2 Return on Investment. Research also suggests that return on investment (ROI) is improved when
organizations include strengths-based training in their
learning models. Studies show that when you train
people in areas where they struggle, they can generally make marginal gains, hopefully to the minimum
level of proficiency required. Yet when you train people
in areas of strength, they make geometric, accelerated
leaps in learning and related performance. To those who
struggle with analyzing and proving the ROI of training programs, this is startling—and most helpful—news.
Training programs focused on developing employees’
strengths are more likely to demonstrate effective returns
for your organization.
For example, an April 2012 article in McKinsey
Quarterly lauds the case of a company struggling to
implement change management and leadership train-
ing. The company succeeded by choosing to train man-
agers who were “positive deviants,” that is, program
participants were well-positioned to have influence,
and they already possessed some of the desired behav-
iors at which training was directed. Leadership and
professional skills training are particularly ripe areas
for piloting strengths-based programs within profes-
sional service firms. Although it can be complicated in
the corporate world to untangle performance metrics
and determine which managers might best be suited
for advanced, strength-focused leadership training, it’s
arguably easier to do so within law firms. Given the
pressures of the billable hour and bonus
targets, law firm positive deviants—attor-
neys who step up, volunteer and lead efforts
to improve the firm—are easy to spot,
because they’re more often the exception
than the rule.
reward distinctive performance, strengths-based training
could similarly boost motivation and retention, significantly increasing the long-term ROI on the firm’s training
STRENGTHS IN A LAW FIRM CONTEXT
Good news: Strengths-focused development is not a
one-size-fits-all approach, and you can start anywhere
you’d like. The first step is to identify an area of attorney
strength that can be measured and differentiated. These
areas could—and should—include both professional
skills and substantive legal skills.
One key to building an effective strengths-based
program is to consider what makes certain attorneys
stand out. What do these strong performers have in
common? Once you’ve selected an area of focus, you can
design a program that both enhances that strength and
also develops complementary strengths, taking advantage of a natural strengths-compounding effect.
Proponents of strengths-based development often rely
on a definition of strength that is based on the work of
prominent positive psychologist Martin Seligman. He
defines a strength as a behavior that is
• executed effectively;
• broadly useful in a variety of settings;
• lasting in its effects over time;
• consistent in producing positive outcomes;
• valued for its intrinsic worth as well as its positive
3 Retention. Even expensive strengths- based programs can pay high dividends.
For example, at Bertelsmann, high-potential
managers are provided specialized training such
as attendance at INSEAD’s Global Executive
MBA program. McKinsey Quarterly reported
in June 2012 that “over the three years this
benefit has been available, motivation and retention rates among alumni of the program have
sharply increased for less than it would have
cost to give them salary hikes.” In the law firm
environment, where management has minimal
latitude to use salary increases and bonuses to
STEPS TO DEVELOPING A SUCCESSFUL
• Identify an area of attorney strength in which to invest.
• Assess your potential target training group (by practice, seniority cohort, office, etc.).
• Identify positive deviants within your target group—that
is, people who already exhibit aspects of the strength.
•Articulate your vision of successful development
of this strength, and design your training program
around those goals.
• Make sure your training is interactive and includes
experiential learning. This is critical, so that attorneys can effectively enhance and practice the identified strength.
• Deliver the program, provide work-related practice experience and measure results through self-assess-ment and performance metrics.