This article is written by our recruitment consultant Raquel Gonzalez. Raquel studied International Psychology with specialisation in Organisational Psychology, a field she is deeply interested in.
Technology is changing, the world is changing, jobs are changing! Consequently, employees need to adapt, be resilient, and learn continuously. At the same time, leaders must think about issues of motivation and performance and how to develop their employees’ strengths at work.
Strengths vs. Skills
Let’s begin by considering what is a strength and what is a skill. According to the English Dictionary, strength can be muscular or mental, and words such as vigour and power are constantly repeated. Authors in organisational psychology have defined strength as, a trait, “natural” or partly innate, the ability to perform well. Linley, P. and Harrington, S. (2006), on their paper “Playing to your strengths” listed and categorised strengths of employees, as being, among others, creativity, curiosity, love of learning, integrity.
A skill, on the other hand, is defined in the English dictionary as an ability or to do something well. It is about experience, competence, and performance.
Team leader vs. Manager
In his book “The Inspirational Leader” (2009), John Adair defines a manager as someone who does more of the business management or administrative part. Managers often work to pre-agreed processes and have knowledge of their specialties, they are achievers and more. A leader, on the other hand, is someone who provides direction and creates teamwork. Managers can also have leadership qualities, as can other team members. “Leader” is an abstract concept.
In organisational psychology, we talk about different types of leaders, mainly transactional and transformational leaders. In transactional leadership, the relationship between the followers and the leader is mainly an exchange; focusing on rewards or recognition. In transformational leadership, on the other hand, the relationship between the follower and the leader is more one-by-one. This leader encourages growth and is characterised as charismatic and inspirational. Although, a transformational leader may seem the ideal for any company this depends on the organisational needs. To support a team in further development, a leader should listen to followers (team members), provide them with different tools or resources on the job, and be an inspirational figure.
What can a leader do for employee development?
Team leaders should be able to understand and support an employee during the development process while still being in line with organisational needs. They must ensure open communication with employees and a supportive team environment. For example, an employee’s main strength is creativity, she/he wants to develop it by practicing and gaining more experience. This person is more likely to have room for development if there is good communication with the leader, if the team environment is helpful, and if the basic psychological needs are fulfilled.
It is part of the leader’s task to create a culture of trust, good communication, and friendly environment. However, perceived fairness is key! Consequently, individuals can concentrate on their development and the team can support each other on it.
Basic Needs Theory
(No, I am not talking about Maslow’s pyramid)
The Basic needs theory is a subcategory of the self-determination theory and it is composed of three psychological needs in connection with work: relatedness, competence, and autonomy. For someone to develop at work, they must feel an emotional connection with it (relatedness), they must feel that they are able to perform or that they have the relevant skills for it (competence), and that they have some sort of control or power regarding the outcome of their work (autonomy). When an employee has these three elements at work, motivation levels go up. Moreover, as humans, we also have a need for a challenge. We need to know that we can do a task as well as develop it and get better at it. We want to learn more. A team leader or manager can support the team by using these elements as job resources. Make sure that the team member has enough of each of the elements to perform.
How do employees develop their strengths?
Here is when personal development plans can come into play. Team leaders can help the members of the team to become aware of their own strengths and the whole team can help with this. This can be done with 1 to 1s, weekly meetings, monthly meetings. The frequency of meetings varies among companies and it is difficult to say which one is the best.
The first step is to access strengths. Employees can use VIA Survey of Signature Strengths, a short self-assessment test that helps highlighting one’s best qualities. The next step is to set a goal and method for further development. A goal needs to be realistic and arranged together with an employee. You can think about exercises, books, or specific courses to further develop different strengths that a particular employee has.
With the help of a team lead, an employee’s first step to develop strengths is to identify them. After that, he or she must understand or acknowledge how developed this strength is and create an action plan regarding the strengths we want to develop. The support that a leader should provide goes beyond financial resources and special tools. Good communication, following up on the action plan, creating an optimal team environment, and providing employees with enough challenge to perform are equally important.