"We want to leverage strengths to give students a better opportunity to have a great job and a great life," says Mark Pogue, Executive Director of the Clifton Strengths Institute at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).
The Clifton Foundation and Gallup have partnered with UNL's College of Business Administration (CBA) to establish the Don Clifton Strengths Institute and the Strengths Lab, which will reside at the new $84 million, 240,000-square-foot College of Business Administration building set to open in 2017.
Mark is using the Strengths Lab to research the best ways to implement strengths on campus and develop a model that other colleges can follow. CBA has been using CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder) for many years, but the new course provides students with strengths identification and develops their strengths through coaching.
"I don't know anything that can happen as dramatically as what we're seeing with students when a trained coach sits down with them," Mark says, explaining that the coaches focus on the potential of the student and what they're great at, using strengths language. "We're starting at what they're good at versus what they need to work on or where they're broken or not successful."
Some student development programs start with what's wrong with students, identifying areas where students aren't successful, and then they try to eliminate the negative before it has an impact on students. Many times, students hear feedback about what they can't do instead of what they have the potential to do.
"What we would love to see is that we're creating the next generation of managers that are going to manage from a strengths-based perspective," Mark says. "They're going to have an understanding not only of their strengths and how they can leverage those to be great managers but [also] how to leverage the strengths of their direct reports."
Strengths in the Classroom
Mark recently piloted the strengths course with 170 students, and he expects about 1,000 freshman CBA students to take the course every year. The one-credit, eight-week pass/no-pass course has a lecture component with an introduction to and formal learning about strengths. Students think about their strengths in every aspect of student success and planning their future, and they learn about their strengths and strengths within the context of teamwork, an element crucial to successful businesses.
Students are divided into groups of 10 and assigned a strengths coach, and they meet one-on-one with the coaches twice before completing the eight-week course. A majority of the coaches are student peers who participate in a six-hour certification training program. After they lead 20 coaching sessions, they receive a Clifton Institute Student Strengths Coach certificate.
As another component of the course, Mark brings in business leaders to talk about how their college experience influenced where they are now and how their career evolved from a strengths-based perspective.
Jared Hain, a CBA freshman who participated in the eight-week pilot course, says, "In my opinion, this has been the most helpful [course] I have taken at the university. It helps you discover who you are and what you are good at, and has made me feel more comfortable in the College of Business."
"I want to find out if students are getting more internships, and long-term, if students are experiencing higher levels of well-being and engagement once they get a job," Mark says. He also expects to see a bump in student retention rates and makes a connection with research associated with the Gallup-Purdue Index and graduate outcomes.
The Clifton Strengths Institute is conducting pre- and post-surveys with all the students who have gone through the pilot course to measure its impact. A student researcher is also conducting a project to measure the impact coaches are having on students.
In addition to the strengths course for incoming freshmen, the Clifton Strengths Institute is identifying and developing high-potential entrepreneurs and business starters using Gallup's Builder Profile 10 (BP10) assessment tool. The program will also identify intrapreneurs (those with great ideas within a company but who have less risk tolerance) and community builders (those who might want to start a nonprofit organization).
Selling Strengths to Colleges
Much of the success of getting strengths assessment programs on campuses has come from organic growth -- working with people who have an interest and belief in strengths and then looking for areas where they have the influence to build a program.
"It's the difference between a corporate environment and higher education. You can't mandate [strengths involvement] on a college campus," Mark says.
After working with colleges and StrengthsQuest for 15 years, Mark finds fulfillment in following through and measuring the impact of strengths at work on campus.
"Every day I come in, and I figure out something new to invent, some new connection to make, a new way to promote strengths on campus or a new way to make the learning experience more valuable for students," he says.
Mark's Pogue's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Self-Assurance, Activator, Ideation, Intellection and Command.
Becky McCarville's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Learner, Achiever, Responsibility, Maximizer and Input.