what they found:
- 10% to 19% increased sales
- 14% to 29% increased profit
- 3% to 7% higher customer engagement
- 6% to 16% lower turnover (low turnover organizations)
- 26% to 72% lower turnover (high-turnover organizations)
- 9% to 15% increase in engaged employees
- 22% to 50% fewer safety incidents
We Exceeded In Increased Sales
I didn’t know to track all of these areas back in 2006 and 2007, but I do know that we exceeded the numbers in increased sales. Our profit numbers were significantly better, customer engagement (defined by customer experience) was clearly up, our employee turnover was 0%, and I can only estimate that our employee engagement was at or very near 100%.
Why the Strengths-Based Approach Works
The company is no longer in business, having been sold a couple of times and eventually liquidated, but those team members still tell me how important that strengths-based focus was for them.
I remember the president of the company telling me a couple of years after the company was sold, “If we could have bottled what you were doing in Dallas, we would have been okay.” Not much consolation, especially since I couldn’t convince the other managers, at the time.
Now we have research, studies, and strategies for helping companies all over the world have the kind of success we had in Dallas, back in 2006. And that is exciting!