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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Cultural Transformation: Embedding CliftonStrengths in Your Organization -- Gallup Called to Coach: Austin Suellentrop (S7E18)

On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with Austin Suellentrop, CliftonStrengths Portfolio Manager at Gallup, about how to create a strengths-based culture in organizations. Austin shared five steps organizations can take to ensure that CliftonStrengths becomes embedded into the fabric of their culture. 

Below is a summary of the conversation. Full audio and video are posted above. 

[8:44] Jim Collison: Austin, when we think about the community and as you see the community going forward, and your priorities for what we're doing -- and by the way, I'm really excited about what you're going to bring ... -- culture is really important. We see this question a lot -- What do I do in a strengths-based culture? And I think some folks feel like that's just "blunt-force trauma" of people's Top 5 and get everybody browbeaten to know what they (their Top 5) are. 

We've done a lot of research around this and we have a lot of work coming out in the next year on this. And you're here to highlight that. Can you talk about what that means and your vision for strengths-based cultures?

Austin Suellentrop: Yeah. Appreciate that. So probably the single most-common question we get -- and I know that I got in my time as a consultant from organizations or from advocates inside of organizations -- is, I want to make my company strengths-based. I want to create a strengths-based culture in my church, in my school, in my company. And when you think about that, what's often really driving that request is, "We want to do things better. We want to be better at selling; we want to be better at achieving outcomes; we want to have less turnover." It's often motivated by some sort of outcome you're trying to create.

So if we think about what it means to build a strengths-based culture -- we studied this -- it is absolutely more than just making sure everybody has their Top 5 on their email signature. That's a "check-the-box" or checklist component.

We've studied the organizations we've worked with over the years that have done a successful job of embedding strengths into who they are. If you think about "culture," it's one of those "hot words" in the business community -- like agility, like all those types of "hot" things that people are talking about. What does it really mean? 

If we think about beginning with culture and understanding the word, it's really how stuff gets done inside your organization. How do you get things accomplished? So when we studied the organizations we worked with over the decades, and what they've done most effectively to embed strengths in how they get stuff done, there are some things that stand out -- that we've been able to identify -- five key steps to building that strengths-based culture. 

So today I'd like to give you a highlight of those five, and some insight into what they are, but also understanding before we dig into the tactical pieces of it, that it's important for every organization to remember: We're all starting in different places. So every culture -- it doesn't matter where your beginning point is -- if you're wanting to become strengths-based, how these five things come to life is going to look different for you: where you're starting, what tailwind, what support you may already have in the organization, or potentially what headwinds you're going to be fighting against -- every company is starting in a different spot, and that really creates different "launch pads" for each of these five steps we're about to walk through. So that's the one caveat I'll give before we dive into it. 

[12:36] JC: As folks are listening, you can go to, search "Strengths-Based Culture" and you can follow along with us as we talk about this. We got a thing or two to say about this, so Austin, lead us out. 

AS: Yeah, Absolutely. So, first step in building a strengths-based culture -- and we concretely and clearly put this out there -- you've got to start with the CEO. And that statement scares a lot of people, but when we say this, we've got to start with the CEO -- or at least an executive sponsor -- you've got to have somebody at the highest level of the organization that brings the respect, the credibility, but also has the line of sight across everything that's happening in the organization to give some credence to why this is important. 

So when we say starting with the CEO or the exec sponsor, what we're really saying is making sure that building a strengths-based culture is connected to the business strategy at hand. This is not a fun little HR fad; this is not an employee appreciation week-type of event; this is something that will help drive our business. And the easiest, most effective way we've found to do that is to get a leader at the top of the organization vocally supporting it.

JC: Austin, does that mean, as a coach, say I'm working at some of the team levels -- does that mean if I don't have executive sponsorship, that I should stop doing what I'm doing until I get that, or are there things we could be doing in between or at least building our way up to that? Talk about that.

AS: I think a lot of organizations start in the middle of the organization somewhere -- they start with a leader, a mid-level manager who's got a passion for this. Or you have an opportunity with a department to do something. That's great. What we understand is that to take it from that pocket -- so I say, "No, do not stop what you're doing; keep that work going!" -- but to take it from that pocket to the whole organization, at some point, we're going to have to get that senior-level, that executive-level leadership bought in. 

So I think that's where understanding the existing culture you're in really does matter. 

[18:04] JC: Step 2!

AS: Step 2. So you got the buy-in. This has got to be something that goes to every single employee. So we've got to give every employee the opportunity to truly discover their strengths. So when we say that, it's not something that's reserved for managers; it's not something that's reserved for full-time employees; it's not something that's reserved just for people in development programs. If you really want to make culture shift, culture's every person in the organization.

If we think about what's happened in the companies that have been most successful with this, what we see is the rise in collaboration that takes place. That in 2019 in the workplace, collaboration is the new norm. There's a lot more matrixed teams -- our State of the American Workplace research will support all of this -- that people are interacting with more people, with faster feedback than ever before. 

Part of the real benefit of strengths and a strengths-based culture is the language to talk about what people do well. And if not everybody is exposed to that -- if not everybody has the understanding of what they're at their best, and when they're driving, you're losing some of the amplified impact of that collaboration.

So when we think about building a strengths-based culture, we've got to figure out a strategy and a way to get it to everybody. There are a lot of different ways you can do that, tactically, but when we think about the organizations that have succeeded in shifting their culture to strengths from maybe more deficit-based or traditionally based approaches, it's when they've figured out -- this is how I'm going to take it to the masses. So I'm going to get it out of just the ones I can do workshops with, and get it to the masses, if you will. 

You can start using your CliftonStrengths today:

Austin Suellentrop, CliftonStrengths Portfolio Manager, leads Gallup’s organizational strategy for growing CliftonStrengths worldwide. Through close partnership with our learning, technology, research and client teams, he helps ensure we are staying true to the mission of CliftonStrengths while providing the tools needed to further the strengths-based approach to human development. He specializes in helping Gallup clients to bridge the gap between Gallup research and practical application in the workplace, particularly when leading through times of extraordinary change. His mission is to inspire others to action by telling stories with passion and excitement about what individuals and teams can accomplish when they have the opportunity to do what they do best.

Before joining Gallup, Austin served in a variety of roles for a major regional bank, most recently as a member of its organizational and leadership development team. He supported associate engagement programs across the company, providing data analysis and reporting, and coaching teams and leaders on how to use employee engagement as a strategy to drive performance.

Austin's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Communication, Activator, Futuristic, Belief and Positivity.


YK said...

Where are steps 3, 4 and 5?

Jim Collison said...

They are in the video!

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