March 19, 2015
Are Your Managers Having The Right Conversations?

Wishing your employees were a little more engaged, energized and productive? The good news is you may not have to spend a lot of additional time or money to improve these results. Research suggests you simply need to start paying more attention to the conversations your managers are having with your employees.

The 2015 Strengths@Work Survey reports that:

  • When managers have a meaningful discussion about employees’ strengths – those things they’re good at and enjoy doing at work – 78% of employees report feeling engaged and energized and that what they’re doing is making a difference and is appreciated. These employees are the most likely to describe themselves as “flourishing” at work.
  • Unfortunately 68% of managers fail to have meaningful discussions with their employees about their strengths, with most simply patting people on the back saying they’re doing okay and others either saying nothing or pointing out the employees faults without guidance on improvements.
  • The employees least looking forward to going to work each day are those with managers who point out their weaknesses (69%) and those with managers who ignore them (68%).

This is despite well-published findings from numerous sources like, Gallup Research who found that employees who feel ignored by their managers are twice as likely to be actively disengaged at work. In contrast, managers who focused on their employees’ weakness cut active disengagement to twenty-two percent (indicating that even negative attention is better than no attention), while managers who focused on their employees’ strengths cut active disengagement to one percent.

In addition, The Corporate Leadership Council found that when managers focus on the weaknesses of an employee on average their performance declines by up to 27%, whereas when they focus on the strengths of an employee on average performance improves by up to 36%.

Given a growing body of evidence suggests developing their strengths helps employees to be more engaged, happier and healthier leading to lower turnover, higher productivity and more satisfied customers, what can you do to help your managers start having the right conversation?

Teach strengths-management approaches.

Neither expensive or time intensive, simple training programs can help your managers understand the value of putting employee’s strengths to work, how to identify strengths (the 2015 Strengths@Work Survey suggests only 34% of supervisors can name the strengths of their employees) and how to develop the strengths in your employees. This will give your managers the knowledge, tools and confidence they need to prepare them for the right conversations.

Most importantly this training needs to help managers with focusing on strengths but this doesn’t mean ignoring poor performance. Instead, managers need to be able to help employees reflect on the moments they are underplaying, overplaying and getting their strengths just right. It is a lens through which performance can be managed that taps into the natural intrinsic motivation and confidence of employees to do well on the things that matter to them most.

Give permission for strength conversations.

Most managers have been raised to believe that focusing on what’s going wrong and finding ways to fix it is a core requirement of their job. To adjust their focus and also spend time looking for what’s going right and finding ways to build up on it, they need permission from the top.

While you can communicate this shift in emphasis, the most effective way is to set yourself the goal of having strengths conversations with each of your leaders and demonstrating the desired behavior. If you can’t name the top five strengths of your direct reports, start by asking them to take a 10-minute strengths survey and then have a conversation about their results and how they’re applying their strengths at work.

Embed strength conversations in your people management processes.

Guide managers towards the desired behavior by asking your HR team to embed prompts into annual goal setting, development, feedback and performance review templates. This can be as simple as asking people to name their top five strengths and including questions about how they’re developing their strengths at work on these forms.

Then embed questions on employee engagement measures to determine if your people feel they have the opportunity to do what they do best each day at work and if their managers have had a conversation with them about how to develop their strengths. Not only will this provide accountability to ensure the right conversations are being had, but it will also give you a measure to see if the real potential of your people is being utilized across your organization.

For more, download The 2015 Strengths@Work report here.

Michelle McQuaid
Michelle McQuaid is a best-selling author, workplace wellbeing teacher and playful change activator. With more than a decade of senior leadership experience in large organizations around the world, she’s passionate about translating cutting-edge research from positive psychology and neuroscience, into practical strategies for health, happiness, and business success. An honorary fellow at Melbourne University’s Graduate School of Education, she blogs for Psychology Today, Huffington Post and Live Happy and her work has been featured in Forbes, the Harvard Business Review, and the Wall Street Journal.

Other Articles by Michelle McQuaid:

5 Ways To Be Braver At Work

Want To Be More Engaged At Work?

5 Ways To Not Be A Bad Boss