Many strengths initiatives in higher education exist as grassroots programs, showing up in small groups on campus. Others are more widely embraced as an existing campus-wide priority that strongly influences campus culture. Regardless of whether the initiative is a bottom-up effort or a top-down mandate, strengths initiatives in higher education must start with a mindset that EVERY student has potential, talents and strengths. Gallup recommends that leaders of strengths initiatives on campus remember some foundational best practices to kick start their initiatives to success.
Defining Your Purpose
Higher education institutions have many reasons for launching strengths initiatives. Sometimes they are a reaction to a problem such as low student engagement or retention rates. Sometimes they are a proactive attempt to develop leadership competencies in students or to enhance career readiness skills. Many strengths initiatives are aimed at improving student outcomes such as well-being, persistence or graduation rates. Others are designed to improve staff/faculty performance and engagement.
Schools that are considering launching a strengths initiative first must be clear about its purpose. A best practice is to commit to a comprehensive, well-structured strengths-development process in which both adults and students on campus are involved.
- Why are you launching a strengths initiative?
- What outcomes are you trying to impact?
- How will you know if it is working?
- How will you implement?
When defining your purpose for bringing strengths to campus, consider how the strengths initiative will integrate with existing campus priorities. Rather than presenting the strengths initiative as separate, new and different from current initiatives, think about how a focus on strengths can move the campus toward outcomes that you already are trying to achieve and are held accountable for. To do that, look at foundational documents such as the strategic plan, the mission or vision, or a goal planning document. Figure out how strengths can thrive within an existing framework -- one that is known by all and has familiar language that people on campus can relate to.
Defining your purpose will lay the foundation for your entire strengths initiative because thinking ahead about what you want to accomplish will set you up for success. Further, this approach will help you to gain buy-in for your initiative on campus and to refine your message and market it accordingly.
Gathering Your Team
In addition to defining the “why” around your strengths initiative, consider “who” will be involved. Develop a strengths team with strong advocates to help your initiative increase in visibility throughout campus. To gain momentum for your initiative, build partnerships with different stakeholders across your campus community. Reach out to academic departments, as well as residential life, athletics, fraternities and sororities, career services, advising, and student activities. Also consider reaching out to faculty, alumnae, parents, students, human resources and your office of institutional research. Set clear expectations around purpose and commitment to the team and then invite members to join. The first step for the team is to take CliftonStrengths and to start building a strengths-based team. It will be important for this team to regularly talk about their own strengths and celebrate one another’s strengths as a good model of how to apply strengths in teams.
Additional strengths team responsibilities may include:
- programming and implementation
- coaching, workshops and training
- communications and marketing
- research and assessment
Interested in creating an engaged and thriving campus? Check out Gallup's StrengthsQuest solutions.
Vanessa Camilleri, Gallup Learning and Design Consultant, is an experienced educator who supports higher education and K-12 leaders in their pursuit of positive organizational change through curriculum design, coaching, classroom instruction and strategic consulting. As a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, she is passionate about developing strengths implementation plans for diverse educational settings.
Follow her on twitter @vacamilleri
Vanessa's top 5 strengths are: Learner, Achiever, Responsiblity, Relator and Intellection.