Strengths Coaching Blog

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Comparison of CliftonStrengths and the StandOut Assessment Theory

By Adam Hickman and Mary Claire Evans


There are a variety of assessment-based development theories and tools in the market today that coaches can use. In this blog, we will compare two theories — the StandOut Assessment Theory and CliftonStrengths — weighing out the differences and providing a little history, too.

StandOut Assessment Theory

The StandOut Assessment was developed and tested by the Marcus Buckingham Company between 2001 and 2010. Marcus Buckingham worked with Dr. Donald Clifton at Gallup and co-authored the 2001 Gallup book Now, Discover Your Strengths with Dr. Clifton. The book presented a positive, strengths-based psychology lens, and Buckingham duplicated the efforts of the strengths-based philosophy when establishing the StandOut Assessment. In essence, the assessment aims to determine what is right with individuals and build upon their strengths. In the introduction to his book, StandOut, Buckingham acknowledges that he replicates the perspective of the CliftonStrengths Assessment. However, instead of the 34 talent themes, the book focuses on Nine Strengths Roles; and instead of one’s top five strengths, StandOut reveals a person's top two strength roles. One can see the similarity in just the results of the assessment. 


The Nine Strengths Roles:

  1. Advisor — A practical, concrete thinker who is most powerful when reacting to and solving other people's problems.
  2. Connector — A catalyst whose power lies in a passion for bringing two people or ideas together to make something bigger and better than it is now.
  3. Creator — One who makes sense of the world — pulling it apart, seeing a better configuration and creating it.
  4. Equalizer — A levelheaded person whose power comes from keeping the world in balance, ethically and practically.
  5. Influencer — A person who can engage people directly and persuade them to act. Their power is in their persuasion.
  6. Pioneer — These people see the world as a friendly place where around every corner good things will happen. Their power comes from optimism in the face of uncertainty.
  7. Provider — One who senses other people's feelings and feels compelled to recognize those feelings, give them a voice and act on them.
  8. Stimulator — The host of other people's emotions. They feel responsible for them, for turning them around and elevating them.
  9. Teacher — Thrilled by the potential they see in each person, their power comes from learning how to unleash it.

Stand Out Assessment Design

The StandOut Assessment takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes to complete and has an evident productivity and work-related focus, as illustrated by the slogan of the assessment: "Find your edge. Win at work." Participants have 34, item-type “situational judgment” questions that measure their intensities of the nine strengths roles. For each question, participants have 45 seconds to choose how they would respond to work, ethical, etiquette or personal conditions from a set of up to four answers. Having complicated and stressful scenarios with only four different options sometimes forces a user to pick an action they would not necessarily do. 

After finishing the assessment, participants receive a personalized report with their top two strength roles and a list ranking the rest of the nine roles. Each person’s matches are based on their instinctive behavioral choices. 

CliftonStrengths Overview

Developed after over 25 years of research, psychologist and Father of Strengths Psychology Don Clifton introduced CliftonStrengths in 2001 with the best-selling book Now, Discover Your Strengths. CliftonStrengths analyzes people’s skills, knowledge, abilities, attitudes and personality traits and categorizes them into 34 signature talent themes. In 2007, StrengthsFinder 2.0 was released and became the upgraded version of the assessment used today.

CliftonStrengths gives teams and individuals an opportunity to discover their natural patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. The tool itself is meant for development and coaching. Each result moves beyond simple insight descriptors such as “people person” or “pays attention to details” to creating a language through which individuals can express who they are, what they need, what they give and what they value.

CliftonStrengths Assessment Design

The CliftonStrengths assessment is a timed, online measurement tool consisting of 177 paired statements. For each pairing, respondents choose which statement best describes themselves. Upon completion, they receive their Signature Themes report which presents their top five, or five most dominant themes, out of the 34 possible options. There are 278,256 possible combinations of top five themes and more than 33 million different sets of Signature Themes — so each result is unique to that individual. 

To date, more than 17 million people have taken the CliftonStrengths assessment.

Both Assessments Are Accurate, But StandOut Takes a Different Path 

While both the StandOut and CliftonStrengths assessments are based on the psychology of strengths, the results demonstrate the real difference.

The StandOut assessment provides results defined as roles. For example, an individual’s top two assessed strength roles could be Influencer and Advisor. In addition to receiving descriptions of these roles and a ranking of the remaining seven, Standout goes one step further to combine the top two roles and give an ideal career based on individual results. 

CliftonStrengths is more about the way people tend to operate in any role and focuses on things they can develop throughout their lives. The CliftonStrengths assessment excels not only at providing descriptions but giving coaches the opportunity to identify patterns and clues to an individual’s talent. By comparison, Standout is more about how a person fits in the team they are on right now and how they may approach some common situations. The results include their top two roles rather than top five talents with the notion of being able to take action sooner.

Don Clifton’s legacy continues through the work of strengths coaches all around the world. Even as you are reading this, someone in the world is engaging in a conversation or reflection about their talents and developing them into strengths. The edge this provides is to not limit an individual to being who someone else believes they are, but rather awaken individuals to who they already are and teach them how to maximize their potential to achieve excellence every day at work and in life. Those of us with high strategic thinking and influencing themes appreciate the conversation about recurring patterns of thought, feeling and behavior as this leads to insights to take action; and those of us with high executing and relationship themes have our targets with the CliftonStrengths assessment to know how to begin our work. 

Bottom Line

The premise of coaching is to explore an individual’s aptitudes and abilities through their talents. From the moment individuals receive their results, their personalized CliftonStrengths report provides actionable insights and advice on how to turn talents into strengths, whereas StandOut presents roles and phrases that describe the person. Through CliftonStrengths, coaches immediately gain insights on where to begin their coaching conversation. With StandOut, coaches run the risk of starting the conversation with results that bias their thoughts with a recommended career. 

Comparing and utilizing the two assessments is ultimately the role of a coach — many coaches and organizations use both instruments. Even with the applicability of CliftonStrengths, coaching is still a necessary step toward improving performance. However, the CliftonStrengths assessment not only provides context for performance development, it builds a common language within an organization to shed light on the essence of positive psychology — studying what’s right with people. 


What experience do you have with these tools? Please share your insights below!





Adam Hickman,M.B.A.., is a Learning Design Consultant for Gallup. Adam has worked as a consultant and adviser in the field of learning and development, organizational development, and how to transform a culture from best-in-class to world class. His insights have supported many organizations to increase performance by maximizing their talent and human capital systems. Adam received his B.A. in Communications from Hiram College, M.B.A. in Management from Walden University, and currently is conducting a qualitative research study for his Ph.D. in Management from Walden University.

Adam's top 5 strengths are: Ideation | Command | Analytical | Competition | Individualization




Mary Claire Evans is a Qualitative Research Specialist for Gallup. She conducts market research and works with the e-Commerce and CliftonStrengths teams. As an expert in market research and how our coaching philosophy compares to other assessments, Mary Claire is able to help coaches prepare for conversations with clients about each assessment. In addition to being a talented associate for Gallup; she graduated with distinction with a double degree in Economics and Spanish Literature from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Mary Claire's top 5 strengths are: Individualization | Achiever | Learner | Responsibility | Connectedness

Register for the 2018 CliftonStrengths Summit here!

3 comments :

Kevin Thiele said...

Many thanks for a very clear explanation. Marcus Buckingham has said that he does not see StandOut as a competitor to CliftonStrengths and I agree. Personally I value the greater depth that CS offers and the difficulty that novices or critics have in labelling people. From my own perspective, as a veteran seller of technology solutions I know that Sales is a skill that can be acquired by people with quite disparate talents.

George Willock said...

My thanks to both of you on your article. I have found that the underpinning of the Strengths Assessment as you’ve defined in the article as “actionable insights and advice on how to turn talents into strengths” is the most essential element of coaching. This is a primary reason I have appreciated and used Dr. Clifton’s Strengths Based approach to working with people for over 30 years. Too often I’ve seen where coaching and especially in seminars and books attempts are made and offered to translate the talents and existing strengths into roles and/or tasks for the person being coached. To me, this is boxing a person’s unique talents and strengths into predetermined roles and/or tasks. What I’ve found to more effective and more freeing for the coached person is that together, we brainstorm how they could apply their talents and strengths to achieve their objective. Again, thanks for your article, it is very appreciated.

Barry Rellaford said...

Adam and Mary Claire, thank you for this insightful and useful comparison. It's a strengths-based, positive review and I appreciate the spirit and grace with which you offer it. Thank you!

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