Background and History
For more than twenty years prior to the 1960’s, Dr. Don Clifton, a psychology professor at the University of Nebraska, studied what people did right to achieve top performance. He identified certain life themes that he translated into 34 strengths themes now recognized as the innate talents each person is “hardwired” with from their early childhood.
In 1969, Clifton founded Selection Research, Inc. (SRI), which began as a small business in his basement and grew into a large human resources consulting company. The Lincoln, Nebraska based firm developed an assessment tool that allowed an individual to rank their 34 talents based on a series of questions. Clients used this information to help them match candidates to roles in their organizations.
SRI Acquires Gallup
In 1988, Don Clifton’s son, Jim, led SRI in acquiring Gallup after the death of its founder, George Gallup. This well known Princeton, N.J. based polling company, with annual revenues of $10 million, was smaller than SRI which had revenues of $45 million. The new organization retained the Gallup name and Jim Clifton became the CEO. The company moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 2000.
During the 1990’s, Don Clifton acted as the guiding light in developing Gallup’s work on leadership, management and peak performance. He led teams of researchers whose work eventually led to creating the internet based Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment which was launched in 2001.
In 2002, the American Psychological Association honored Don Clifton with its Presidential Commendation as the “Father of Strengths-Based Psychology”. Don Clifton died in September 2003. The StrengthsFinder assessment was renamed by Gallup to the “Clifton StrengthsFinder”.
As of mid-2017 more than sixteen million individuals from around the globe had completed the StrengthsFinder assessment providing Gallup with a research base that has validated the methodology and accuracy of the assessment.
Gallup’s research and their consulting work with organizations discovered a high correlation between an individual’s 1) level of satisfaction based on their talents and 2) the level of their engagement with their organization.
Gallup’s research led to discovering that when individuals were able to utilize their “top five” talents, they were more engaged and the organization’s results significantly improved.
Gallup’s book, “Strengths Based Leadership”, provides advice on how to engage team members through their talents. The authors of the book also grouped the thirty four talents into four “domains of leadership strengths”.
- Relationship Building — “Those who lead through Relationship-Building talents are the essential glue that holds a team together. Without these talents on a team, in many cases, the group is simply a composite of individuals. In contrast, leaders with exceptional Relationship Building talents have the unique ability to create groups and organizations that are much greater than the sum of their parts.”
- Strategic Thinking — “Leaders with great Strategic Thinking talents are the ones who keep us all focused on what could be. They are constantly absorbing and analyzing information and helping the team make better decisions. People with talents in this domain constantly stretch our thinking for the future.”
- Executing — “Leaders with dominant talents in the Executing domain know how to make things happen. When you need someone to implement a solution, these are the people who will work tirelessly to get it done. Leaders with executing talents have the ability to “catch” an idea and make it a reality.”
- Influencing — “Those who lead with Influencing talents help their team reach a much broader audience. People with talents in this domain are always selling the team’s ideas inside and outside the organization. When you need someone to take charge, speak up, and make sure your group is heard, look to someone with the talents to influence.”
These four domains provide an excellent framework for understanding and engaging an individual’s talents in the context of the work of a team.
Combining the talents of all team members into a “team talents profile” gives the team members and the team leader a powerful understanding of how to engage, individually and collectively, the talents represented by members on the team.
Gallup has studied extensively the impact when work groups focus on and engage individual talents:
Ninety percent of the work groups studied had performance increases at or above 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, Gallup has discovered that almost seven in 10 employees (67%) who strongly agree with the statement “My manager focuses on my 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%.