How Workplace 'Strength Training' Produces Top Performers

The Case for Strength Training (at Work, not the Gym)If your employees already have strong skill sets in key areas of job performance, shouldn’t training programs focus on developing new skills or correcting weaknesses?

Nope. A new study from Gallup suggests that workplace training should focus on deepening the talents someone already has -- and stay away from trying to turn every employee into an ideally-rounded performer.

The new research contradicts what seems like common sense, finding that training to your preexisting skills makes good sense. In a massive study of over 65,000 employees, Gallup discovered that locating and focusing on strengths was actually a winning strategy.

By uncovering workers’ natural talents, and then tailoring training to take advantage of those strengths, companies get more out of their employees than by just getting them up to speed on tasks they’re not good at.

Better performance, lower turnover

In a piece outlining the findings in Gallup Management Journal, Aniruddh Haralalka and Leong Chee Tung summarize the results:

“Not everyone can excel at a particular task, regardless of training and effort. Though training can help people improve, most employees won't achieve excellence performing a task unless their talents make them naturally inclined to perform that task at excellence in the first place.

“Gallup research shows that people who know and use their strengths — and the companies they work for — tend to be better performers. In a study of 65,672 employees, Gallup found that workers who received strengths feedback had turnover rates that were 14.9 percent lower than for employees who received no feedback (controlling for job type and tenure).”

Of course, identifying employees' strengths isn't necessarily the same as training to them, so do the research results also suggest specific approaches that might benefit training professionals? Yes, Haralalka and Tung say. "Leaders have an opportunity to transform an organization's culture by implementing a strengths-based approach to employee development," they write, suggesting trainers identify team members with existing talents and develop those, rather than trying to bring the abilities of your worst performers up to a mediocre level.

"In the long run, selecting and training the right employees will be much more productive than training the wrong ones," they conclude. Are you taking this approach? The article offers some other questions to help you evaluate how well you're doing at identifying and supporting your employees’ talents, including: "Are you providing opportunities for star employees to grow in their roles?"

So, are you?

More: How to Turn Your Resident Experts Into Star Trainers

London-based Jessica Stillman blogs about generational issues and trends in the workforce for Inc.comGigaOM and Brazen Careerist.

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user pasukaru76.

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