Leveraging Clifton StrengthsFinder in a Post-Pandemic World

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Editor's Note: This article is featured in Best of Connections 2021. Read Apra Editorial Advisory Committee Chair Jessica Balsam's editor's message to learn more about the top articles of the year.


By Stephanie Brouwer

Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? There is no shortage of personality assessments you can take to understand what you need to be successful in the workplace. In fact, you’ve most likely been asked to complete at least one assessment in your career: Myers-Briggs, DiSC, Enneagram, StrengthsFinder, etc.

Every personality assessment has a different focus and is simply a way to understand more about yourself, and how to work more effectively with others. The recurring theme — the driving question — behind all these assessments is to discover how engaged you are in your job.

A few years ago in an article on using StrengthsFinder to build successful relationships, I asked Apra readers if they had the opportunity to do what they do best every day. Three years later, let’s revisit this question: Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?

About the StrengthsFinder Assessment

In the mid-1990s, psychologist Donald Clifton partnered with the famous polling firm Gallup to start a global conversation to focus on what’s right with people. Instead of working on fixing weaknesses, Clifton emphasized the need for positive psychology to improve workplace engagement. 

After 40 years of studying human strengths and conducting over 2 million interviews, Gallup identified 34 themes of talent that were most common among individuals. The StrengthsFinder assessment contains 177 pairs of statements with descriptors. You are asked to choose, on a sliding scale, the extent to which one of the two descriptors fits you. Through your responses to the questions, the assessment identifies your most dominant themes of talent.1 

Think of it like this: Imagine you have empty buckets that represent the 34 different themes. Each time you answer a question that matches a theme, a drop of water goes into that bucket. When you get your results, you see the five buckets with the most water — your five most dominant strengths.

2. Learn About the Science of CliftonStrengths.

As the above picture highlights, StrengthsFinder is based on talent — a natural way of thinking, feeling or behaving. As you invest time and energy into these talents, they will become your dominant strengths. Every person has all 34 strengths in some kind of order. In fact, Gallup research has shown that most people will operate in their top 10-12 strengths throughout their entire lifetime.

Often, strengths may change when you switch jobs and/or take on different work responsibilities because you may be investing time into some of your other talents. Strengths that previously ranked in the six through 10 range might become strong enough to move into the one through five positions, giving you a new top five strength list.

For example, before I entered the prospect research and data field, I worked for five years in residence life. I have many relationship building strengths in my top 10 to 12 strengths that I used in that position. However, when I left to take a job in advancement research, my strengths completely shifted to the executing domain. Residence life and advancement services are two completely different fields, but I was still able to use my top 10-12 strengths to be successful because I had a good understanding of how to invest in the strengths that would fit the job.

What the Research Says

Gallup data has shown that people who have the opportunity to use their CliftonStrengths are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and are three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life. I’ve worked with hundreds of employees in dozens of companies, and I can absolutely see the difference in a Strengths-based company.

In a 2016 global study of 1.2 million employees representing 22 organizations in seven industries and 45 countries, Gallup researchers examined six outcomes: sales, profit, customer engagement, turnover, employee engagement and safety. According to the study, “On average, work groups that received a strengths intervention improved on all these measures at the following ranges:

  • 10% to 19% increased sales

  • 14% to 29% increased profit

  • 3% to 7% higher customer engagement

  • 6% to 16% lower turnover (low-turnover organizations)

  • 26% to 72% lower turnover (high-turnover organizations)

  • 9% to 15% increase in engaged employees

  • 22% to 59% fewer safety incidents

What's more, almost seven in 10 employees (67%) who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths or positive characteristics are engaged. When employees strongly disagree with this statement, the percentage of workers who are engaged in their work plummets to 2%.”3

Bottom line: There is substantial evidence to show that a strengths-based culture can help to maximize organizational performance.

The Global Pandemic’s Impact on Remote Work and Return to Work

When the pandemic began, “the number of employees working remotely doubled from mid-March to early April 2020, from 31% to 62%,” according to a study reported by Gallup.4 Now, a year later, more and more companies are starting to open up as the pandemic restrictions lessen, and many people are preparing to transition back into the office world. But there are a lot of mixed feelings. Some people can't wait to be back in the office, to have their routine and structure and get the chance to have in-person conversations. Other workers are resistant to go back to the office, because working remotely allowed an even greater sense of focus and productivity.

If a Strengths-based culture was important before the pandemic, it is vital to consider the implications of strengths in the workplace now.

Strengths tend to fall into two categories: “people” strengths and “brain” strengths. There are four leadership domains of CliftonStrengths: executing, influencing, strategic thinking and relationship building. Influencing and relationship building are the “people” strengths, and executing and strategic thinking are the “brain” strengths.

When workplaces went remote, there was a learning curve for people to understand how to meet their needs. For example, if you have a number of top strengths in the influencing or relationship building leadership domains, you suddenly lost the ability to have personal interactions, like face-to-face meetings and casual conversations in the break room. Suddenly, the world was reliant on technology to maintain the same level of interaction. And, as great as technology is, communication just isn't the same when you can't read someone's body language.

On the flip side, those strong in executing and strategic thinking may have enjoyed working from home because they could limit their distractions and interruptions. The pandemic allowed for a level of flexibility and, without worrying about a daily commute, you may have gotten extra time to work.

Think about your own experience now that it’s been over a year since the pandemic began. If you did switch to working remotely, what did you enjoy? What did you struggle with? Chances are there were parts of working remotely that you very much enjoyed.

It’s crucial for leadership teams and managers to pay attention to the needs of a team. Yes, it may be easy to just want all employees to be physically present in the office, however, think about this suggestion from Gallup: “Hybrid work seems like a good solution. True, your company will forfeit many of the advantages of a remote workforce — a global labor pool, lower infrastructure costs and geography-adjusted salaries — but sustained engagement, productivity and retention may justify a hybrid solution.”4

In terms of a hybrid work situation, if you find you are more productive in a remote environment, is your organization open to you working remote a couple days a week? Do you need to physically be in the office? What is the rationale behind a person physically sitting at their desk Monday through Friday when the pandemic has shown the opportunity for flexibility?

Leveraging Strengths as We All Move Forward

As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic and a new way of working, using strengths will continue to be important. Below are some considerations as you continue to navigate the upcoming year.

  • Incorporate strengths discussions in one-on-one conversations. Take into consideration the strengths of those you supervise. Do your employees have the chance to work on projects and tasks that fit their strengths? Are there any conflicts due to a misunderstanding of strengths? For instance, if you have an employee with strong relationship building strengths, what are you doing to provide them with opportunities to connect with co-workers? Or, if you have someone strong in the strategic thinking domain, how can you allow your employee to continue brainstorming and thinking through processes? If you are a manager, talk about your strengths, but also understand how your strengths are being interpreted by those you supervise. If you are not a manager, how can you manage up, and clearly articulate your strengths needs to introduce this topic with your supervisor?
  • Approach meetings with a goal in mind. Think about the leadership domains again. People strong in relationship building will want to use meetings as a chance to check in with co-workers and to socialize. Those strong in executing may want to get right to business — to use every minute of the meeting to discuss goals. Understanding strengths can help with anticipating and resolving potential conflicts/issues within a team. Think about using an agenda or setting a purpose for every meeting.
  • Think about how you can articulate your needs to your co-workers. My primary job is working in data and research, so I have a hard time with office interruptions. And, frankly, I have enjoyed that part of working from home. However, when I'm in the office, I need to respect that others strong in relationship building and influencing will want to have conversations with me. I need to be flexible and know that I will get interrupted and that's okay. It's all about setting boundaries and finding a balance. That's what I love about StrengthsFinder ― it's not a rule book, it's a conversation starter.
  • Consider reading Gallup’s 2019 book “It’s the Manager.”5 This book is based on Gallup’s largest global study of the future of work and offers practical advice for how organizations can find long-term success in a constantly evolving workplace.

In summary, your employees should feel comfortable sharing with leadership what they liked and didn't like about working during the pandemic, and you as an employer should be open to understanding the strengths of your team. I firmly believe this pandemic can be used as an opportunity to focus on the unique Strengths in the workplace and leverage team talent for even greater success.


  1. Gallup CliftonStrenghts. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/home.aspx
  2. Learn About the Science of CliftonStrengths. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/253790/science-of-cliftonstrengths.aspx
  3. Rigoni, B., Asplund, J. (2016, September 22). Global Study: ROI for Strengths-Based Development. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236288/global-study-roi-strengths-based-development.aspx
  4. Robinson, J., Hickman, A. (2021, February 19). Leading Teams Forward, Advised by Gallup Remote Work Trends. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/329726/leading-teams-forward-advised-gallup-remote-work-trends.aspx
  5. It’s the Manager: Moving From Boss to Coach. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Its-Manager-managers-organizations-long-term/dp/1595622241

Learn more about the authors on the Connections Thought Leaders Page.

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