By Melissa J. Anderson

In a recent article for Gallup, Jim Asplund and Nikki Blacksmith write about the importance of approaching management based on individual strengths for building more efficient teams.

Asplund and Blacksmith compare two hypothetical law offices – one in a nice new building with state-of-the-art equipment, the other in a crowded, dingy location with a smaller staff. But, they write, the second firm performs better, all because management nurtures employees, focusing on developing and utilizing individual strengths for the good of the team. At the other firm, employees are treated as replaceable cogs in the machine.

Asplund and Blacksmith write, “Both theories have their adherents in all kinds of offices all around the world. But the first theory leads to mediocrity while the second leads to sustainable productivity and success.”

Here are there ways, according to Gallup’s research, that managers can get more out of their teams by encouraging individuals to work to their strengths.

1. Get Personal. According to Asplund and Blacksmith, Gallup’s research shows that effective management comes from working with individuals so that they understand their personal strengths and then purposefully work with those strengths in mind. They write:

“Strengths develop from innate talents and look different in different people. To develop and work from their strengths, employees must know what their talents are and learn how to hone them into strengths. To make the most out of employee strengths in an organization, managers need to know the strengths of each employee. Then they must create opportunities for employees to use them.”

This means more than getting to know employee’s goals and performance metrics. It means working closely and spending a lot of time up front to learn what makes employees tick. But, says Gallup, it will pay off in the long run, enabling teams to work smarter and better.

2. Encourage emotional connection to the work. Gallup’s work around employee engagement showed that aside from being compensated and recognized fairly, what makes workers really energized about their work is when they feel an emotional connection to it.

Asplund and Blacksmith write, “ If workers’ emotional needs are met, they become engaged with their companies, and their productivity, profitability, retention rate, and safety rate increase. They even get sick less often.” But, they say, managers need to purposefully guide employees toward work based around their strengths: “… they must deliberately manage their employees toward engagement and help them use their strengths with knowledgeable intent.”

Gallup’s research showed that empowering employees to get a sense of accomplishment and pride from their work will create more effective teams.

3. Reinforce positive outcomes. Finally, explain Asplund and Blacksmith, for productivity to continue in the long run, employees must understand the connection between their strengths and the success of the team. They write:

“It seems clear that if workers don’t get continual social support, experiences of success, and reinforcement of personal strengths – even when their bosses have received coaching on how to provide these constructs – those workers probably aren’t getting the emotionally engaging experiences they need either. They likely don’t have managers who focus on employees’ strengths. And those employees probably aren’t encouraged to learn the strengths of their colleagues and how to use that information in their everyday interactions.”

For strengths-based management to really effectively increase productivity and employee engagement, it must be part of a sustained effort on behalf of managers – not just a one time personality or strengths assessment. Looking at the broader picture, it means that for best results, managers have to manage rather than simply serve as task-masters.