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How Strengths Is Changing One County's Government

How Strengths Is Changing One County's Government

Webcast Details

  • 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

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 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

Contact info:


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.

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

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