In the last 30 years or so, we have been inundated with research and thought-leadership on all things "employee engagement." Great buzz words that used to reside in HR, but now, if you're a leader of 3 or 300, it's as much your duty and obligation to "engage" your tribe.

Let me cut to the chase. To increase engagement, drive trust and employee loyalty, you must have an "inside-out" approach of putting people ahead of profit. Not a crazy concept, since doing exactly that, research has found, will lead to more profit.

One of the premier ways of valuing employees is understanding the differences among team members--especially, and I stress this if you're a leader--recognizing their unique strengths, gifts, and what they bring to the table.

Case in Point: Gallup Research

Gallup, the global experts in studying the attitudes and behaviors of employees, gives us tremendous clues to help us better understand and identify strengths as it relates to employee engagement.

To determine how successful your company is in creating a workforce that cultivates your people's strengths in their work, let me tell you about Gallup's Strengths Orientation Index.

The index includes four items that must be used to collect data, and this is from the perspective of workers:

1. Every week, I set goals and expectations based on my strengths.

2. I can name the strengths of five people I work with.

3. In the last three months, my supervisor and I have had a meaningful discussion about my strengths.

4. My organization is committed to building the strengths of each associate.

What Gallup Found

When Gallup conducted the study involving a little over 1,000 workers for this index, they found that managers who focused on their employees' weaknesses only cut disengagement by 22 percent. Ironically, that's one way of demonstrating that even negative attention is better than no attention at all in the eyes of employees.

By contrast, those who said their managers focused on their strengths, disengagement fell dramatically to 1 percent. No, that's not a type. 1 percent!

Here's the thing: Gallup is saying that if every organization in America trained their managers to focus on employees' strengths, the U.S. could easily double the number of engaged employees in the workplace from the currently dismal 30 percent (roughly) up to 61 percent, with this one simple shift in approach.

What Would This Do for Your Organization?

Now, imagine focusing on the strengths of your workers across the enterprise. What would that do for your productivity, and how work is done? What would it do for your own leaders and managers, and how people under their care feel about their work?

Gallup is saying that when people use their strengths, they are more productive and more engaged. And even the quality of work goes up. Are you inspired yet?

Let me speak to the leader of people now. Listen, in your interactions with employees, you want to help them to discover and develop their strengths. This elevates your leadership role to a new level--that of a servant leader.

I say this because, with this approach, you now put yourself in the position to leverage the skills of your employees, and put them in roles where they can do what they do best every single day!

Lets Do a Little Experiment

I'm going to use the Strengths Orientation Index (Gallup's four questions I posted above) and modify it so that it comes from the perspective of leaders/managers, if that's you.

As you go over each of the four statements below, determine how successful you are at creating a team or workforce that cultivates your people's strengths.

Here are the four questions modified. The four items, now from your perspective, are:

1. Every week, I set goals and expectations based on the strengths of my team members.

2. I can name the strengths of five employees who work for me.

3. In the last three months, I have had a meaningful discussion about an employee's strengths.

4. I am committed to building the strengths of my team members.

Your Next Steps (Speaking to the Leader Now)

Leaders and managers intentional about implementing this approach should have accountability measures in place to ensure results.

Here's what I recommend as a plan of action:

1. Choose one of the four items from the index that you can legitimately say, "This is an area that I do well in. I'd like to increase this leadership strength and replicate it with more employees." Go ahead and write down which one of those it is. Do that now.

2. Now choose one item from the index that you can legitimately say, "This is an area that I need or would like to improve on." Go ahead and write that statement down on a sheet of paper.

3. For best application so new leadership behaviors becomes habitual, reflect on these questions for follow-up:

  • What do you intend to do to continue replicating and expanding this strength of yours?
  • On the flip side: what do you intend to do to address the area for improvement?
  • How are you going to do it? What are the steps? What needs to happen? Who do you need to talk to? How will you carry it out?
  • And finally: When are you going to make this happen? This is a call to commitment. Put down a timeframe. And then follow through on this.

If you're convinced that a strengths-approach to engaging your employees is the right strategy, be intentional, have a plan of action, and make a commitment to follow up.

By the way, if you're really interested in learning more about your own strengths and those of your employees, check out the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment by Gallup.