Business executives, of course, don't have a lifetime. They have to show results, next year if not next quarter. That's true even of an appealing and not horribly costly philosophy like strengths, which offers ways to get maximum performance out of employees for minimum pay. But it has some costs: The book costs $26, though the online survey that gives you your top five themes used to cost $150 per person, Buckingham says. For full-scale training to indoctrinate managers in how to work with employees based on strengths, Gallup charges $4,000 for four days. For custom training programs like those implemented at Toyota University, the sky is basically the limit.

The Payoff

The potential for strength-based strategy is also boundless, say fans. Michele Australie has put about 250 managers at The St. Paul Companies Inc. through strengths training in the past year. Like Toyota's Morrison, Australie, manager of curriculum development for the Minnesota-based insurance company, says that interest and attendance have been amazingly strong. More importantly, however, she predicts that she'll be seeing positive bottom-line results within the next year.

“I can’t measure it directly right now, but give me about a year and I think we’ll see higher levels of engagement, higher levels of job satisfaction, and higher productivity from employees because they’re doing the work that they do best,” says Australie. “In a nutshell, we’ll have the right people in the right jobs.”