- Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
- Season 7, Episode 20
- Learn what one coach means by a "pull" strategy when it comes to CliftonStrengths and unlocking people's potential, and how he has used that in multiple firms.
On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with Gordon Pitman, Chief HR Officer for GKN Aerospace, about how strengths and strengths-based leadership have expanded their influence from his team to several multinational organizations he's worked in. Gordon prefers a "pull" approach to spreading strengths and CliftonStrengths because the concept has a natural appeal along with face validity. As such, when talking about strengths, he prefers to "go where the water flows."
Our host was Bruce Young, a Gallup Senior Workplace Consultant out of the London office.
Below is a summary of the conversation. Full audio and video are posted above.
[2:13] Bruce Young: I've been at Gallup 8 years now, and within the first 6 months of joining Gallup, I had the pleasure of meeting Gordon on a Strengths Coaching program, when he was near the beginning of the journey, and we've had a very close relationship over those 8 years. So I think a good starting point would be, How were you introduced to CliftonStrengths way back then?
Gordon Pitman: It's interesting -- you said 8 years ago; I actually found my first StrengthsFinder report was actually dated 2000. So it's coming up on a good 19-20 years. I first did it a long time ago and even then, it was a bit of an "Aha!" for me. I was a young manager, just had a new team, and suddenly the world just opened up. I was like, "Wow! This makes sense now, why I do what I do," and ever since then I've been fascinated by the whole concept of strengths-based leadership.
It was almost 20 years ago -- I know I don't look that old, but it really was a good 20 years ago.
BY: You said it fascinates you. What fascinates you the most about the whole approach?
GP: I think, for me, strengths-based leadership -- the whole positive psychology I think is fascinating for me. Many organizations around the world -- no fault of our own -- we all grew up learning to talk about our development needs and things that are wrong with us, and getting a couple of times a year some beautiful feedback. Some of that feedback is like socks you didn't want for Christmas, and some of it is decent feedback.
But every time I would sit in these meetings or I would personally get feedback, I'd think, "Well, that's nice, but that's the same feedback I got at school when I was 5!" So there has to be something here that says there are some things that are enduring traits, which I potentially may never change.
But that made me start to think, well actually, there must be some enduring traits that are positive that will never change. So when I stumbled across StrengthsFinder and the whole concept of strengths-based leadership, I was like, "Yes! That's it! That makes sense."
And so ever since then, I've been fascinated, both personally but also in organizations and teams, if you can get people focused on those enduring positive traits, and have them leverage them for their own personal and business good, how much more powerful is that than doing perhaps what organizations are used to doing, which is for really candid, kind of beating folk up a couple of times a year about all the stuff they've always been bad at.
So that was really kind of the "Aha!" for me around strengths-based leadership was, wouldn't this be a great way to unlock people's potential, both personally and also in the business world?
[5:19] BY: And that seems to align with one of your Top 5 strengths -- I think you know where I'm going with this one.
BY: Possibly, yeah. I mean, Individualization No. 1, and as I'm hearing, Gordon, it's just screaming out at me. You touched on teams and organizational application, so I'd love you to share with us what you've actually done with it over the last 8 years, across these two different organizations.
GP: We'll come back to the details. You're absolutely right. In the last two large, multinational organizations I've worked in, I've absolutely introduced (CliftonStrengths) and the whole concept of strengths-based leadership.
But maybe I take you back to that first team I managed, because I think for me, that was the first real "Aha!" when you talk about teams and the impact on people. I still remember, I did (CliftonStrengths) with my team at the time, it was a UK-based training and development team. And fortunately, they were bold enough to notice that some of the things I'd been trying to do, I really wasn't that good at.
I still remember clear as day the room we were in, the setting -- it was an old farmhouse not far outside of London. And the team said, "Look, we'd love to give you some feedback." And I said, "Well, that's nice."
And they said, "If we look at our strengths, and we look at some of the things that are 'leadership jobs' that you like to do" (I was responsible for all the scheduling of the trainers and all that stuff) -- they said, "Gordon, you're really not that good at it. And actually, if we look at the (CliftonStrengths) report for our team, Nick is much better -- he's got Discipline, he's got Arranger. We love you, but you have us on opposite ends of the country on the same day." And I kind of went, "Yeah, I guess you're right."
And they said, "We know it's a leadership job and you feel like you don't want to give that away, but we all think Nick's strengths would be much better for doing that. So we tried that out, and of course they were absolutely right. And they made three or four other suggestions that we tried around the same time. And so that was the first "Aha!" moment for me around team strengths and team performance, and therefore, work performance.
[7:43] GP: But when I then moved into some of my other roles and was responsible for learning and development in AkzoNobel, which was a large, 50,000-people multinational, and then we started to look at engagement and strengths, I suddenly had that "Aha!" moment again, which was like, if I could do that in my one team, imagine how powerful that could be if we did that in multiple teams across an organization.
And so the first time I tried to introduce the concept of strengths-based leadership and (CliftonStrengths) into a large organization was in AkzoNobel, and that's when you and I first met. Although I'm an HR guy, I actually say most of HR is really about marketing, and so I'm always looking for a need or an opportunity, and we've actually just started working around the concept of engagement, and working with Gallup on the Q12. And someone came to me and said, "Look, we really don't perform well on the question around, "I get to do what I do best every day at work" (QO3). It's one of our lowest-scoring questions.
And someone said to me, "I don't really know what I do best, and I don't know how to find out what I do best." And so I thought, "Ah!" I said, "What if I had a tool or a way of thinking that could enable you to find out what you do best, and then apply that at work to help you and your team perform?" "Well, that would be genius, Gordon!" I said, "Well, hold the thought." And so the journey began.
And we did some (CliftonStrengths) coaching and we used yourself and some of the team initially, and very quickly the snowball started to roll. And I've found this across all of the organizations I've worked in. The concept is so easy to access, that when someone does it themselves, then the second question is, "Can we do this with my team?" Absolutely. And so the snowball kind of rolls. …
And so that was where the journey started for me, and then I moved to GKN Aerospace about three years ago now, and again, one of the first things I thought was, "This place really needs to grasp this concept of strengths-based leadership and probably move away from some of the historic looking at all the things we're bad at.
We just started working with engagement, so it's another perfect tie-in to be able to bring strengths and strengths-based leadership into my current organization as well. So a bit of a long journey from me experiencing it as a leader myself, to the team, to bringing it into an organization and seeing the success of that. I'm now in the process of repeating that and seeing similar successes. And I'm sure we'll talk about that.
[14:36] BY: And just on the pull-push strategy, I remember you coming when I was busy training all your coaches, you had come towards the end of the program, to give a bit of guidance on where to go next. So what kind of guidance did you use to give, because all of them would be sitting there, saying, "Right. Where are we going to start? Where do we go next?" All that kind of stuff. I think yours is quite a successful approach.
GP: I have a slightly different view of this, exactly. So the classic thing you do -- I would get my CEO on board, I would take the leadership team through. They would all then cascade it through the organization. We'd change the way we do performance management, blah, blah, blah.
But to your point, I have a bit of a pull strategy on strengths, which has over 20 years worked, I would suggest, quite successfully. And that's just put it out there. Put it out there -- I have two or three individuals that have found it less than useful in my entire thousands of coaching sessions I've done. I always find that if you just put it out there, the concept is so appealing -- this whole positive psychology.
The face validity of the tool is great. I said, three or four people in my career have gone, "That really isn't me." So most folk get it, it's really powerful, and then they say, "Oh, what can you do with my leadership team? Can you do more? And that pull strategy has really worked. It upsets many of the people around me, because they say, "No, Gordon, you must have a strategy for this. And how are we going to deploy this?"
And my answer's always been the same, "Go where the water flows. Find a leader that connects with this. Find an area in the organization or an opportunity where this could make a difference, and go help them -- go use it." And then, always, without fail, the snowball starts to roll and it starts to gather, and then you get to the point where we're at now at GKN Aerospace where I've got almost 60 internal coaches trained, heading towards the 2,000 people coached mark in three years.
And there was never a strategy. The strategy was, go where the water flows. Let the organization pull for it. And very rarely in HR do we get that. So as an HR leader, most often, people don't come to me and say, "Please re-evaluate all of our jobs." "Please reorganize the salary frameworks." But they do come to me and say, "I want to do more stuff on strengths." So that's how I've managed the strategy, if you like.
Gordon Pitman's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Individualization, Activator, Communication, Strategic and Focus.