Strength-based approach

The course “Seminar in HRS” in my masters year consisted of different parts and for part 3 I worked on a real-life business case. I had to write with three other team members an essay based on an analysis of the company in that we subsequently identified the best solution for the question they had. I’ve added the background information that we got and subsequently our solution. I’ve changed the name of the company and our contact person into XYZ and J. Smith. “The role of management” is the part I solely wrote for the essay.

Background information
• Technical consultancy firm that was founded about 5 years ago (start-up phase).
• XYZ employs about 50 employees (mainly highly educated professionals and engineers) who work for diverse clients on a project basis.
• The employees spend the majority of their time at the offices or work sites of the client, leading  to ‘shattered / disintegrated’ work and little interaction among XYZ employees.
• XYZ uses an inclusive, strength-based approach to talent development (for all employees), which implies that there is a lot of personal attention for employees and one-on-one coaching (once every 6 weeks).

One of the question that arises is whether the strengths-based approach is of added value for XYZ. What return can this approach yield for XYZ now and in the future? This question is particularly relevant because XYZ employees do not spend much time at the XYZ offices, but work at different locations (typically at the client’s). In the context of this ‘shattered’ way of working, is it actually
useful to implement a strengths-based HR approach? Why could this approach be important for both the employees and the organisation? What is the added value?

If the conclusion is that it adds value, how do you make sure that employees are actually able to use and apply their talents? How can you steer or shape this process? The latter question is particularly important when thinking ahead, to the future: XYZ is growing, which means that there will be less room for personal attention (e.g., additional technical coaching and other support that is now regularly provided by managers) in the future. The one-on-one coaching which takes place once in six weeks will probably be continued even if the company grows.


In today’s dynamic and volatile market, talent management has become an important tool in gaining competitive advantage through human capital (Collings & Mellahi, 2009; Tarique & Schuler, 2010). In research, many scholars are holding different believes on the question ‘what is talent?’ Most scholars agree on the fact that talent is both innate and acquired. However, the extent of importance ascribed to either component differs heavily in research (Walker, Nordin-Bates, & Redding, 2010).

XYZs’ perspective on talent is expressed in a strength-based approach to manage talent (J. Smith, personal communication, October 27, 2016). This approach is relatively new and the positive effects have gained ground in multiple areas, such as education (Meyers, van Woerkom, & Dries, 2013). For example, focusing on strengths enhances personal growth initiatives taken by students, which enables them to reach goals regarding their personal development (Robitschek, 2012). These kinds of research outcomes confirm the potential of applying this approach in organisational contexts (Meyers, 2015). We will further elaborate on this approach in the essay.

The strength-based approach can be dissected in exclusive and inclusive HR philosophy (Meyers & van Woerkom, 2014), which are the base for four main HR philosophies on talent management (see Appendix A). Adding on XYZs’ viewpoint on inclusive/stable HR philosophy, we believe that both the inclusive/stable and the inclusive/developable HR philosophy should be considered. First, the inclusive/stable talent philosophy assumes that focusing on the positive qualities within every individual will eventually lead to employee and organisational flourishing (Peterson & Park, 2006). The inclusive/stable approach broadly defines talent as varying strengths such as intelligence or the ability to make people laugh (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Moreover, the inclusive/stable talent philosophy states that the individual talents belong to a person like blood types, talents are mainly enduring and stable, and that some talents can be developed through gaining new knowledge and skills (Buckingham, 2005; Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Second, the inclusive/developmental HR philosophy basically describes the ambition to develop employees into outstanding employees (Meyers & van Woerkom, 2014). This ambition is related to a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006, 2012), in which it is believed that all people have a ‘great capacity to adapt, change, and grow’ (Dweck, 2012, p. 614). In addition, it assumes that all individuals have the capacity and inner need to develop themselves (Maslow, 1954).

Concluding, we propose to use inclusive/stable HR philosophy as base since it is in line with XYZs’ culture and add the growth mindset of the inclusive/developable HR philosophy. The growth mindset perspective prevents the fixation on talent as something unchangeable, this should help employees with their development.

Furthermore, we will discuss the potential added value of a strength-based approach to talent management and we will provide recommendations on how to implement this approach, by using the role of management and the organisational culture.

The added value of the strength-based approach

The strength-based approach focuses on identifying and developing qualities and strengths instead of improving flaws and shortcomings (Swailes, Downs, & Orr, 2014), which generates positive emotions (Meyers & van Woerkom, 2014).  According to the broaden-and-build theory, these positive emotions broaden peoples’ thoughts and actions, which enable them to build personal resources, for instance, knowledge (Fredrickson, 1998, 2000). These knowledge resources are crucial for the sustained competitive advantage for XYZ, which is operating in a knowledge dominant sector. Furthermore, the strength-based approach is seen to have a positive effect on general well-being (Meyers, 2015; Linley, Nielsen, Gillett & Biswas-Diener, 2010). Well-being has a positive effect on performance (Wright & Cropanzano, 2000), happiness (which reduces turnover) (Griffeth, Hom, & Gaertner, 2000), productivity (Kaplan, Bradley, Luchman, & Haynes, 2009), innovativeness (Huhtala & Parzefall, 2007) and organisational citizenship behavior (Dávila & Finkelstein, 2013).

Aforementioned research shows the potential and qualities of the strength-based approach. However, a footnote should be made regarding this approach because of a shortage in the research area (Meyers, 2015). Scholars have mainly focused on the bridge between strength-based interventions and general well-being outcomes (Quinlan, Swain, & Vella-Brodrick, 2012); however, this relation is barely investigated in work contexts or with the inclusion of work-related well-being outcomes (Meyers, van Woerkom, & Bakker, 2013). Moreover, overusing certain strengths could have deleterious effects (Kaiser & Overfield, 2011; Schwartz & Sharpe, 2006). Nevertheless, this approach has very promising effects on general well-being (Meyers, 2015; Linley et al., 2010) and positive emotions. Therefore, focusing on this approach has the potential to add to the development of skills, abilities and knowledge (Fredrickson 1998, 2000) and consequently could add to the future sustained competitive advantage of XYZ (Snell, Youndt, & Wright, 1996).

The role of management

The organisational culture of XYZ is in accordance with the clan based culture (family culture) in that the crucial task of management is to empower employees and facilitate their participation, commitment, and loyalty (Cameron & Quinn, 2005). Leaders are thought of as mentors and conceivably as parent figures. The organisational structure of XYZ is hierarchically minimal, therefore, the management team consisting of two founders, business developer and account manager should, accordance to the clan based culture, be involved in coaching future coaches. With XYZs’ growth there is a shortage of coaching the strengths of the individual employees. XYZ could identify employees who have interest in developing leadership and coaching skills. By training and giving responsibility to these employees, they could develop themselves to coaches, which should help with retention of colleagues.

The engineers of XYZ are mostly working at the clients’ firm and consequently a lack of Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) and Team-Member Exchange (TMX) with leaders and colleagues of XYZ arises. Beside the talent development coach, the future coaches should actively coach the engineers to enhance the LMX. According to Liden, Wayne and Sparrowe (2000), LMX and TMX reinforce organisational commitment. Furthermore, TMX has a positive effect on job performance. LMX and TMX (interpersonal relationships) enhance organisational commitment through the assistance and counselling that one obtains from relationships formed within XYZ (Liden et al., 2000).

It is paramount for the management team in XYZ to be actively involved in the talent management process and make retention of employees their top priorities (Stahl et al., 2012). Retention can be achieved by coaches through developing a growth mindset since it helps their subordinates to get better coaching, and evaluate their performance more precisely because they better identify positive changes in behavior (Heslin & van de Walle, 2008). In accordance, managers should be promoters of the strength-based approach. Furthermore, positive leader expectations caused by the growth mindset are associated to high subordinate performance (Kierein & Gold, 2000). Leadership should praise subordinate strengths when possible so that it might have an apparent effect on climate perceptions and therefore, on positive affect and performance (van Woerkom & Meyers, 2015).

 The role of organisational climate

In a strength-based organisational climate employees are enabled to develop and use their strengths (van Woerkom & Meyers 2015). XYZ uses the so-called ‘repair and create cafe’s’, which is an internal meeting opportunity for employees. During these meetings employees can share knowledge in order to further develop their strengths and generate innovative ideas.

The climate within an organisation includes employees’ values, experiences and perceptions of the organisation regarding practices, policies, procedures, routines and rewards (Ostroff, Kinicki, & Tamkins, 2003). To establish an inclusive climate that is strength-based and includes all employees, different employee voices should be heard and appreciated. The employees should be stimulated to express their ideas in order to create and foster innovative solutions (Pless & Maak, 2004).

Employees use this climate as a guideline and norm for desired behavior (Ruvolo, Peterson, & LeBoeuf, 2004). A climate that is based on strengths could cause a multiplier effect (Ceci, Barnett, & Kanaya, 2003). This effect explains that small inputs from either the employee or the climate, such as norms and values, could cause a chain of interactions between the both, which results in increased outcomes (Ceci et al, 2003). However, a clear vision of the inclusive strength-based climate is missing as a guideline within XYZ.

Changing an organisations’ culture is a complex long-term process. Sergiovanni and Starratt (1988) explain that culture could be seen as an onion. The belief system forms the center, which is surrounded by the value system, the norms and standards and the patterns of behaviors as outer level. This model shows that a shift in culture is difficult; new information is often blocked in order to stay consistent with the old culture (Carrington, 1999). Pless and Maak (2004) developed a guideline to change the climate that involves four essential phases (Appendix B). This guideline emphasizes awareness and understanding of inclusion, development of a vision (including the key management principles), and the adaption of the systems. This inclusive climate should be communicated and promoted by the top management in order to strengthen a growth mind-set within XYZ (Biswas-Diener, Kashdan, & Minhas, 2011).


We have emphasized the importance of the inclusive/stable HR philosophy complemented by the growth mindset of the inclusive/developable HR philosophy. Since this strength-based approach will add value to the employees and to the organisation, in terms of performance, and well-being. A strength-based organisational climate, supported by managers, will strengthen the employee commitment and result in higher retention. We also argued for the training of potential coaches from within the engineers and the involvement of top management in this process to increase LMX and TMX. This all depends on clearly communicating the inclusive strength-based HR philosophy incorporated in the vision of the organisation.


HR philosophies

Appendix A: HR philosophies. Meyers & van Woerkom (2004)

















Transformation stages for building a culture of inclusion

Appendix B: Transformation stages for building a culture of inclusion. Pless & Maak (2004)



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