Strengths Coaching Blog

Friday, December 1, 2017

Using Strengths in Hennepin County, Minnesota - Called to Coach S5E36

On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, Steve Sweere.







Tell us about your background and the job that you do

  • I am the internal communications guy for the county
  • My Top 5 are Intellection, Strategic, Ideation, Input, Learner
  • They are all in thinking themes, so I was skeptical when I took the assessment; then I dug deeper and learned to love it
  • Started with Hennepin about 5 years ago
  • Was a professional actor for 20 years mostly in regional theater
  • When my daughter was born, I looked for more of a day job and happened to come across Hennepin county
  • They were looking to improve things, change things up, improve their internal communications
  • I came in with a little bit different way of thinking
  • Top 5 seemed like a single facet of who I was as a person, that’s why I was initially skeptical
  • Then I found out Individualization and Empathy were 6 & 7 when I took my training and got my 34 theme sequence
  • Even when I was an actor, the way I went about things was that a lot was up here in my head first before it found its way into my body, I was known to do a lot of research for a role
  • Empathy illuminates everything else for me as long as I do the research first
  • And that’s a lot of what I do here when it comes to communication; I research what it is we really need to say, then I look to my heart to figure out how to say it
  • I’m a fan of humor, of conversational conversation; a lot gets lost in formality; say it like its one person talking to another person
  • I’ve also introduced a lot of video to the county; doesn’t have to be super high-end quality; people care more about the content and message
Do you guys have a regular podcast or YouTube channel?
  • We have webinars that are wildly popular; we treat it like a late-night talk show
  • If you put it into a consumable, entertaining, satisfying package they will keep coming back
Do you have Woo or Communication in your Top 10?

  • I don’t, my Woo is in my 20s; Communication is #15; I use Empathy to sense what people are feeling and to get ahead of things
  • Live theater helps you learn to read the room – from 8 to 200 – you feel the energy of the room and change things up on the fly if you need to

What other things are you using effectively to communicate Strengths?

  • The county has a great facilitation program; we use the TOPS facilitation method and send a lot of people to their training
  • It’s amazing how much you can accomplish by getting the conversation to be rich
  • We’re training our staff to understand the meetings are only effective if you get the information moving
  • How do we improve our meetings?  We spend so much time in them…and money
  • It’s not effective to have one person in the front of the room going blah, blah, blah
  • We’re also trying to get away from email, it’s not as effective as it used to be; we are using Skype a lot and instant message
  • 9,000 employees, over 100 locations, spread out over a 600 square mile area
  • Need to see each other, see body language

Do you find that in the community, strengths is coming up more in the conversations?

  • Yes, one of our greatest successes is that this is happening, especially among our leaders
  • If I can learn somebody’s Top 5, I can find a way to work with them; it’s a magic insight card
  • You can quickly get to the motivations, the values, gives you a framework

How long have you been doing this and how is it rolled out?

  • 2-3 years ago a couple people came across CSF on their own; one had worked with Best Buy, started using strengths language here, no one knew what she was talking about, so she started letting people know about it
  • Same thing with another employee – the two of them pitched the idea of the county doing it
  • I didn’t want to get trained at first, my boss wanted me to go because I was a skeptic and then let him know whether or not the county should do it
  • The course changed my mind completely, gave me a new respect and I knew it would be a fantastic tool
  • Me and a few others started looking at how to introduce it to the county; we’re civil servants, need to spend the taxpayers money wisely; so we start with team sessions…we get more bang for the buck
  • That’s been the intro we’ve had for the past 2 ½ years
  • Almost 4,000 individual county employees have participated in the team sessions
  • One manager wanted to phase strengths out; we asked what he had done with it? 
  • Analogy of like going to the gym – you have a membership, but there is a personal responsibility to use it
  • But we realized we needed to help people find that next step; how do we get the managers and supervisors to ask us to come back; how do we empower them to lead some activities themselves, keep conversations going
  • So we are trying to Hennepinize strengths; put a county face on it
  • We took 34 county employees and had them talk about their strengths, to make it a personal story, doing this with people that are recognized; they talk about how their strengths help them day-to-day; this helps them own it; these videos are real people, real faces, real co-workers

How are you posting them?

  • Shared internally
  • HC Connect is where everyone lands when they open their browser
  • First of year they will roll out one or two a week on the home page, them keep them all in SharePoint

What is the structure there for Strengths?

  • We have 5 certified coaches
  • 87 employees have gone through full-day training to get them comfortable enough to facilitate the team sessions
  • They can help with the occasional confusion…empathy with sympathy
  • Strengths is most effective with discussed with others
  • We have a wide diversity of roles, can see some trends among workers; library has thinkers; cops have adaptability

What other tools do you use to keep it fresh and in front of people?

  • We’re having a sea change, our older employees are retiring, we need to find ways become the employer of choice
  • We’re defining our 5 core values, they are:
  • continuous improvement
  • customer service
  • diversity and inclusion
  • employee engagement
  • workforce development
  • Strengths are a natural fit to work on our core values and keep both conversations going; show practical application of strengths
  • We tweaked some of the Gallup tools to Hennepinize them, they are used internally only, not sent out to other people
  • Looked at Best of Me through a customer service lens – e.g. How do I use my Woo to create good customer service?
  • Took the 34 theme descriptions and definitions and gave a new one through this lens of customer service…gives them a cheat sheet
  • We had teams with active challenges, we asked them to think of a specific challenge during their training time, we discuss how to address the challenge using strengths
  • Teams started seeing the problems in a different light
  • Now we’re working on other modules for our core values
  • Constantly updating what we’re doing, also customize it for each team
  • Figure out your goal, then let your staff find the best way to reach it
  • Employee engagement - give me challenging work and some autonomy and I’ll be engaged
  • Let them do it the way that works best for them

What are you using to measure the impact?

  • We know that strengths actually change productivity measures
  • We track numbers of who has participated
  • And track who is doing follow-up work
  • Really tracking who is using our services
  • Actively seeking ways to measure the effect of this; to get statistics
  • We have a lot of survey fatigue; looking for innovative ways to measure this
  • If you have ideas, please share them!

Think about metrics like average hours work, sick time, the number of roads paved, etc. – you already have great numbers that are already tracked

  • Look at internal turnover, sick hours…do they change?
  • Our head of HR is a huge strengths proponent
  • Inspect what you expect
  • Begin sooner than later tracking things
  • You may not know if the needle is moving right away…a year or two
  • Use some stats you already have
  • Want to say not only that we are making a difference, but we’re also making progress
  • People will be asking us to justify what we’re doing
  • Want to have the numbers to back up what people are saying
  • It’s good to have a few skeptics

Have you had any privacy issues?

  • We have a lot of unions, we’re pro-union
  • We had some misinformation get out there about SF being stored in your HR file, mandatory, used for promotion – but none of that was true
  • We encourage people to take it, it’s not mandatory, not used for hiring or promotion
  • Your Top 5 isn’t shared unless you want it to be
  • But since it got printed, it’s still a bit of a challenge
  • Roll out slowly, let people come to it, makes it less of a one and done

What are you hoping for in the future…in the next 2-3 years?

  • We now offer every single new employee an access code and the opportunity to have a one-on-one
  • My hope is that we’ll see 95% of new employees take it (currently around 30%)
  • Encourage them during onboarding
  • If their supervisor mentions it in the first 10 days, then we’ll be a strengths-based organization
  • It will just become ingrained in the culture

Do some new employees already have their Top 5?

  • Yes, and we ask them to share them
  • It’s starting to be more common, all students at the University of Minnesota take it, many come work here
  • Many often want to become involved and be a facilitator after having a one on one
  • We invite employees to come join us at one of our Strengths Hours, share your ideas

Contact info:
Steve.sweere@hennepin.us
1-612-348-0915

Some practical takeaways:

  • Make your own videos of employees talking about their strengths for use on your internal web site
  • Train internal employees to be strengths facilitators in their own areas
  • Align/tie your strengths training to your organization’s values – have a module for each value
  • Customize tools, e.g. Best of Me, for different areas such as Customer Service
Join us at the 2018 CliftonStrengths Summit to learn more about improving your workplace through strengths. Register today before early bird pricing ends! 

Visit Gallup Strengths Center to browse our myriad of products and learning opportunities for strengths-based development.

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Steve Sweere is the Senior Communications Specialist for the Resident and Real Estate Services Department at Hennepin County. His responsibilities include internal communications and employee engagement for the Resident and Real Estate Services Department. He is also 1 of 5 Gallup-Certified Strengths Coaches for Hennepin County.

For twenty plus years, Steve made a living as a professional actor. With the birth of his daughter, however, he realized that his theater schedule didn’t allow him to spend as much time with her as he wanted and he decided to make a change. 

He joined Hennepin County in 2013 and was shortly thereafter given a copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0 and told to take his assessment. 

“I took the assessment, received my top 5, read the report, then stuffed it in a drawer and forgot about it. No one spoke to me about it, no one showed me how to utilize it – it was a mildly amusing one-off – a corporate horoscope.”

It was a couple years later that Hennepin County started to consider becoming a Strengths Based Organization when Steve’s boss asked him to become a certified SF Coach, despite his initial skepticism, he agreed. 

He attended the Accelerated Strengths Coaching Course under the tutelage of Rod Karr and Jen Thibault and walked out four and a half days later a fervent Strengths proponent. 

“I am a perfect example of why everyone needs a coach, it was if I had been given a gym membership, but no-one taught me how to use the machines, Rod and Jen stepped in as my personal trainers and gave me the knowledge to not only confidently build my own strengths, but to train others.”

Steve, in partnership with four other Gallup-Certified Strengths Coaches and a small army of trained facilitators, have been driving the efforts to turn Hennepin County into a strengths-based organization.

Steve's top five strengths are: Intellection, Strategic, Ideation, Input and Learner

Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, Cheryl S. Pace, contributed to this post. 

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