Standard Chartered’s business case for focusing on employee strengths

According to Debbie Whitaker, Standard Chartered’s Head of Sustainability, ‘everyone has talents that we wish to leverage’.

This is a bold statement, considering Standard Chartered is a bank with over 60,000 employees in 56 countries. Their reasons for focusing on talent are fourfold:

i) greater growth potential
ii) better people performance
iii) increased employee engagement and
iv) attracting and retaining talent.

Many big organisations are sceptical of applying Strengths at work, yet Standard Chartered’s experience shows that it can make sound business sense.

A strengths-based approach to management has been operating in the organisation for the past 7 years, using Gallup’s StrengthsFinder tool. Whitaker describes a strength as the combination of talent, skill and knowledge, which motivation can transform into world-class performance. In her words, given equal skills and knowledge, talent is what differentiates superior performance from the rest.

So what does Standard Chartered actually do differently to other organisations? Well StrengthsFinder wasn’t designed for recruitment purposes, but it can be used to ensure good role fit and that’s exactly what has contributed to Standard Chartered’s success.The essentials for a salesperson, for example, are good product knowledge and to be able to negotiate and close a deal. But if the salesperson has the additional talents of competitiveness and building rapport with customers, they can become a world-class performer. Not only does Standard Chartered look for specific skills and knowledge, they take innate talents into account too.

It has to be said that there are several definitions of a strength, and the one used here is based on Gallup’s research. The VIA-IS or CAPP definitions are different; as always you need to be clear what you are trying to measure.

Standard Chartered also focuses on building employee engagement, and like Royal & SunAlliance which we featured here, they take volunteering seriously, offering two days paid leave for staff to contribute to voluntary organisations.

What the Standard Chartered story shows is that focusing on strengths can make a big difference to the business and to the people who work there. And applying Positive Psychology at work shouldn’t be something you do in addition to everything else. Look at your existing people-related processes (e.g. recruitment, development, coaching, mentoring and so on) and see how a strengths-approach would make a positive contribution.

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