Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Strengths Revolution: Rebranding the Future of Rehabilitation

"Find a small stream in which your strengths can flow and then see if you can carve it into the Mississippi."

--------------------------Marcus Buckingham

About a week ago, I stole a little time away from work to visit my family in California. As I was getting dressed early one morning, I turned on the TV in my hotel room to catch the day’s news and weather. The TV was already set to a channel running The Today Show and Tiki Barber, a former professional football player turned National TV Correspondent, was doing a feature story about Marcus Buckingham, a business management researcher, author, and consultant. I confess I had never heard of Marcus Buckingham prior to viewing the Today Show story. My gosh, where have I been?!
Within moments, I was sitting on the end of my hotel bed gripped by Buckingham’s message. He talked with Barber about a movement he is leading called The Strengths Revolution. Buckingham is a best-selling author of several books dedicated to identifying and promoting strengths-based practices in the workplace. His most recent publication is entitled Go Put Your Strengths to Work and was released on March 6, 2007 by Free Press.
As a public speakeer, Buckingham is in high demand and commands $60,000 a pop for his training seminars. His management consultant services include corporations that are household names such as Best Buy, Coca Cola, Disney, and Yahoo. Presently, Buckingham is on a multi-city tour promoting his new book and encouraging a strengths-based educational curricula inside America’s classrooms.
Buckingham’s management theory is indeed revolutionary. He is promoting a new vision about how we view ourselves in the workplace, classroom, and interactions with our world. According to Buckingham, all of us are born with natural talents and innate strengths. However, most of us tend to move away from what we knew instinctively about our individual strengths as children. After years of programming in the public education system, and then moving into highly structured roles inside the workforce, most of us tend to lose sight of our unique gifts and fail to maximize benefits from using these core strengths.
The guiding principle behind The Strengths Revolution is this--people tend to be most productive, challenged, and effective when they are tapping into their signature strengths and skill sets. The fundamental question is-Are we?
According to Buckingham, research data supports that most people are not using their full potential. In fact, only 17% of people surveyed in a study reported using their full capacities in the workforce in 2005. In 2006, this data declined even further to 14%. In other words, less than two out of ten American workers feel they are fully using and maximizing their strengths.
Buckingham is a strong advocate of business practices that are individually-based and maximize one’s core strengths. To the contrary, most American workers are marginalized in the workplace by job descriptions that are highly structured to get things done. Oftentimes, these roles do not necessarily capitalize on their unique gifts or assets. According to this management expert, we are spending far too much time addressing shortcomings when we could be maximizing greater yield by building on our natural talents. The end result is that much of our available time and energy is misdirected and distracting us from reaching our full potential as students or workers.
Buckingham’s strengths theory is counterintuitive to existing strategies in public education and corporate management. To illustrate, most of us have experienced job performance reviews where the primary focus is setting goals to improve our individual weaknesses. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with trying to improve ourselves or pleasing our employers. However, what Buckingham is saying is that most people in the workforce would be even more productive if they had ample opportunities to use and build upon their core strengths. After all, we are most comfortable and effective when we are operating in a natural comfort zone and encouraged to use our signature skill sets. It makes perfect sense. After all, these strengths are at the very core of who we truly are.
I fully understand what Buckingham is saying from my own experiences. Despite my company’s use of standardized job descriptions, we have a wide array of personalities, unique strengths, and skills sets among our various managers and staff. We use structured job descriptions with identified functions and desired qualifications as tools to help us recruit and supervise individual staff positions. However, my company doesn’t employ clones. All employees bring their own individual perspectives, experiences, and strengths to bear on the specific job roles they fill. As a senior manager, my job is to insure that these varied strengths are complementary, blended, and managed in ways that maximize performance results consistent with our defined mission.
As I listened to Buckingham’s presentation, I could not help but see obvious parallels with customizing employment in support of youth and adults with significant disabilities. By its very definition, customized employment is identifying the core interests, strengths, and support needs of job seekers with significant disabilities. In addition, customizing employment involves negotiations with business leaders to hire identified strengths and real contributions that people can make in the workforce. Customized employment, therefore, is a negotiated value exchange between a job seeker and employer based on strengths-based principles.
The fundamental goal of customized employment is reconceptualizing a workforce where individual strengths are identified and employed to increase opportunities for people with complex lives and employment barriers. In other words, customized employment is all about rebranding a rehabilitation system that is focused primarily on correcting or improving identified weaknesses so people with disabilities can join or rejoin the workforce. To say it simply, we need to modernize our approach. And transforming "rehabilitation" into a strengths-based employment strategy makes a lot of sense.
What is so interesting about Buckingham’s Strengths Revolution is that he is leading the way in marketing a universal design strategy compatible with trends in customizing employment. Frankly, I have no idea if Buckingham is aware of this fact. However, I have little question his leadership is increasing corporate attention to strengths-based research and practices. And this can only serve to open more doors to opportunities in the workforce for people with disabilities in America.
After watching the Today Show feature, I became an instant fan of Marcus Buckingham. We may be traveling parallel journeys but we are headed to the same destination indeed. I am hoping to purchase his new book this week to learn more about his strategies in maximizing individual strengths. Needless to say, I’m a dedicated member of The Strengths Revolution. I just didn’t realize I was a part of a wider national movement until last week. Now how cool is that?!
For more information about Marcus Buckingham and The Strengths Revolution, you can visit his web site at


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