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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How to Embed Strengths Deep in Your Organization's DNA

By Tom Matson, Senior Director of Executive Leadership: Gallup Education

Organizations and campuses that have successfully embedded strengths deep in their DNA leverage the talents of more than just one or a few leaders. They connect strengths-based development with meaningful outcomes, and they are fueled by more than a mere passion for learning about strengths. To embed strengths deep in your organization's DNA, answer the questions who, why, and how.

Shaping a strengths-based culture takes more than just one leader or advocate. The talents of one person are not enough to be successful. Rather, a well-rounded and representative team is required. This group should be large enough to create impact, yet small enough to make timely decisions.

Once your strengths team is in place, the next step is to figure out which measurable outcomes you aim to affect. Why would your campus or organization invest in strengths? How will you know if it worked? Improved engagement and wellbeing are just two examples of why you would bring strengths to your organization. Strengths are how you improve these business metrics, though -- not why.

Among Gallup clients, we've seen organizations aim their strengths efforts at various performance outcomes. One organization may use strengths to increase employee engagement and profit. Another organization, such as a university, may use strengths to enhance the engagement, wellbeing, retention, and career preparedness of its students. For your strengths effort to be successful, you must clearly articulate and communicate the reason your organization is implementing strengths.

As organizations seek improvement through strengths, they can measure success by individual and team outcomes. A strengths-based organization encourages its people to use their talents to boost their personal engagement and wellbeing -- and to achieve the key outcomes of their role.

For example, when you look at a team through a strengths-based lens, you may see talents that are not being used in a healthy, productive way. In this case, the reason might not be lack of strengths development; it might have to do with the engagement of members of that team. To build a strengths-based organization, employees must put their strengths into action and understand how engagement, wellbeing, and strengths intersect. If their wellbeing or engagement aren't in a good place, their top five strengths look and feel very different to those around them.

To help employees grow, great managers won't just talk with them about their strengths. Rather, these managers will help employees understand how they can use their talents to increase their engagement and wellbeing. Great managers will ask probing questions about expectations, developmental needs, and recognition -- and help them define quality work. They will also use strengths to develop individuals and build teams that create growth and success.

As your organization integrates strengths, remember to first answer the key questions who, why, and how. Those answers will help your organization embed strengths in its DNA. More importantly, it will help you and your employees meet the key outcomes that matter to your organization's success.

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Tom Matson is the Senior Director of Executive Leadership for the Gallup Education Practice. He is also an executive coach and leadership expert, with more than 10 years of consulting experience. He is committed to challenging leaders to become authentic and fully live out their strengths each day in a healthy and productive way. Matson earned his bachelor’s degree in communications and master’s degree in organizational leadership.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Make It Quick; Make It Stick -- Strengths in 30 Seconds

By Maika Leibbrandt, Gallup Learning and Development Consultant

I am strangely entertained by reality television, specifically weight loss shows. Recently, I was comfortable on my couch, mindlessly downing an entire bag of nacho cheese tortilla chips, and rooting on my favourite contestants as they huffed and puffed their way through yet another ridiculous physical challenge. I was snuggled firmly into my corner of the sofa when something new happened:  Before the commercial break, one of the show’s trainers addressed the camera directly.  As if he was looking right at me, he said “Okay, now all of you on the couch, it’s your turn. Here are three exercises you can do in your living room during the next commercial break.”

Suddenly the experience was real for me. I no longer was a spectator in someone else’s journey -- I was now called to be a part of something -- and supposedly I could do it in just a few minutes.

Effective application of strengths is no spectator sport. If we are really going to connect beyond a feel-good initiative into the everyday lives of busy professionals, we must offer manageable ways of communicating our commitment to strengths. One way of offering this opportunity is to consider every leader’s interactions with other people as a chance to help them focus on their own talents. A formula I have challenged every individual to use is outlined as such:

What do you love?  
Using your Clifton StrengthsFinder profile as a guide, consider the activities that give you the most energy and excitement. Of your current key performance indicators, which is most meaningful to you? What part of your morning routine or afternoon checklist would you love to do all day long?

What can you give?
Clifton StrengthsFinder was not created to help human beings feel validated. It was created with engagement in mind, considering placement of people within a team where their talents are most perfectly aligned. This question gives the individual the opportunity to discuss his or her strengths in application. How do your talents play into what is needed by the group? Consider past excellence as well as future ambitions.

What do you need?
The best workout happens with the right shoes, appropriate timing, and at times the ideal coach.  Our obligation for applying our strengths affectively is to be honest about the situations that lead us to using our strongest talents.

A strengths-based road map to success is different than the map most of us use to get through school. Rather than filling in the gaps and focusing on what to improve, the ideal strengths-based approach is to identify our weaknesses and strive to make them irrelevant. The flip side of this approach requires individuals to consider situations where their strengths need to be in play. If we create more of these situations where our strengths can be utilized, we can avoid our weaknesses altogether. For example, my Adaptability feels like a wasted talent at times when I am required to plan six months in advance. My favourite teacher in high school called me “the girl who didn’t do anything until the last minute,” and I like to think he said this affectionately. One change I have made, based on the understanding of my needs, is to plan meetings a week ahead rather than months in advance. This gives others what they need and allows me to truly play to my strengths.

And now, the 30 seconds you’ve been waiting for…

“I’m Maika. I love interacting with people and throwing around new ideas. I offer new perspectives on current initiatives, and I react quickly in times of chaos. To be at my best, I need to know the absolute boundaries so I can be creative and respectful of others simultaneously. I thrive when given the opportunity to tell a story.”

These three simple questions, when added to our arsenal of human interaction, can lead to a more purposeful application of individual talent. Of course, in order to get to strengths optimization, it requires the dedication my favourite competitors display as they count calories and sweat it out in the gym week after week. Sometimes all we need to really make the difference is “a short word from our sponsors” during a commercial break.

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Maika Leibbrandt works to help leaders improve the engagement of their followers and customers all over the world, first in the United States and Canada, and now in the Middle East and Europe. Since joining Gallup, she has consulted in several industries, including education, finance, retail, automotive, healthcare, and government.

Leibbrandt earned her bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism with emphases in history, English, and Spanish from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Accidental vs. Intentional

By Stosh D. Walsh, Gallup Talent Management Consultant

“I wish I had known this sooner.”

More than any other, this is the regret I hear my coaching clients express upon discovering and developing their talents. Ironically, the individuals who say this have several things in common: they are senior leaders in their organizations, they have a history of performance, and they have received multiple promotions. In short, they are successful professionals.

So why do these successful professionals express regret?

Overwhelmingly, they do not lament over what they might have known. They lament over what they might have done. They mourn the effectiveness they might have harnessed sooner, given the insights they now possess. They realize their talents helped them accomplish great things, but they have become aware that much of their achievement happened naturally, not intentionally. Their natural talent enabled them to do extraordinary things, but they realize they could have done even more. In essence, they arrived at many of their successes by accident, not on purpose.

But this unpleasant realization provides fertile ground for exponential growth. People who understand how their talents have enabled them to achieve in the past, even if they lacked intentionality, are more likely to leverage these talents toward the outcomes of their choosing in the future. As a coach, my role is to help them close the gap between accidental and intentional by asking questions like, “What would it look like for you to go into your next staff meeting and demonstrate care for your people on purpose?” Or, “What is one idea you have to wield your persuasiveness more actively? With whom is it most important to do this?” Working with them to establish a clear mission, purpose, and goals in key areas is also critical to this process.

Creating practical steps and linking those steps to specific talents yields tangible results. It also gives individuals a greater sense of control over those results and a greater feeling of accomplishment about having delivered them. Better still, the process is replicable, as individuals apply their talents in new arenas or exercise other talents that were dormant.

Having done this, these already successful professionals not only multiply their own successes, but also foster this movement toward intentionality in others, often starting with their direct reports. This cascading effect, as it gathers momentum, improves awareness and outcomes for entire divisions and organizations.

Intentionally, not accidentally.

Stosh D. Walsh is a Talent Management Consultant based in Illinois, specializing in leadership, executive coaching and coach-to-coach mentoring. Since joining Gallup in 2006, he has consulted with executives in the healthcare, retail, automotive, and manufacturing industries and for government agencies and education systems. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Judson College and a master’s degree in leadership from Bellevue University.  

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We Can’t Just Ignore Our Weaknesses, We Have to Deal With Them

By Scot Caldwell, Gallup Learning and Design Consultant

I might have a problem.

Over the past several months, I started to notice a repeated refrain from my internal partners and colleagues. “This is great, but have you heard Brian’s take on this?” or, “In the future, you may want to reach out to ask Jackie about this -- she has some great ideas,” or, “I wish I had known we had this available.” It became increasingly clear to me that I needed to be more attentive to the ideas and opinions of others.

It’s not that I don’t value the input of others, or intentionally exclude others, but this recurring feedback made me mindful of situations when a broader perspective might be required.

Includer does not come naturally to me. It is number 34 on my Theme Sequence Report. Consequently, I am not very sensitive to the exclusion of others and, far too often, I do not see or understand the repercussions of my unintended exclusion.

We all have areas in which our talents, knowledge, and skills are greatest. So it just makes sense that we also have areas where the same assets aren’t quite as abundant.

What became evident to me was that my lack of Includer was affecting my performance. I needed to build support systems that would help me think about how and when to reach out for and gather other people’s input.

First, I decided that I needed to widen my circle. I gave thoughtful intention to expanding my network at work. I intentionally looked for people with shared interests and those who had subject matter expertise and could provide me with valuable insight.

Second, I made it a point to solicit feedback at the end of each meeting I attended, and I set up alerts on my phone to remind me to provide project updates and send inquiries to my colleagues.

Adopting a strengths-based approach to development does not mean that a person can ignore his or her weaknesses. The reality is that a person can’t ignore his or her weaknesses for long before he or she may hear colleagues echo the same concerns again and again, as I did.

To manage weaknesses that may get in the way of performance, a person can use support systems, build complementary partnerships, or leverage their dominant talents in ways that allow him or her to accomplish the desired outcome in an alternative way.

As a strengths coach, you want to help your clients create strategies and solutions to help others learn, grow, develop, and succeed. There is no need for a person to “fix” the things at the bottom of their Theme Sequence Report -- and it’s not possible, anyway. If, however, there is something getting in the way of success -- be it their own or their partners’ -- you want to help that person think of ways he or she can intentionally manage the situation.

To become our best selves, we must increase our understanding of ourselves. This doesn’t mean ignoring our weaknesses, but, rather, focusing on our strengths and finding ways to manage our weaknesses.

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Scot Caldwell is a Learning and Design Consultant who works with leaders and organizations to develop solutions and strategies to enhance performance. Caldwell works with clients in a variety of industries, including automotive, finance, hospitality, healthcare, retail, and manufacturing. Caldwell studied at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and is based out of Gallup’s Omaha office.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What Is a Strengths-Based Team?

By Ryan Darby, Gallup Learning and Development Consultant

One of the more difficult concepts that managers, and sometimes coaches, struggle with is the strengths-based team. On the surface, it seems an easy idea. It’s a group of individuals who all use their talents and strengths to accomplish a common goal. Great! That does sound simple. It is, however, wrong. Not only is this incorrect, but trying to operate like this can actually hurt a true team. A strengths-based team requires much more than everyone simply working on their strong points; it requires a deep knowledge of each team member’s strengths and weaknesses and, importantly, the orchestration of those strengths and weaknesses to fit the goals of the team. Without that orchestration, teams flounder, flail, and fight.

Let me share with you a recent experience I had with a strengths-based team. I was working with a team charged with developing some really innovative ideas for one of our clients. At the project kick-off, we had gathered the team together to brainstorm and ideate on all the different things we could do -- the more ideas the better. Many people in the room had talent profiles that were perfect for such a task. We had lots of ideation, positivity, strategic, and self-assurance, amongst others. And the majority of people in the room were leaning into those strengths and generating great ideas at a rapid pace, except for one guy -- there’s always one, right? This person was not in brainstorming mode; this person was in full on execution mode. Whenever a somewhat decent idea would develop, he would ask what the next steps were or try to assign responsibilities. He was using his talents -- he has tons of activator -- but unfortunately, he was using it at the wrong time and place. As a result, he was completely throwing off the pace of the group. We would stutter and the idea generation, which was the point of the meeting, would grind to a halt. Happily, the team leader not only knew each of our strengths and weaknesses, but also knew how to orchestrate them to meet the specific demands of the project. “Jim, I love your enthusiasm, but I think you are moving a little bit ahead. Right, now what we need is less activator and more context. What do you know has worked in the past for similar clients?” And off Jim went recounting past successes, giving great ideas in the process. Erstwhile Jim was hurting the group, now Jim was a valuable and leading contributor. Some of our best ideas came from him!

The genius of what that team leader did was not that she put a stop to Jim’s activator, but that she orchestrated his other talents to fit the needs of the group and the needs of the project. Where Jim had at first been a contradictory partner -- his talents were completely offsetting the actions of the group -- Jim was now a complementary one. And this is the key to strengths-based teams -- forming complementary partnerships. To do so, one must know each of the team member’s talents and strengths, help team members understand which of their specific talents and strengths are needed by the group, and then position them in a way to contribute to the common goal. It’s not easy, but when all of these things occur, a team will finally become a strengths-based team.

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Dr. Ryan Darby is one of Gallup’s leading Learning and Development Consultants. He works with the world’s top organizations to transform their corporate cultures into engaging and thriving workplaces. Darby has a doctorate in psychology from the University of California, San Diego, and a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University. His academic expertise and publications are on the influence of emotions on decision-making and behavior. He currently lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Journey From ‘Ahhh’ to ‘Aha’! What’s Next Upon Discovering Your Strengths?

By Heather Wright, Senior Learning and Development Consultant

The first time you saw your Clifton StrengthsFinder results, which was it -- “ahhh” (a moment of confirmation or clarity) or “aha” (a moment of true self-discovery)? And how did you move to the eventual aha that really helped you make a difference? 

In my experience, people typically find themselves in awe that a 30-minute session on their computer could so accurately describe them. The other ahhh happens when they finally have a clear way to put into words what others often say when describing them. This ahhh is a revelation of clarity and confidence they can use to describe what they truly do best. Then there is occasionally the aha moment, where someone truly experiences self-discovery and enhanced self-awareness. Whether a person’s strengths journey starts with awe, ahhh, or aha -- what comes next is almost always the same question: “So now what?”

Helping people answer this question is something I truly enjoy. In fact, I tell my clients that they can depend on me to be their “strengths nag” -- making sure they use their strengths in a very intentional way. I have found that for many people there is a strengths awareness that eventually progresses to application if the individual is willing to put forth some effort.

To help clients apply their strengths in everyday life, I encourage them to name, claim, and aim their strengths.

Name It*
Just taking the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment gives individuals an entirely new language to describe themselves in a positive way. They now have 34 new words in their vocabulary to describe what is right with them, and they can focus on the top five talent themes that are the strongest part of who they are. Like learning any new language, it is important to practice the vocabulary, so I encourage clients to tell as many people as possible what their top five themes are and read their report regularly.

Claim It*
After the initial reaction to the assessment results, it is then time to embrace the top five and stake ownership of the talents and how they fit. It is not until people take a close look at their talents that they begin to discover the amazing variety, intricacy, and power that they have.  Sometimes, the title of a talent theme or certain phrases in a theme definition can feel counterintuitive, so a person may be reluctant to accept the description. I encourage them to share the Clifton StrengthsFinder report with others who know them well, and know them in different aspects of their life. They should invite others to read the report and point out specific examples of application of these talents in their interactions with the individual. I also encourage personalization of the talent theme definitions by highlighting words or phrases that resonate and crossing out anything that doesn’t fit. I also suggest writing a synthesis of the five themes to create an individual strengths statement. This reshaping can provide heightened awareness of how a person’s talents have supported their success to date.

Aim It*
Now comes the work. Our ability to achieve excellence and get the most out of life is connected to the extent to which we intentionally build strengths from our talents. Unless a person commits to using their talents with greater intention, they may be leaving untapped potential on the table. To get others to increase their own success, I ask people to look at their personal and professional world and think about specific tasks where their talents are being used, draw connections between each task and the talents being applied, and then consider other potential talents that could also be in play. I ask them to think about tasks that are required of them, where they don’t see an immediate link to their talent themes. Could any of their talents really come to life with more conscious application?

One way I expand on the Name It/Claim It/Aim It model is to encourage clients to flame their strengths so the impact spreads to others.

Flame It
As an individual begins to turn their talents into strengths and increase their own performance, there is often a simultaneous awareness of other peoples’ talents. They begin to notice how we each bring something unique to projects, processes, and relationships. When someone can fan the flames of their own talent so that it has an impact on the development or success of another person, they are truly using their talents for maximum impact. Conscious application of talents can be felt by others; it even inspires the flames to spread to others.

It isn’t enough to simply identify talent. Where there is awareness, there needs to be action; when there is action, growth is more likely to occur. When we are willing to take that next step with talent, all the awes, ahhhs, and ahas turn into awesome outcomes.  

*You can learn more about the Name It/Claim It/Aim It model in Gallup’s Fundamentals of Strengths Coaching course.

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Heather Wright is a Senior Learning and Development Consultant based in Gallup’s Omaha office. For the past 25 years, she has helped clients deepen the talents of their workforce and strengthen their organizations. Her HumanSigma work in the financial services industry has helped clients become recognized favorably by consumers during tumultuous times in their industries. Wright holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in human resource development from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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