On the Job

Why the StrengthsFinder tool has become popular

How do you recognize, acknowledge, and support the best qualities of an employee? More crucially, how do you see your own special traits? It’s nearly impossible to be truly objective, which is why assessment tests have come into vogue.

One of the most popular methods is Clifton’s StrengthsFinder (recently renamed CliftonStrengths). It features a multiple-choice test that breaks down your work-facing personality into five specific traits. Don Clifton and Marcus Buckingham initially published the traits in the 2001 book “Now, Discover Your Strengths” and Tom Rath refined the potential traits in the book “StrengthsFinder 2.0.”

StrengthsFinder represents 34 skills: Achiever, Activator, Adaptability, Analytical, Arranger, Belief, Command, Communication, Competition, Connectedness, Consistency, Context, Deliberative, Developer, Discipline, Empathy, Focus, Futuristic, Harmony, Ideation, Includer, Individualization, Input, Intellection, Learner, Maximizer, Positivity, Relator, Responsibility, Restorative, Self-Assurance, Significance, Strategic and Woo. Some of these are clearly unique to the test: Woo (win others over) represents super social skills that captivate other people, while Connectedness is being able to find the synergy between seemingly conflicting ideas.

Each trait has a definitive motivation, and your top 5 traits create a composite representing your unique strength. For instance, Input focuses on information gathering, while Strategic has a natural vision for the best next step. Having Input and Strategic in your top 5 would give you serious potential as a military leader, chess champion or a similarly long-range, data heavy profession.

The basic StrengthsFinder emphasizes your top 5, but the deluxe version assesses your leaning on all 34 skills. Both provide an extensive dialog on each trait, including several ways to maximize your potential and the best questions to ask yourself to challenge yourself.

There are a few reasons for StrengthsFinder’s recent strong popularity. Career assessments have traditionally focused on social personality rather than the work-focused result. Consider the classic Myers-Briggs personality assessment and its broad-based approach to introvert/extrovert, intuitive/thinking, thinking/feeling, and sensory/perceptive. In this context, it’s easier to learn more about someone’s personality than what they actually deliver in the workplace.

StrengthsFinder, as the name suggests, also puts major emphasis on your strongest features. Assessments traditionally do a wide swath, giving an abundance of information on your less-developed traits right along side your biggest current assets.

The program has gotten some criticism because it arguably deemphasizes potential areas of development — but that also likely contributes to its popularity and success. By not emphasizing lacking traits, StrengthsFinder encourages people to lean into their strongest, most natural traits, while potentially using those strengths to overcome any challenges offered by their lesser traits. For leaders, it gives them the opportunity to create environments that highlight the strengths of the team members and facilitate ways to encourage employees to use them.

It’s also one of the less critical assessments available. StrengthsFinder is fine for those looking to beef up their self awareness, but it seems equally effective for workers having trouble figuring out their own assets. In short, it creates a dialogue around your best attributes — whether in a time of self growth or in a time of crisis.

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