Assessing Strengths, One Employee at a Time

Personality Tests Taught One Manager How to Get the Most Out of Her Workers’ Skills

Posted September 19, 2008 at 2:32pm

A book called “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” changed Pamela Rothenberg’s life in 2005.

“I read the book and was just absolutely transformed,” she said. “It basically says manage and lead to people’s strengths.”

Rothenberg, managing partner of the D.C. office of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, said she read Gallup Consulting’s take on management thanks to a co-worker’s recommendation. The authors use an assessment to identify users’ strengths, which then empowers them to use those skills in an environment tailored to their talents. The authors’ research can be adapted to any industry, and their goal (to cultivate a more engaged work force) is universal for managers. For employees, these kinds of assessments can give a better sense of the direction that their careers might take, based on their strengths and weaknesses.

Rothenberg invited Gallup to address the firm’s retreat that year. Gradually she introduced everyone in the firm to the test, from the partners to the administrative assistants, and now every employee takes it. Rothenberg said she loves the assessment, which takes about 20 minutes and immediately ranks an employee’s talent themes from one to 34. It allows managers to identify which employees in any part of the firm have the necessary talents for an open position or complementary talents for team projects. The goal is that employees who are working on tasks that play to their strengths will become more engaged in their job and will ultimately be more productive.

Rothenberg said one of her top five talent themes, for example, is “maximizer.” So, for example, after she was asked to give a lecture about office environmentalism, she would put her notes into a PowerPoint presentation and send it to everyone at the firm and then would use the notes to write a book. It’s all an effort to maximize the research that she had done for the original lecture. On the other hand, her 34th talent theme is “includer,” so her weakness is an unwillingness to include people who have angered her. To compensate for that weakness, she’ll seek help from co-workers who ranked higher as includers and therefore are more likely to reach out to the best candidates, regardless of their unrelated flaws.

Rothenberg said Gallup’s strengths-based assessment is “so much more robust” than other personality tests like Myers-Briggs. While Myers-Briggs gives test takers insights into their personality, Gallup’s assessment goes a step further to give employees an idea of how to use their strengths to improve their work.

Rothenberg said she uses the results “very liberally” in activities around the office to foster teamwork. For example, she said, at an office party she used the Gallup results to build teams in a Wii competition. Each group was made up of people with similar talents, which led to those people finding out how they related with other people like them.

After everyone in the firm took the assessment, Gallup continued to work with them to implement its results. A second survey of 12 questions determines how engaged employees are in their workplace by asking questions such as whether they know what is expected of them at work and whether they have a best friend at work.

Since the publication of “First, Break All the Rules” in 1999, Gallup has released several more books that build on its strengths-based development theory, including a few that tailor the theory for specific industries. Vandana Allman, Gallup’s principal leadership consultant and the representative who worked most closely with Rothenberg, co-authored “Animals, Inc.,” which relates a popular Gallup story about barnyard animals trying to run a business.

Regardless of the kind of creatures you work with, the objective is to get everyone enthusiastically involved.

“When you manage to people’s strengths,” Rothenberg said, “they will be incredibly much more engaged.”