It's the latest wrinkle in management: Hire employees for what they do best and build your organization around those strengths. You'll love the results.


Mike Morrison is strong in Strategic, Ideation, and Relator. Can he have a positive conversation with someone like me, whose top themes include Input, Analytical, and Intellection? Or will my challenging - some would say nitpicking - questions put off the Dean for Associate Education and Development at the University of Toyota in Torrance, California, who has tendencies toward long-range visionary thinking and a preference for talking with close friends?

Welcome to the world of strengths, an emerging trend in management, training, and career development that could be to the new decade what Stephen Covey's Seven Habits were to the 1990s - or what mood rings and signs of the zodiac were to the 1970s and 1980s. One difference is that, instead of Covey's sometimes enigmatic admonitions to Sharpen the Saw and astrologers' moony predictions that we will experience financial problems in the coming year, strengths thinking is built around 34 themes of talent that all of us possess to some degree. Someone with a talent for Ideation, for example, loves ideas and new concepts. An Analytical type, on the other hand, has a bent for skewering nice ideas with pointed questions. Hence my concern about my interview with Morrison - which, in fact, went quite well.

Strengths theory, as it's sometimes called, has at its core a simple idea: We'll all do better if we concentrate on getting better at what we're already good at, rather than trying to learn something we stink at. That may sound like common sense. But according to surveys by the Gallup Organization, it's not common practice. In interviews with 1.7 million employees at 101 companies in 63 countries, the Princeton, New Jersey, management consulting and trend-tracking company discovered just 20 percent of people said they got to do what they do best at work every day. To Marcus Buckingham, that's "a tragedy."

Buckingham, a Gallup researcher who co-authored 1999's 400,000-copy-selling manual for managers called First, Break All the Rules, has teamed up with Donald O. Clifton, another Gallup researcher, on Now, Discover Your Strengths, just published by The Free Press. Applying the results of Gallup's studies, Buckingham and Clifton prescribe a complete regimen for identifying your strengths and those of your employees, then building an entire company around everyone doing what he or she does best.

It's a powerful prescription, according to those who have tried it. When Toyota University ran a pilot program two years ago, offering managers of Toyota's 10,000 U.S. employees a training program on identifying their strengths, the response was overwhelming. "Word of mouth coming out was electric, and we had a year long waiting list within a few weeks," reports Morrison. "That's unheard of for training."

Strengths fans say the philosophy has the power to greatly improve performance at both corporate and individual levels. "We've put a couple of thousand associates through it, and we're seeing evidence on an anecdotal basis with people self-reporting the increase in performance," Morrison says. "All the indicators are that this investment is paying back big-time for Toyota."