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Should strength-based development be a part of your Talent Management approach?


The underlying idea behind strength-based development is fairly straightforward – rather than focusing on a person’s weaknesses and seeking to improve these limited skills, instead focus training & development on their strength areas to make them really good in some abilities. The idea behind this is that people do not actually alter all that much, and that their strengths are fairly fixed. With this line of logic, the question is: why spend time and effort training someone up to be average in a skill they lack, rather than to be exceptional in a skill they have?


For the employee in question, this approach can often be an appealing proposition. Focusing on weaknesses will often – obviously – be more of a challenge, and will likely be a less enjoyable process. It may also result in only modest gains in terms of the skills they are able to offer their organisation, and the rewards that they will receive.


The approach, then, offers the prospect of greater employee engagement in the process, as well as an arguably greater reward for the organisation in terms of the talent they can draw on in certain areas. It means a business can focus most attention on its high-achievers, and doesn’t exert too much effort on fixing issues that are difficult to rectify.


There are, however a few criticisms of the concept, that might best be summarised as describing it as an idea that is theoretically desirable, but practically less realistic. For example, the idea of a person’s strengths are arguably not as clear-cut as simply ‘strength’ or ‘weakness’, but are rather on far more of a sliding scale that must take account of organisational context and the needs of the situation.


It has also been suggested that great strengths can also expose weaknesses far more. In this argument, the idea is that every strength has a necessary vice that counters it, so that the ‘right’ approach is more in developing both to a point where they balance. For example, developing strictly technical or logical abilities without the counter of creative thinking could produce a person that is technically gifted, but ill-prepared to ever innovate.


Critics also argue that focusing solely on strengths ultimately reduces a person’s versatility, and can, in turn, entrench a set way of doing things that isn’t necessarily the best or most productive. Being exceptional in one area could effectively skew a person’s ability in one very particular direction, and leave them less able to cope with the consequences of inevitable change.


What are your thoughts on strength-based development?
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