What it takes to lead a revolution

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It can take time for new approaches to catch on – what's needed are people who challenge the status quo

As the evidence base for strengths-based talent management grows the approach is being adopted by more and more big-name companies such as the AA, SABMiller, Saga, Starbucks and some of the top University NHS Trusts, including King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and The Royal Marsden.

It can take time for new approaches to catch on, even when there is compelling data demonstrating their worth. Strengths-based recruitment and development is no different. Early adopters are, by definition, pioneers. They are the types who don’t wait to see how others react to something new.

But what makes them pioneers and how do they manage to successfully change mindsets and sometimes entrenched organisational practices? It’s not as simple as saying that they are the bosses so what they want to happen happens. Observing these types in action I have noticed other factors at play.

One is that they are courageous. They intuitively know what is right and they are not afraid to make a decision to change, even in the face of opposition. They are also the kinds of people who strive to do the right thing and push hard to achieve what they think is right for their organisation. They tend to be straightforward types who say it as it is. They can be feisty and challenging but their intentions are positive because they're about making things as good as they can possibly be. Often they see making a big, positive change as part of the legacy they want to leave.

These people are the types who can bring others with them and create a legacy of lasting performance improvement and engagement.

They are also not afraid of going against the prevailing norms. And they only do something if they are convinced it will help. Sandra Porter, former HRD of Starbucks UK and Ireland, told me: “I have never been someone that is keen to roll out a plan of off the shelf initiatives, as often the challenges and environments are so different that one size does not fit all."

Most of all they have the appetite and the desire to shake things up for the better. It’s almost as though they can’t live with themselves unless they do that.

In his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World Wharton psychology professorAdam Grant reminds us that: “…in the long run, research shows that the mistakes we regret are not errors of commission, but errors of omission. If we could do things over most of us would censor ourselves less and express our ideas more.”

Sally Bibb is the founding director of Engaging Minds. Her book Strengths-Based Recruitment and Development A Practical Guide to Transforming Talent Management Strategy for Business Results will be published in May

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