Employ Insight

Strengths-matching over skill-matching

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  • There is a simple yet compelling theory of what makes a good employee good.  It goes like this: when job resources are low and job demands high, employees and their work suffer.  When job resources are high, employees thrive regardless of job demands.  Developed by Arnold Bakker, this model explains why successful companies like Google, Zappos and REI offer their employees everything from paid sabbaticals to life coaches to free laundry.  It also explains the benefit of strengths-matching over skill-matching.


    Job resources are essential to success
    Workers need resources to succeed, and these resources fall into three categories.  Some resources are functional, involving the skills, tools and materials necessary to actually complete the job.  Some increase wellness by reducing the psychological and physical cost of the job.  Some are future-oriented, allowing workers to grow, learn and develop.

    These last two categories may seem largely superfluous, but a growing body of empirical evidence suggests they are absolutely essential.  Low burnout, sustained engagement and high productivity require high levels of all three resources.


    The problem with skill-matching
    When employees are matched to tasks based on skills, they receive job demands based only on the functional resources available to them.  A team member is fluent in HTML, and so she is assigned a large yet straightforward web project.  On paper she certainly has the functional resources to complete the task, but she may not have the right mix of strengths to actually succeed.  Maybe her top strength is creativity, and the routine nature of the project prevents her from experimenting and growing.  Or maybe she’s not naturally persistent, and the length of the project costs her psychologically.  She has the skills, but not the strengths to succeed.


    Strengths matching provides all three resources
    Strengths-matching provides the solution.  By understanding the strengths inherent to a task, you can select from your pool of skilled workers those best able to maximize their well-being and development on that particular task.

    Take event planning for a political campaign.  The basic skill set for different events remains largely the same, and there are bound to be plenty of campaign workers who have those skills.  Yet the strengths necessary to plan a crucial photo op – appreciation of excellence, perspective, prudence – differ dramatically from the strengths necessary to organize a rally – social intelligence, creativity and certainly a strong dose of humor.

    By understanding the strengths of your team, you can move beyond simple skill-matching to provide the resources necessary for each member of your team to succeed.  That’s the strengths advantage.


    Elijah Goldberg works at EmployInsight as a marketing strategist.  He is interested in human resources, technology and foreign aid.  He co-founded the non-profit Walimu and studies at Yale.