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Friday, November 18, 2016

Part 2: A Roadmap for Implementing Strengths in Higher Education

By Vanessa Camilleri

A few weeks ago we explored the importance of establishing a purpose for your strengths initiative. We also recommended building a strengths team to help you champion your cause around campus. 

This week, let’s dig into how to put your ideas into action, measure their success and communicate effectively to continue building momentum and engagement with your strengths initiative.

Taking Action

So, what will this strengths initiative look like in action? Once your team is established and knows its own mix of strengths, you can start to plan “how” you will implement strengths on campus. 

Your strengths initiative should be grounded in a comprehensive strengths development process. A foundational framework for successful strengths development includes these three areas:
  1. Name: Identify and understand your talents.
  2. Claim: Appreciate and own your talents.
  3. Aim: Intentionally invest and use your talents to accomplish goals and reach outcomes. 
This should be the underlying message of all programming -- all strengths activities should intentionally guide students through this strengths development process over time.

Another format that might be useful is to develop a scope and sequence that includes the topics listed below across two to four years. 
  1. my strengths and me
  2. my strengths and me in the context of partnerships and groups/leadership
  3. strengths-based career readiness
  4. strengths-based workplace preparedness
The key here is to figure out when and where you have access to students and who will be responsible for each part of this strengths development process. Coordinate topics and timing with strengths team members so that students are moving through the development process over time.

To stay in front of students, try to access existing events and activities rather than trying to develop an entirely new process that takes additional time in their schedules. 
Think about delivering strengths content using a “funnel” metaphor: Aim to have your first touchpoint be in a large group where you introduce foundational concepts about strengths and the theory behind it. Good examples of this would be during orientation, a first-year experience class or a leadership retreat. Then provide follow-up touchpoints in smaller and smaller group settings, eventually having students discuss their strengths during coaching sessions or advisement meetings. The goal is that by the time students are able to have a one-on-one coaching conversation, they have a good foundational understanding of strengths, so the conversation can be spent entirely on their top 5 report. 

Consider providing students with many informal opportunities to continue their interaction with strengths between formal touchpoints. This will allow students who are naturally interested in strengths to continue their own learning and to connect with others who also are interested in strengths. To provide informal touchpoints with strengths, you can:
  • encourage students and adults to post their strengths on their desk, in their office, in their dorm room or as part of their email signature
  • create a strengths discussion board on social media where students can respond to a strengths-related post, post snapshots of themselves using their strengths or celebrate peers who use their strengths
  • create and post strengths public service announcement or marketing materials to increase the visibility of your strengths initiative
  • develop a purpose statement or tagline that represents your campus’ commitment to strengths and promote it on t-shirts, social media and marketing materials
  • host an annual Strengths Day that promotes the strengths initiative and builds momentum through increased participation
  • build a strengths website with current resources and links to related content, such as the CliftonStrengths Coaching Blog website
  • encourage students to download the StrengthsFinder app

All of this requires much coordination across campus, which your strengths team will help you with. Again, the goal is to guide students through comprehensive strengths discovery aimed at specific outcomes.

Measuring Impact

Assessment of your strengths initiative is crucial for accountability and sustainability. You should have a knowledgeable and data-based answer if someone asks you, “Is it working”? To help you answer this question, document the impact that your strengths initiative is making.

It is important to consider both qualitative (focus groups, student quotes, artifacts such as strengths posters, songs, stories, testimonials, videos) and quantitative (student achievement/retention data, student engagement data) measures and to track these from the time you launch your program. 

You can start to get data immediately on topics such as how many codes you are giving out; how many workshops you have presented; and how well students are learning to name, claim and aim their strengths. Other measures, such as student engagement levels and graduation rates, may take longer to ascertain.
The main idea for measurement is to align your assessment protocol with your purpose so that you can determine whether your strengths implementation plan is working. 

Communicating and Celebrating Results

Communicating and celebrating the qualitative and quantitative results of your strengths initiative is crucial for sustainability and expansion. Capture and promote student stories to build engagement with and participation in your strengths initiatives around campus. Your strengths team should help you determine creative ways to promote stories, event information and related content on your website, in newsletters and in presentations.
Sustainability and Next Steps

The information above will become part of your sustainability plan. For the most impact and long-term sustainability, a strengths initiative should become an integral component of your campus culture. It should be integrated throughout campus, aligned with existing priorities and designed to further an existing mission. Ongoing documentation of programming and assessment, as well as communication about the impact of your initiative on your identified purpose, will help you implement and improve your initiative over time. 

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, Responsibilty, Relator and Intellection

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