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May 2013
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Teaching Strengths in West Bengal

Posted by: Avirupa Bhaduri & Alex Linley

 

In her latest blog below, Avirupa shares with us her experiences of teaching strengths approaches to future managers, and contrasts this with her further work in developing strengths in underprivileged communities, through the Action Aid-sponsored workshops that she has been delivering in the remote Bankuria and Purulia districts of West Bengal…

 

“March is quite pleasant this year, the mercury hasn’t been cruel. Spring is in the air, and I feel fortunate to wake up every morning to a cuckoo’s call living in a city. By now I’ve settled down to the changes and have begun to enjoy my new life. However, I wanted to push my role as a strengths practitioner further.

 

With that positive note I sought counsel from Alex. We spoke after quite a long time, for over an hour, during which a number of significant pointers came up. That conversation helped me immensely to set my direction ahead with clarity and constructive plans. We decided to pursue the options available to generate work, however small, for Shiriti group.

 

But alongside I wanted to integrate my other assignments to strengths. I teach Human Resource Management in a college, as a part time lecturer. My students are young graduates studying to be future managers. I go to class the next week armed with “The Strengths Book”. We were to cover chapters on motivation and leadership. As I speak on different theories of leadership and motivation, I notice the usual loss of interest.

 

This time though I start speaking about the strengths theory. I explain how each one of us is in possession of unique strengths, which if realized and applied intelligently can unlock latenpotential. It piques their interest and they start asking questions, like if this is just a theory or is it functional. I talk about Capp, Aviva, Ernst & Young and show them The Strengths Book. I read excerpts and stories of some of the most common strength they can relate to. It always works.

 

After class I gave them the assignment to think about their own strengths and at least one perceptible strength of their best friend. After class 3 to 4 students came up to ask where they can find the book. I advised them to use the internet.

 

Next week more good news followed. The Action Aid supported workshops in marginalized communities have started again, and they once again invited me to take a workshop in Bankura district of West Bengal. I gladly agreed. By now the weather has worsened. Bankura and Purulia are the hottest districts of Bengal. The day we board the train it’s sultry and uncomfortably hot. I was worried whether the participants will attend the workshop braving the heat.

 

We reached Chhatna around noon and from there it took 20 min on a motorbike to reach the venue, which is a Govt. sponsored primary school. As I was getting down, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by the delegates, many of whom I realized had participated in my previous workshop in Baghmundi. They seemed happy to see me again!

 

The first class was on rights. Surprisingly the group showed their awareness of rights quite well. It definitely proves the success of this project, and I feel proud to have contributed to it. I began my session by asking those who had attended the previous workshop to identify themselves. There were quite a few members, I then asked them to relate to the others what they felt were the take aways of that seminar.

 

I was amazed to find a lot of the women articulating about positive attributes about themselves, albeit mostly related to their performance as a homemaker. Then I asked what strengths have they used this time, if at all. The group answered that since for most of them cooking is a great strength area, they told the organizers not to hire a professional cook, instead they themselves took the collective initiative to cook for all 50 of us. It was wonderful!! I cheered!! Lunch indeed was delicious!!

 

However, I observered that although they are conscious of their rights, they lack confidence to talk about it, let alone exercise them. So I decided to design this workshop around one of strength area, i.e., Spotlight. In my experience, theatre is a wonderful medium that brings alive people’s strength.

 

So this time again I let the pilot group do most of the briefing about strengths back to the 1st timers. Then like before I divided the group into 5 teams, to compete about the best approach to solve a crucial topical problem, boring deep tubewells for water.

 

Bankura and Purulia are worst hit during summer as rain-fed rivers dry up and ground water supply drops drastically. The only relief is boring deep tube wells by the Govt. agencies. But the contractors often dupe villagers by setting up tube wells without adequate depth, so that water is not available.

 

We try to find a way through role play where I pose as Govt. officer, a colleague as contractor etc. The participants come in groups and try to use their collective strengths in order to force the officer to inspect the faulty tube well, and thereafter sanction another. The members of pilot group are distributed evenly among the teams. The teams come one after another and try to overcome the intimidation and poor self-esteem to fulfill their target in 15 mins.

 

The performance as expected was much better this time thanks to the pilot group, who acted as catalyst, and energized the teams. I felt it is easier for people coming from marginalized communities to open up to the idea of strength if it came from one of their own. I resolved then and there to develop as many pilot groups as possible to take the torch of strength based living ahead.”

 

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