Aren’t Strengths the same as Competencies?
With the advent of positive psychology and the strengths-based management movement, more and more companies are looking at ways to select for and develop people’s strengths.
Positive psychology put simply is the study of contented, successful people. Whereas psychology has previously studied the sick, the depressed and the unstable to identify where things had gone wrong, this new field studies the confident, the happy and the stable. What can we learn from these people so we too can be content and successful?
Key findings have been around mind-set and focus. When we work to our strengths and believe we can learn and get better at stuff, we do better work and we achieve more.
As a result, it makes sense to hire people who have strengths in the right places. Think of a strength as a combination of natural ability and enjoyment. You could develop someone to be a good sales person – but if they’re naturally good at understanding customer needs, influencing and overcoming objections, then your job as their manager is far easier. Think how much harder your job would be if it turned out your new recruit didn’t enjoy talking to customers.
The behaviours you’re looking for – understanding customer needs, influencing etc – they are competencies. What makes your selection process a strengths-based one is the addition of interview questions and exercises that assess enjoyment and frequency of use.
Imagine a classic competency-based interview question – “tell me about a time when you have delivered great customer service.” The candidate may give you a sense of their ability and behaviour in the answer, but how much do they enjoy serving customers? And how often do they do it? If it’s a strength – they’ll do it naturally a lot of the time and feel energised by it.
Our work on strengths-based assessments is usually to help companies understand which strengths are most important for success. If you already have a competency framework, it’s a case of prioritising which of those behaviours need to be natural and enjoyable for people to be set up for success. Then we can build interview questions and assessment tools that select against those strengths.
Or if you don’t have a competency framework, we can carry out further analysis to build one, or use an off-the-shelf toolkit to fast-forward the process.