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Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Comparison of the Strengths Profile to the CliftonStrengths Assessment

by Adam Hickman and Mary Claire Evans


Strengths Profile

The Strengths Profile (originally branded the Realise2) was developed by the CAPP research team that included: Drs. Alex Linley, Janet Willars, Robert Biswas-Diener, Martin Stairs and Nicky Garcea, among others. The Strengths Profile, like CliftonStrengths, is theoretically rooted in positive psychology; its primary focus is on identifying strengths to aid in employee development. According to the former, strengths can be conceptualized as “the things that we are good at and that give us energy when we are using them.” Moreover, Strengths Profile asserts that strengths are sets of behavioral adaptations that individuals have developed in order to meet the demands of their environments. 

The authors go on to say that strengths consist of three essential elements: energy, performance and use. Their model of strengths was developed by studying high-performing employees and what they do well at work. They argue that high individual performers manage their energy by using their energizing strengths to stay motived and perform better. Altogether, the CAPP team has identified 60 strengths that fall under five higher-order strength families.

Strength Families
  1. Being -- includes: Authenticity, Centred, Courage, Curiosity, Gratitude, Humility, Legacy, Mission, Moral Compass, Personal Responsibility, Pride, Self-awareness, Service and Unconditionality
  2. Communicating -- includes: Counterpoint, Explainer, Feedback, Humour, Listener, Narrator, Scribe and Spotlight
  3. Motivating -- includes: Action, Adventure, Bounceback, Catalyst, Change Agent, Competitive, Drive, Efficacy, Growth, Improver, Persistence, Resilience and Work Ethic
  4. Relating -- includes: Compassion, Connector, Emotional Awareness, Empathic Connection, Enabler, Equality, Esteem Builder, Personalisation, Persuasion, Rapport Builder and Relationship Deepener
  5. Thinking -- includes: Adherence, Creativity, Detail, Incubator, Innovation, Judgement, Optimism, Order, Planful, Prevention, Reconfiguration, Resolver, Strategic Awareness and Time Optimiser
Strengths Profile Design

The Strengths Profile assessment is taken online and provides users with a detailed report of their realized strengths (those you use the most and enjoy), learned behaviors (strengths you know how to use but may not enjoy), unrealized strengths (those you should use more often) and weaknesses (strengths you have difficulty using and don’t enjoy). Next, the results define each of your strengths and weaknesses, and offer advice on how to address each of them. For example, if Persistence is one of your strengths, you may not like to give up. A way the Profile suggests you can further capitalize on this strength is by sharing your approaches with others and keeping in mind that in some situations, it may actually be healthy to concede and learn from failure.

CliftonStrengths Overview

The CliftonStrengths assessment was researched and developed by Don Clifton, who is often considered the “father of strengths psychology.” The CliftonStrengths assessment aims to measure the particular ways in which an individual tends to approach their life. In the workplace context, the assessment shows how the employee gets work done. CliftonStrengths does this by examining a person’s innate talent, which encompasses their personality and attitudes, as well as their knowledge, skills and abilities. The results can then be used for developmental purposes by providing a lens for understanding who that person is and how to individualize to their talents.

The assessment itself consists of 177 sets of paired statements; for each set, the employee indicates the extent to which each set of statements describe them. Upon completion, the assessment rank-orders a person’s talent themes (i.e., strengths) from 1 to 34, with 1 indicating your top strength and 34 your bottom strength. The 34 talent themes fall into one of four “domains” or categories that include strategic thinking, executing, influencing and relationship building. Overall, the assessment provides up to 278,256 combinations of the 34 themes.

CliftonStrengths vs. Strengths Profile

The CliftonStrengths and Strengths Profile assessments are similar in that they are embedded within the positive psychology and strengths framework. Their common theoretical backgrounds are reflected in the feedback each user receives on their most relevant strengths. By providing this feedback, each hopes to develop individuals by giving them a deeper understanding of what motivates them, as well as how that manifests itself in their interactions with others and the way they approach their work. However, the Strengths Profile diverges from CliftonStrengths in that the former offers insights into a person’s weaknesses. This is an important distinction that reflects differing philosophical perspectives regarding performance.

CliftonStrengths asserts that by further developing an individual’s strengths, you can maximize their output in the form of enhanced work engagement, job satisfaction and productivity. CliftonStrengths does have a rank-order of strengths, and each strength has blind spots, but philosophically, there is not a focus on weaknesses. Although the Strengths Profile gives surface-level advice on how you may address your weaknesses, it is difficult to determine the practical effectiveness of this self-awareness.

In the Profile’s technical report, no studies assessing the measure’s predictive validity related to performance were provided. This lack of information is troubling because of some claims that are made about Strengths Profile in the case studies on the product’s website -- such as improving students’ self-confidence and communication skills so they can secure a job. Thus, although the Profile may be reliable and show evidence of discriminant validity when compared with measures of personality and work engagement, and so on, its effectiveness in facilitating employee development and subsequent performance outcomes is questionable.

Bottom Line

Although the CliftonStrengths and the Strength Profile have similar roots in positive/strengths-based psychology, the Profile’s ability to develop employees is debatable. Moreover, the Profile’s practical approach to development, which focuses on strengths and weaknesses, seems contradictory to the strengths approach, which focuses on “what is right with the individual.” CliftonStrengths does not consider low-scoring items to equal a weakness, but a nuance as to anything that gets in your way -- which can include things that we are good at but unfitting for the situation. Thus, more theoretical clarity is needed on where these weaknesses fall in the Strengths Profile’s overall strengths-based model.

Those who answer items within the Strengths Profile are likely more able to get caught up in agreeing with themselves or conforming to what is socially desirable. In other words, respondents may get untrue results when they claim more confidence in their answer than truly aligns with the question. For example, an individual who is successful at acting quickly and decisively may struggle with choosing between the options of “successful” and “very successful” when taking the Strengths Profile. CliftonStrengths, by contrast, forces choices that impede over-endorsing oneself and being all things to all people. 

One other difference is the evidence of gains. While the Strengths Profile does report a sense of validity with many different constructs in academics, such as the Big 5 Personality and Ego Resilience Scale, coaches need the data points that executives, managers and employees can clearly situate themselves in to understand the unique power and edge that knowing their talents can yield in their career and life. 





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 and 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 and Connectedness.

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