James Harter, one of the world’s foremost researchers and thinkers on employee engagement expressed the following in a 2013 paper on why staff leave or stay with an organisation:
“The most successful managers we have had a chance to study have told us they achieve performance results because they first take care of the people they manage…….Performance and retention, oddly enough, appear to be by – products of good people management and development.”
He goes on to describe how managers and leaders that identified the strengths of their staff, and developed these within a coherent strategy of career development including making sure they had the skills and support to develop their strengths and talents, were twice as likely to have engaged staff and to retain those staff for longer within the organisation.
Despite the growing evidence from applied positive psychology and research about positive workplaces that developing staff through a focus on strengths and possibilities, many organisations still focus on a relentless focus on weaknesses and deficits. Education is still full of such approaches and many schools where the leaders and managers maintain a culture of continual audit and pressure combined with a general level of mistrust for colleagues. An example is the recent lecture by Dr Becky Allen. Trust is absolutely fundamental to a healthy organisational culture and the managers and leaders who trust in the professionalism and effectiveness of the staff they lead in turn are more likely to win their respect, confidence and engagement. Staff who are engaged and valued, are developed and encouraged to use their strengths to improve an organisation, do not need to be reminded continually about accountability nor be micro – managed by leaders to ensure they toe the strict company or academy line on how to do their job.
At a recent learning conference for teachers in Suffolk, I was really impressed by the response to my workshop on using your strengths. These hard – working teachers recognised the power of developing their unique strengths as practitioners rather than beavering away at things that are not their strengths because the phase leader or senior leader said it was important. Here are the thoughts of one headteacher:
“Just what we needed. Will be doing the VIA character survey with my staff and creating a staff strengths board. So easy to allow the job to take your focus away from what drives people around you to do their best because they feel valued”
And a teacher attending the workshop:
“Reminded me how lucky I am to, on a weekly basis, receive feedback about my strengths. It demonstrates excellent leadership in my school, encouraging and motivating me”.
In a time when retention and wellbeing of staff is such an issue for managers and leaders, I believe there has never been a more pressing case for a fundamental rethink about how we get the best out of our most precious resource.