skip to main content
Making Strengths and Engagement "Stick" in Your Organization

Making Strengths and Engagement "Stick" in Your Organization

Webcast Details

  • Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
  • Season 6, Episode 32
  • Learn how to get leadership buy-in to make employee engagement and CliftonStrengths an integral part of your organization's culture.

On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with Jim Ball, Senior Manager, Talent & Organizational Development at Lonza, a biotechnology firm in New Hampshire. Jim is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach since who, over a number of years, has played a key role in weaving the fabric of strengths and engagement throughout his organization. Jim has been a guest lecturer at the University of New Hampshire and Oregon State University. Our conversation was hosted by Gallup's own Mike McDonald, Senior Workplace Consultant at Gallup.

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

Jim Collison: Mike McDonald is our host today; he works as a Senior Workplace Consultant here at Gallup on the Riverfront. Mike, it seems like I've seen a ton of you lately, which is always a good sign. Welcome to Called to Coach.

Mike McDonald: I was going to apologize, but I won't. If it's a good thing, we'll keep doing it. I love it. … Jim and I have Jim Ball as our guest, and we have been wanting to get him on as a guest for some time. Jim is really active in the coaching community on Facebook and with his comments and endorsement of the work people are doing. We're going to hear from Jim about leading an organization through change and the application of strengths and engagement to create change as a successful strategy.

Jim, a Certified Strengths Coach, is the former Senior Manager, Talent & Organizational Development for Lonza, a global biotech organization of more than 14,000 people. Jim, it's fantastic to have you on the show today.

Jim Ball: Thanks, Mike. Thanks for inviting me. I appreciate that very warm introduction. Happy to be here.

MM: Tell us about you and your introduction to Strengths.

JB: In 2006, I read First, Break All the Rules, and it fundamentally changed how I managed my teams. It gave me a roadmap to success. Wanting more, I read Now, Discover Your Strengths in 2008 and took (CliftonStrengths) then. Again, I was transformed. The report gave me language to describe something I could only previously feel. Other assessments engaged me in my mind but I took CliftonStrengths and said, "This is me!" It cuts to the core. I had feedback from a few years before, and the lens of strengths confirmed that. But CliftonStrengths helped me see my strengths more clearly, and I had actions to take to develop those strengths. It was amazing! Self-awareness is a wonderful gift and so is the ability to communicate it concisely.

Naturally, I had everyone on my team (5 people) read the book and take CliftonStrengths, and we applied the learnings to our work. Within 18 months, everyone on the team had earned a promotion, and the team was outperforming others in nearly all categories. It was incredible. My manager asked what was going on and asked if I could lead a strengths workshop with everyone in the department (in 2008). And with that, a strengths evangelist was born!

MM: Where did you as a leader connect strengths to their performance in a way that moved it so rapidly and so tangibly?

JB: We started to understand our lens and each other's lenses a lot better. We discovered that the things that drain one person energize another.

MM: So your team has exploded and is thriving in ways your organization has noticed. What then created the awakening to start thinking about how to apply this with Lonza, at the organizational level?

JB: At Lonza, we're delivering the medicines of tomorrow today. We focus on making lifesaving products for our customers. So we do quite well on Q08, mission and purpose. In 2016, we benchmarked our performance across the industry and looked at six key areas of performance. And set an audacious goal to be at the top tier of performance in all six categories by 2020. And that's where strengths and engagement come in. We wanted to change the conversation, change the way of thinking to help us achieve these goals.

MM: What was your entry point?

JB: I had to get the buy-in and sponsorship from as high as our executive level, to engage them intellectually and emotionally -- the right answer isn't enough -- to get them to ask, "What's in it for me?" What turned it was some key relationships and to leverage those and the trust they had in me to move this forward.

We also had to get buy-in from middle managers. I asked them, "What does your best day at work look like? Let me give you some tools and the framework so you can have more of those best days."

For workers, "engagement" seemed like the latest corporate buzzword. But then I showed them the results of engagement with regard to safety, quality, productivity, relationships at work, and so on. And we used the emotional and intellectual components to bring it together.

MM: The quote you shared with us, "Being right wasn't going to be enough," is terrific. We can operate out of the rational, intellectual approach, and we find that it won't deliver. The emotional core we have can't be ignored. Tell us about the experiential -- as a Strengths Coach -- what decisive gains and advances did you see, and what stories about turning resistant people (and the organization) around through your coaching?

JB: One guiding principle we started with was, this has to become part of Lonza Portsmouth's culture -- how do we make sure this "sticks"? My initial inclination was to pull in an army of Gallup consultants -- but it seemed this wouldn't drive ownership at all levels. So we decided to start at the top with our site leadership team, and did a two-day strengths discovery course plus one-on-one coaching. We certified three Strengths Coaches and 10 Engagement Champions via the two-day Engagement Champions training (based on Gallup's Q12).

So we created this core team of change agents that were focused on shifting the culture, with the goal of creating a whole army of engagement advocates, early adopters.

MM: This "army" is really coaches of engagement. So you have this convergence of strengths coaching and engagement coaching. How much of that was intentional and how much of that was a surprise to you? Where were there complementary pieces that helped move your efforts forward?

JB: One big area of focus is that we needed to create a culture where feedback is encouraged and appreciated. Q12 (for an employee) is about my experience as someone who works here, but as a manager, those scores are feedback on me and my performance. It's not all on the manager, but the manager has 70% of the influence to drive and change the scores. So we have to think about how we can shift that performance moving forward.

MM: Jim, you're creating a culture of coaching. Without the coaching and strengths and engagement, we can have an "assembly line of victims" who don't know what they're supposed to do or what they're good at, and don't have organizational support. So Jim, as a world leader in change management, after the introduction to strengths and engagement, tell us about what adoption looked like in its initial stages at Lonza.

JB: We did encounter some initial resistance, and a lot of it involved not having time for a full-day or half-day course. So we adjusted and asked managers what they had available. They invited me to take one of our staff meetings once a month and talk through strengths. So I said, "Awesome, I'll take it." We created a five-part modular program to introduce strengths to our leaders and how to have effective conversations to bring out the best in their teams. Some teams went through a 12-week program. It started to shift the conversations and started to "stick" -- more so than maybe would have happened if we had done it all in one day. So we adjusted what we did based on the feedback we got.

MM: Tell us about how you communicate this. How did you message this, formally and relationally?

JB: How do you change a culture? We started to talk about what we wanted that culture to look like, using many vehicles of communication, starting with the buy-in of our site leaders and their emotional engagement. Then our managers received strengths training, and it created this hunger about bringing strengths to their teams. We held back a little bit, intentionally, created some "buzz" and some interest (including putting the Top 5 on people's doors and in their email signatures). We communicated openly that CliftonStrengths was coming, but we almost created a little bit of mystique about what managers were doing with strengths.

Within that first 24 hours after we rolled out CliftonStrengths to the company, we had over 100 people complete the assessment. So we created the hunger right away, and once you have that tipping point, it gets a whole lot easier. So we used town hall meetings, leader cascade, digital boards around the plant, table tents in the cafeteria, an internet page, "road shows," one-on-one coaching, group coaching, physical reminders (Top 5 at people's desks), engagement action plans, and a "Faces of Engagement" communication campaign.

MM: Jim, that last part gets me excited -- the "Faces of Engagement" are living, breathing examples of engagement. Engagement isn't items or numbers, it's actually people and it's heroes who are our best practice representatives. It's an emotional, relational experience. What were your favorite efforts that were powerful, expectedly or unexpectedly?

JB: One of my favorite activities, I've coined it, "What is your superpower and who is your sidekick?" Which of your Top 5 talents do you use really well? I get people talking about what they do well and get used to leaning into that, and letting go of the things they're not as good at. The second part, "Who is your sidekick?" is a person they like to partner with (and a reason for that). So we go around the room and get awesome feedback. I then tell the person sharing to tell their sidekick what they told the group; it's important that their sidekick knows that they have this positive effect, a drop in their bucket.

And of course this ties into Q03, opportunity to do what I do best every day, does someone at work seem to care about me as a person (Q05), and the ambiguous "best friend" item (Q10) -- what does that mean? Here's what it means -- you have someone you lean into, someone you value as a powerful partner to help you be at your best. So we tie strengths to engagement really beautifully in that activity.

MM: We have a couple of questions from the chat. Thinking specifically about managers, can you expand on how managers were empowered to have more agility to shift job assignments or responsibilities to improve performance?

JB: We worked through the keys to talent. We are governed by FDA regulations, so for safety and quality procedures, there's no wiggle room. We have to drive precise performance there. Outside of these requirements, we have to think about how to define the right outcomes, how do you see continuous improvement, how do you assign the work so you bring out the very best in your people? We're not changing job descriptions or roles, but maybe there's parts of it that one person does really well and can find ways to improve and is excited about, while that same person can get help from someone else with the parts that person struggles with.

So it involves highlighting the things people already do (well) and bringing that out in them.

MM: Part of the benefit you had in that structure, with its need for quality control and safety, there is a frequency of communication in support of quality control and safety that you were able to leverage. Is that true? And were you able to carry engagement messages through that communication? I think back to our Re-Engineering Performance (Management) paper, and my favorite coaching conversation, which is the "quick connect." And you have layers of touchpoints and check-ins. Can you speak to how you were able to leverage those to drive engagement?

JB: Every morning, our production teams get together and talk about what happened on the previous shift, what's happening on this shift, and so on. But every day we have an initial huddle and a great opportunity to do a 10-minute strengths activity. And then we have our cross-functional morning meeting and a 15-minute huddle in which we can talk about strengths across multiple teams.

We've also created this manager's guide with several activities and built a 12-week strengths program, and tie it in with our team's engagement action plans. We think about what we want to accomplish over the next 12 weeks, which Q12 item we're tying this to, and how we will measure success. At the end of the 12 weeks, we measure our progress and adjust, and then start back over.

MM: Jim, the thing you have done so well, even in the creation of manual, you make what you do a Lonza thing, not a Gallup thing. Sasha has a great question: As an organization, Lonza has probably been through many culture changes, some of which last less than a year. For you, what is different about this campaign that tells you and your leadership that this will "stick" and have a long life cycle?

JB: Isn't that the challenge of every change agent? What we're trying to do is manage through that "dip" in performance that comes when people have tools but don't know what to do with them. That's why we need change agents, coaches and engagement champions. For the 10% of people with the natural talent to be managers, it can become an accelerator or it validates what they already know or do. But for the other 90% of us, it is so powerful. It's training wheels, a roadmap, a guide to help us get from where we are today to a level where we are all equipped with the right tools and the right support.

And ultimately we want to shift the conversation from, "This is something that we're trying or piloting" to "This is a strengths-based organization." Meetings kick off with mentions of our Top 5, and sometimes it starts out awkward and clumsy, but we will reinforce until it becomes natural or "sticky" -- when we reach that tipping point. "When I focus on my people's strengths, they perform better, they're more engaged, and we get a better result." Once I get that dopamine hit, then you don't need the support and framework because it becomes rewarding for people.

MM: One last question, dealing with logistics. What is the rollup, communication-wise, leading up to the measurement of engagement, and what is the cultural expectation on the other side of measurement?

JB: I'm happy to say that at our last town hall meeting, our site head stood up in front of everybody and said, here are the results from our last Pulse survey, and a breakdown of where we're doing well and where we're looking to improve. Here are the actions we're taking as a site leadership team, and here are the actions I expect from you as part of this team to drive engagement. So it's something everyone has a part in.

We've taken our engagement action plans and published them on the intranet page. Sometimes people are comfortable publishing their scores, sometimes not. Sharing your scores is optional. But the expectation is transparency at all levels. We want to know, collectively, is how we're going to boost engagement where we're struggling, or to leverage the places where we're doing well.

MM: Jim, that's amazing. I shook my head before because what you're sharing is best practice -- it's unbelievable, it's perfect. In our experience, where you won is your leadership winning over Lonza's site leadership, and you can see the cascade effect. If those leaders are categorically engaged, the managers who are leading teams are 39% more likely to be engaged, and their teams are 59% more likely to be engaged. So for all of the architecture you put in place, you brought it back to the primary pressure point that if our senior exec leaders are not walking out the story of engagement and strengths with authenticity, the rest is just an exercise and a program, and you've done that beautifully.

JB: Mike, can I share one more thing? I'll be quick. Where are we [Lonza] now? 100% of our managers have completed their CliftonStrengths, more than 65% of our people have done this (and our goal is to have 90%+ participation by the end of August, even though it's optional), so we're not even fully running with it yet. Pulse survey indicates that we're on target for a 20% uptick in our employee engagement scores, and we're on track for all of our 2020 targets.

JC: A good way to wrap that up. I love hearing that you're not (counterintuitively) forcing folks into the strengths movement, but giving an opportunity to improve when they're ready. I think the tendency is to mandate, and nobody really likes being told to do something. It's the best possible scenario when a team sees another team's success and asks the source of that success. Everybody likes to jump on a team that's winning. So Jim, thanks for taking the day, and Mike McDonald, thanks for coming on and doing the interview.

Jim Ball's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Futuristic, Strategic, Activator, Command and Significance.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030