- Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
- Season 5, Episode 36
- Learn how a Minnesota county has introduced strengths to its workers and teams, and is seeking to bring strengths-based solutions to its day-to-day operations.
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
- 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 coworkers
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
Some practical takeaways:
- Make your own videos of employees talking about their strengths for use on your internal website
- 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
Steve Sweere's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Intellection, Strategic, Ideation, Input and Learner.
Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach Cheryl S. Pace contributed to this post.