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1 May 20244 min read

Strengths Unleashed: Designing Higher Education Workplaces for Optimal Performance

Universities navigate significant pressure and change, including political and financial uncertainty. Leading organisations through such challenges requires fluid understanding of how to maximise the talents, innovation and performance within your workforce. At Strengthify, we apply our expertise in positive psychology and in-depth sector knowledge to help higher education organisations achieve this goal.

What is positive psychology and a strength-based approach?

Positive psychology is the scientific study of optimum human functioning. While traditional psychology and studies of organisations have focussed on decreasing problems or negative experiences, positive psychology studies the conditions in which people flourish and perform at their highest. Backed by rigorous evidence, the field offers ironclad direction on how organisations can create the right conditions for their employees to feel engaged, motivated, and achieve optimal performance.

One of the field’s most compelling findings is that employees are significantly more happy, engaged, and productive when supported to understand and harness their unique natural strengths123. Every individual has innate strengths and abilities that can be productively applied to challenges and meaningful work; when we do this, we experience deep concentration, increased motivation, and productivity. Gallup estimates that the chances of two people having the same combination of strengths is 1 in 34 million, and that developing those incredibly unique abilities is a person’s greatest chance to succeed4, as opposed to spending the majority of time fixing weaknesses or attempting to be successful in everything.

Why build strengths into your workplace?

Building more opportunities for all employees to understand and utilise their strengths has undeniable benefits. In fact, workers who use their strengths regularly are 6x more likely to be engaged in their jobs and have less absence and turnover. They are 3x more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, better well-being, and stronger leadership performance56. Organisations that strategically implement strength development programmes also consistently report improved customer satisfaction and financial management.

Designed to empower performance

The applications of a strengths-based approach also extend much further than individual development. Organisations have an opportunity to redefine conventional employment practices to prioritise inherent talent use and peak performance from the outset of employment. What might our traditional employment practices look like using this lens?

Recruitment processes often suffer from biases and poor predictors of future performance due to the reliance on CVs, unstructured interviews, and references7. By incorporating more effective methods such as work-sample questions, psychological assessments, and structured interviews, organisations can better predict which candidate will perform the best in the role. These changes can help higher education organisations objectively measure the talents, skills, and experiences that future employees will leverage to achieve peak performance. Additionally, such changes can reduce hiring bias and discrimination.

Onboarding is typically designed to familiarise new hires with an organisation's processes and culture. However, adopting a strengths-based approach enables new hires’ to achieve rapid success, emphasising understanding their skills, strengths, and preferred work styles while integrating them into the organisation's values. Equipping both new hires and their managers to capitalise on talent from the outset boosts successful performance, collaborative working, and engagement.

Performance Management using a strengths-based approach would shift from periodic evaluations to ongoing development, with managers focusing on coaching and dialogue to optimise talent utilisation and manage areas of weakness. Providing internal opportunities for development, stretch and advancement aligned to strengths and passions is also key.

Organisational Change processes can be optimised using positive psychology to enhance innovation, collaboration, and resilience. Aligning transformation tasks and responsibilities with individual strengths can also improve motivation and performance, resulting in successful and sustainable transformations.

What can organisations do now?

The advantages of recognising and utilising innate talents within a workforce are significant, but how can an organisation become strengths-based?

  1. Start with development - Encourage all employees to identify their natural talents and skills, and understand the necessary conditions for them to perform at their best.
  2. Upskill managers - Managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement and yet many have had no formal training or development. Investing in building the self-awareness and skills of all managers to impact positively on others is fundamental.
  3. Develop internal experts - Developing a network of strengths experts among HR, Organisational Development, and internal coaches will provide practical insights and tools for sustainable change.
  4. Unlock team synergy and collaboration - Encouraging employees to understand and leverage each other's strengths leads to greater cohesion, innovation and high performance towards team goals.
  5. Review working practices - Strengths-based policies and practices that span the employee lifecycle guide the attraction, engagement, and utilisation of unique talents at all levels.

We support higher education organisations to pragmatically implement science-backed practices for individuals, managers and teams. We offer strengths discovery workshops and practical training programmes to optimise the performance, engagement and well-being of groups and individuals. For upcoming dates click here.


  1. Luan et al. (2023). Strengths use in the workplace: A meta-analysis, Journal of Psychology in Africa, 33:6, 612-617
  2. Pap et al. (2022). Bringing our best selves to work: Proactive vitality management and strengths use predicting daily engagement in interaction, Frontiers in Psychology, 13.
  3. Donaldson et al. (2019).Evaluating Positive Psychology Interventions at Work: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology. 4, 113–134.
  4. Asplund (2021) How your strengths set you apart, Available at:
  5. Asplund et al. (2016) The Relationship Between Strengths-Based Employee Development and Organizational Outcomes: 2015 Strengths Meta-Analysis, Available at:
  6. Zenger et al. (2012). How to be exceptional: Drive leadership success by magnifying your strengths. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
  7. Schmidt & Hunter. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124(2), 262–274.

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