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How a Subtle Approach Can Build a Culture of Strengths

How a Subtle Approach Can Build a Culture of Strengths

Webcast Details

  • Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
  • Season 6, Episode 18
  • Learn how, in retail and other contexts, you can introduce strengths to your team or organization more subtly by integrating it into what you are already doing.

On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with Zac Lohrisch, the Learning Content Manager of The Good Guys, an Australian appliances, electronics and health products retailer.


  • Zac works at The Good Guys, one of Australia's most respected retailers.
  • He is on a mission to help people live their best lives.
  • He is the Learning Content Manager at The Good Guys.
  • He is building strong individuals and teams with an innovative approach to leadership development.
  • He's implemented strengths in a national leadership development program that has been delivered to more than 300 retail leaders.
  • His passion is developing impactful learning solutions that get top results.
  • Zac's Top 5 are Learner, Individualization, Ideation, Woo and Communication.
  • He has worked for The Good Guys for 10 years in multiple roles in HR and Learning & Development.

Did you find out about strengths while you were working at The Good Guys?

About 2011, in one of my earlier roles, I was introduced to strengths during a team-building day. I didn't get deep into it until I did the coaching certification and now I'm on a team that develops learning content and we're able to inject strengths into a lot of what we do day to day.

Tell us about The Good Guys to set the stage.

  • They are a national retailer in Australia with over 100 stores and 4,000 team members geographically spread across the entire country.
  • They have been around since the 1950s.
  • They are primarily in the retail space, e-commerce, helping customers find solutions for electronic products.

What level leadership are your programs for?

  • It started at the senior level of retail leadership in the stores.
  • Leadership is a skill that is hard to find and develop in retail.
  • We think there is a big role for strengths in leadership development.
  • We started with the senior level of leadership, but since then we have hit middle management as well.
  • So now it's not just the leader with the philosophy of strengths, we've got other managers with the strengths philosophy.

What are some of the unique challenges that folks in retail deal with?

  • Retail is not traditionally an academic place.
  • A lot of executors and relationship builders live and thrive in retail.
  • People in retail generally are really keen to get stuff done, but it can be difficult to get them to pause and stop and self-reflect -- things that are required for someone to feel/sense a change in behavior.

What is unique about your approach to L&D at The Good Guys?

  • It starts from having made every possible mistake there is in L&D. Those are the source of the greatest learning from my personal experience.
  • Strengths can't be its own thing. Retailers are really, really busy; and now I have to do this strengths thing on top of everything else?
  • We've been challenged to integrate it into things we were already doing.
    • Communication skills, good one-on-ones; include strengths in those contexts.
  • Where our programs do really well is that they're anchored in the context of the job; you don't come to us for a "strengths session," instead, we have a session on something else more business-outcome-oriented (something we are already doing) and we talk about how your strengths can help you do it even better.

Aiming is bringing it into the context of the rest of the business. What did you do differently when you had that realization and how did you communicate with people in your company so that they would believe you that it wasn't "just another thing"?

  • I have been blessed to have good leadership support.
  • We have the mindset of how can strengths help us do the stuff we need to do better, more efficiently and more effectively?
  • They challenged us to think about the feeling of strengths, how does it feel to be in the strengths zone and how do I get there?
  • We used a design-thinking, user-experience mindset -- what do they really want to get out of this?
  • What do they need to do day-to-day to achieve their career goals?
  • We pepper strengths in across these various concepts.
  • Introducing strengths more subtly was more effective.

Can you tell me some more examples of where you covertly brought strengths in and do you use the word strengths?

  • We do use the word strengths; it carries a powerful emotive response.
  • When we're asked to look at a program, say one-on-ones or customer service or a performance review program, there are ways when you redesign them to include strengths without having to make a big deal of "rolling out strengths."
  • For example, in helping someone learn how to have great one-on-ones(between manager and team member), we would teach them to first talk about strengths before business opportunities. By doing this, we're able to help someone find their greatest potential, then look for the business gap from a place of strengths.
  • Start with what someone is doing really well, then how do you use this to help you in things you are gapping in.
  • Have them reflect on what works well for them, what about their mindset do customers really like, find their own voice and authenticity -- we inherently work in strengths.
  • The strengths philosophy is built into the program without it being an assessment or "strengths teach-out."

Tell me a little bit about who has the conversation about the "feeling."

  • We start with feeling in our programs; if I could help any L&D professional sequence learning well, especially when it comes to strengths, we want them to feel strengths first, then assess, then claim and apply.
  • A few things happen when we start with feelings. Why should I buy into this? Giving them all the data doesn't help them feel bought into the process; we're asking them to abandon what they've believed for a long time about good leadership … to fix what is wrong. So I believe we need to start with feelings.
  • We use a bridge-building exercise that is really challenging, and the debrief is really powerful when it comes to strengths. Some love the planning stage, and others are doers or executors once the plan is done. Some are really accommodating in their social interaction, and others just want the task to be done.
  • We haven't said anything about strengths or the assessment they took until later in the debrief, which brings out the behaviors that happen in a simulated environment that is similar to what they would do every day at work. How do we get the most out of each other amid the tight and changing timelines, difficult communication, and tons of personalities? Strengths allows us to do that.
  • This is how we start to teach strengths.

You changed the focus from the assessment to the philosophy of a strengths-based approach and on outcomes.

  • I believe in thinking about mindsets, how can we embed a strengths-based mindset in people?
  • The assessment helps give them a language to use to articulate the things they do really well.
  • Starting with the feeling and the experience makes the assessment much more meaningful.
  • People can get hung up on the definitions of the terms rather than what it feels like to be in the strengths zone.
  • We have people reflect on times when they are at their best, and then use the assessment to articulate it.
  • It gives people a language they haven't had before.

In your sequencing how do you know that this is all working?

  • With my Individualization talent, my strengths lens is about making sure that our sessions work for each individual in the room.
  • I'm especially looking for reflection; we ask them to share what they own at the end of a session.
    • From the quality of the responses, you can tell how effective you've been.
  • We follow up the intervention with coaching afterward; we have more recently been working on a "feedback loop" that happens fortnightly for many weeks after any face-to-face intervention.
  • We also look at how many people who have been through our program have transitioned into leadership positions, taken on greater responsibility. The results over the past two or three years are incredible.
  • No session we run will be the same as the last one; we take feedback and make the next one different, to strive for something better.
  • To what extent will people evangelize the program we run? We want to develop a tribe mentality around it, especially with regard to leadership.
  • We wait to get feedback (we try to avoid the "happy sheet") so participants have had time to reflect on what was most impactful or what could be done differently.

When they leave the program, who does the coaching afterward?

  • Our L&D team does the coaching. We're blessed to have a few great coaches on our team.
  • You have to find what's scalable for you.

Do managers across the business have conversations using strengths as a part of the structure of the conversation?

  • Yes, we help set them up to have more of these conversations.
  • We ask them, "What would you be doing differently if you had a strengths-based approach?"
  • How could you do that now without strengths?

What percentage of the employees would know what strengths is and is it seen in an aspirational way?

  • I think there is a tremendous appetite for it; it offers something different that they haven't had before.
  • They would call out the behaviors that underpin strengths but not necessarily be aware of "CliftonStrengths."

Have you had any "us vs. them" issues?

  • We do strengths very well in leadership and learning.
  • There is an opportunity to work it more into business systems and processes.

What does it look like in a granular way to apply strengths to business outcomes?

  • We're implementing a one-on-one process where each team member will meet monthly with their leader.
  • The results of this come back to how good the conversation is; strengths can help facilitate this coaching conversation.
  • We ask -- how will you lead these conversations using your own Top 5?
  • There are some great examples of leaders who have made massive breakthroughs in the way they engage their employees. I think the biggest one that comes up all the time is, "I need to ask my team members more questions, and ask them how they feel when they're doing (a certain) task." And how do I become a good "strengths spotter" and see my employees' strengths?
  • We build conversations around business needs and knit strengths into that.

Zachary Lohrisch's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Learner, Individualization, Ideation, Woo and Communication.

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

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

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