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5 Steps to Building a Strengths-Based Culture, Part 1

5 Steps to Building a Strengths-Based Culture, Part 1

Webcast Details

  • Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
  • Season 8, Episode 28
  • Learn how to build a strengths-based culture in your organization via enlisting the support of the CEO or an executive sponsor, in Part 1 of this 5-part series.
  • Interested in learning more on this topic? Read more about how to improve teamwork in the workplace.

Robert Gabsa, a Gallup Workplace Consultant, was our guest on a recent Called to Coach. In Part 1 of a 5-part series on Building a Strengths-Based Culture, Robert shared the first step in this process: Gaining the buy-in of the CEO or an executive sponsor. He discussed what organizational "culture" means, and how coaches and others can help executives see the importance of their, and their employees', strengths in light of employee engagement and performance, as well as fulfilling the organization's mission.

Access 5 Steps to Building a Strengths-Based Culture, Part 2, and Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of this 5-part series.

Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio and video are posted above.

We've created the ultimate guide to improving teamwork in the workplace!

Jim Collison 0:00

I am Jim Collison, and live from our virtual studios around the world, this is Gallup's Called to Coach, recorded on April 10, 2020.

Jim Collison 0:21

Called to Coach is a resource for those who want to help others discover and use their strengths. We have Gallup experts and independent coaches share tactics, insights and strategies to help coaches maximize the talent of individuals, organizations and teams around the world. If you're listening live, love to have you join us in our chat room. Actually, there's a link right above me there; you can click on that. It'll take you to YouTube. There's a chat room that is there. Just log in and join us in chat. We'll take your questions during and after the program there. If you have any questions after the fact, if you're listening to the recorded or the podcast version of this, you can send us an email: Don't forget, if you're listening on YouTube, you can subscribe down below. That will give -- and give us a "Like" while you're down there doing that. That will alert you every time we go live. And if you want to listen to it as a podcast, maybe during your walks, because everybody is walking their dogs these days, and getting out and getting around the block. If you want to listen to us as a podcast, search "Gallup Webcasts" in any podcast player, both Android and iPhone, and you will find us there. Robert Gabsa is our host today, Robert's a Workplace Consultant here at Gallup. And Robert, always great to see you, and welcome to Called to Coach!

Robert Gabsa 1:26

Great to be seen. Thank you, Jim. It's great to be here. I'm excited. I'm very, very happy to join.

Jim Collison 1:31

Well, we want to dig right in. We are looking at building a strengths-based culture and this has been a very, very popular topic -- 5 parts that we're going to be doing together over the next week for the folks who are listening to this in its a recorded version. All 5 may be there for you to binge on; that seems to be the popular way to do things these days. Why don't you get us started? Let's do a little bit of background first -- What are the 5? And then we'll start digging into them one at a time.

Robert Gabsa 1:58

Sure. Yeah, very, very, very straightforward. I mean, the 5 steps that we've kind of narrowed things down to are, you know, first, Start with the CEO or some type of an executive sponsor, or it really doesn't work as well as it could. That's Part 1. Part 2 is Requiring everybody in the organization to take the strengths assessment, right, and make sure that everybody kind of gets involved with it. The third one is Building the internal network of strengths coaches, if there is, or what we call Strengths Champions sometimes -- however, however your organization works. And then Step 4, How do we integrate strengths? I think it's really important, especially with the way things are changing in general around the world -- How do we integrate strengths into our performance management programs? And that's happening more and more and doing a lot more client work around that. So I think that'll be, that'll be fun to talk about. And then finally, How do we transform our learning programs, our learning development programs so that they have a more strengths-based on kind of approach to tie up all of the, all of the other, other 4 steps, really. So those are the 5. And like you said, today we'll be talking about 1 and 2.

Jim Collison 3:10

Give us a little preamble as we get started on this; just a little background on the importance of this and why.

Robert Gabsa 3:17

The importance of it -- well, you know, one of the things, I think, that I'd have to say is culture -- whenever you put "culture" around any word, right, like we say, strengths-based: I want a strengths-based team; I want to be a strengths-based person. When we start talking about building a strengths-based culture, we're starting to really put a different layer on things. And I do a lot of work in our organizational ID part of our company, and culture, brand, and purpose, right, those are the three areas. And so when we talk about brand, like how others see us, we talk about purpose. Why do we exist? Well, culture is really How do we live? How do we show up? And that's not something that you just flip a switch; no assessment's going to make that change. No, no, no assessment or Top 5 posted around the office is going to change the culture; it has to be something that's really more ingrained into the organization and become part of it.

Robert Gabsa 4:14

And why we do it is because when we do, we have better performance with higher engagement, better customer service, higher profitability. As a matter of fact, when I talk about strengths, and I talk about its effects, when it comes to culture, if -- if you're out there or if you have a piece of paper or something to write, write with, write the word "engagement," OK, kind of towards, towards the right half of your paper, all right. And then put an arrow pointing to the right, and have that be outcome or results, OK. And then above "engagement," put "Why?" Because really, we're doing this for engagement; engagement is the "why"; performance, or ... OK, engaged performance ... of raising engagement. And, of course, before that is the "who," and that's the people, the employees and the talent and the managers and everybody else. So it really is kind of this process: with strengths you build engagement, and with engagement, you build performance. It's really as simple as that. So I like to look at it as kind of that strategic kind of set, and it's critical to an organization to differentiate itself.

Jim Collison 5:34

When we think about organizations, and we throw around this term kind of "strengths-based" a lot. can you -- when we think about the, the true (and I even struggle a little bit to use "the true"). But a strengths-based organization that is doing it better than others, what, what kind of qualities do you see in that? What are they doing different that others aren't?

Robert Gabsa 5:57

That's a great question. You know, one of the things they're doing is they're paying attention to it, right. They're -- it's top of mind. They're, they're making it part of their daily routines; they're making part of their daily conversations. It takes practice, it takes work. If you're going to create a culture of any type, strengths-based or otherwise, it takes a lot of work. But it also takes a lot of studying, you know, and a lot of integrating and a lot of communicating. And it really needs to become a big part of like, how we live and how we show up. How are things getting done? How do we collaborate, how do we communicate? Those are all part of, you know, of culture in general. And so when you see strengths being put behind them, it helps us kind of create this language and provide this sense of identity. It connects us I think a little bit more as an organization. It creates a sense of belongingness. It's -- it kind of unites us around common goals. And it really does allow us to differentiate ourselves and feel like we're, we're a part of a, of a bigger picture.

Jim Collison 7:02

Yeah, and at Gallup here, what do we know -- you know, we say "strengths-based culture." What do we know about culture?

Robert Gabsa 7:08

Hmm. Wow. Well, that could be a whole lot of conversation here, Jim. You know, the basic things that I would say that the top line things, first of all, we know that culture is made up of everybody. You know, it's not like leadership says, "We're gonna have this culture!" And it happens, right? Everybody is involved in what the culture is. So it involves every person in the organization. It's about how they show up every day. It's about how they treat each other, how they respect each other, how they support each other. It is seen in more behaviors than it's written on a wall or in a brochure. It's really a part of how we show up and get things done around here, right. It's about how we make others feel and how we see them. That really kind of creates a culture because it, it almost forms an identity.

Robert Gabsa 8:02

You know, every organization, just like an individual, has its own identity. You know, if you think of strengths as an individual or strengths of a team, well, an organization absolutely has its own kind of, kind of culture, its own identity, its own set of "strengths." So that's, that's a really big part of it. And, and I think, the important part as we look towards How do you make that happen? One of the biggest mistakes that I see leadership do is trying to make that happen. Right? You can't make it happen. I love -- it's kind of like a brand. You think you can make a brand and I'm just going to create great marketing materials and a great slogan and come up with some good communications; I will create a brand? No! It's like Jeff Bezos said: A brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room. Right?

Robert Gabsa 8:51

Well, culture kind of happens. And when leaders try to come in and create culture or define like an aspirational state that, "Hey, we want to be this type of culture!" They put this big vision out there. That doesn't really resonate; it's kind of disingenuous, because you're putting something out there that you're not yet. I recommend, and Gallup always recommends, that we start -- just like with strengths -- start with what you naturally do well. Where are you right now? Identify where do you do your best as an organization? And then where's the gap to where we want to go? But you have to first define the reality of your current culture. So I think that's just a big part of just kind of setting the stage for, you know, if you're going to move into strengths, first get a, get a good grasp on your culture. What does culture mean in the organization? I mean, really, culture is kind of just shared beliefs and expectations and behaviors.

Jim Collison 9:48

Yeah. And almost like you need to do a cultural inventory to start with. What do we say ... ?

Robert Gabsa 9:55

Yeah, go on an audit.

Jim Collison 9:55

Yeah, an audit's good. What do we say about ourselves? What are our core competencies? What are the things we believe in and our values, right? And get that kind of out there. OK, so we looked at the idea of strengths-based; we looked at the idea of culture. So as we think of these 5, and we're going to work on No. 1 today, we say get "C-level" support; get that CEO involved. You just said a minute ago, like you can't just dictate it and it happens. You have -- there's some things you have to do. So why is starting with the CEO so important? Why is starting getting that executive buy-in so important?

Robert Gabsa 10:30

Well, it's just like anything in an organization. The CEO, or at least some level of executive sponsor -- it might be a CHRO; it might be, you know, it might be an EVP or somebody, but you have to kind of get that, just like anything. People want to follow. Right? And they want to follow leaders. Leaders, you know, their, their job is to direct and provide vision and direction. And one of the, one of the pitfalls that I think is out there is there are -- there's a big gap in that. Only about 59% of employees really can, really can state and feel good about knowing what their organization stands for. And only about 13% agree that their organization communicates effectively to the rest of the organization. So you have these, these gaps.

Robert Gabsa 11:18

So, so when you're trying to do anything, if the CEO doesn't stand behind it, doesn't show it and display it, you know, it's just going to be, it's just, it's just, it's just not going to gain the momentum and again, get infused into the -- you might have a team that does it. You might have a division or a department or a location that does it, right. But in order to really have it be a part of the organizational culture, it has to start from the top. It's just, it's just, it's just extremely important. And then, and then you need to think of it beyond a strengths thing, right? "Oh, I want to know my Top 5; I want to know my strengths. I already know what I'm good at. You get a lot of leaders that say that, right? But when you start connecting, you know, I always say -- and at the summit last year, I said -- "Don't talk about strengths to leaders; talk about results.

Robert Gabsa 12:08

You know, that little thing I told you to write out? If you talk about results, and tying this to business performance, strengths becomes one of the ways to get there. Now their ears are up; now they're listening. Now they understand what engagement does. And we have all the data that says engagement reduces turnover and absenteeism, and increases productivity, profitability. When they start to get their arms around that a little bit, they start to look at it as more of a business strategy. And when that happens, things really start clicking because then they can open doors to support that type of learning and development.

Jim Collison 12:41

Robert, oftentimes, the CEO or the sta -- the leadership of an organization -- really drives that mission and purpose. And we think about the ability to drive the mission and purpose of the organization plus the culture of the organization, plus the intentionality of it. Can you talk a little bit about maybe some, some advice we'd have for, for those organizations in rolling this forward? Why is this different than any other maybe rollout of something that they'd be doing?

Robert Gabsa 13:10

Well, it's different in the sense that it fuels so many different things, right? It, it, when, when people show up at their best, right, and when people are their best and learn how to communicate and collaborate, and work with each other and build relationships together and have that common language and that sense of belonging, you just get more done. And they just get more rewards; performance increases, period, right? You see performance increase. When people are at their best the organization's at its best, You know, we have that "Best of Us" tool. Well, we don't just do that with teams. Man, we do that with entire organizations and bigger scopes. Because when, when that starts happening, they just outperform their competitors when they do. It's, it's simple science. It really is. It's in the data.

Jim Collison 14:00

We're talking to coaches, this -- not, not exclusively, but here on Called to Coach, we oftentimes talking to our coaching community, oftentimes our coaches are in really good spots to have that influence over senior leadership. They may be doing some executive coaching; they may have the ear of those senior leaders. How can the coaches help in this, like, if you were thinking strategically, what advice would you give to them to say, how can you help? Yeah, you're not the senior leader, in this case. I mean, maybe you're listening to this and you are, but How could -- what advice would you give to them?

Robert Gabsa 14:32

Wow, that's a great question. It's difficult sometimes to even get in front of them, right. That's sometimes the hardest path is getting to talk to those senior leaders. But I think if you can, if you can get that opportunity to do so, one of the things is -- you said "inventory"; I say "audit." I like to look at, like, what are the current communications that are happening? I myself will go in and look at their websites. I'll look at their shareholder -- their annual report. You know, I'll look on, on Indeed and Glassdoor and I'll try to just find out, What's the reputation of this company? What are people saying about it? But what are -- I'll go look up interviews of their CEOs. What are they communicating? Because what often happens is you get conflicting messages out there. And that just confuses the heck out of people. Right. So try to get, I think they can help leaders realize and narrow some of their messages, first of all, but second of all, when it comes to strengths, you know, it's awareness. Help leaders become aware of how their own strengths have helped them in their careers; how their own strengths help them get things done; how they help build relationships -- just the basic stuff of coaching, right. How do you influence? Where are you strong? Are you a relationship builder? Are you an influencer?

Robert Gabsa 15:49

When they start seeing those, those, those things: How do they help you? How do they hinder you? They start to really get that Aha! and that buy-in. Because in general, leaders have a feeling of "I'm a leader; I'm a CEO. Why do I need this?" But I think they can help them with, with, with just getting prepared to be a better leader. How to build collaborative partnerships, develop their capacity; how to really activate their organization's -- their purpose, their brand, their, their, their, their culture itself. When they see it in themselves, and they start using it -- I had an email I was talking to you about earlier from the president of a company that I've been doing some work with and some research and some cultural identity work. And he literally put in this email, "I just had to tell you guys that I've been using strengths for 15 -- over 15 years, and I absolutely positively would not be where I am today if I had not based my management philosophy, my leadership philosophy upon strengths. And to this day, 4 months ago, we were sitting with his executive leadership team going through all of their strengths and how it matched up to the organization. So they can help them, I think, realize the importance and impact that it has.

Jim Collison 17:06

Yeah with that in mind, what kind of questions would you advise they could -- what kind of questions could they use to help that in that alignment? How could they start kind of prompting and maybe working in that space?

Robert Gabsa 17:20

Just the simple ones, you know, they don't have to -- just, Do you know your strengths? Right? Have you shared them with others? Do you use them with your leadership team? How important are they to you? Can you tell me about a time they've helped you succeed? You know, which one do you like most and why? I mean, it's really -- it's simple questions, because they're just people. Right? Ask them the basic questions.

Jim Collison 17:45

We often talk about the, the "Name it! Claim it! Aim it!" philosophy. And so we've talked a little bit about the, the naming; right there are claiming questions. But that we know the action happens in, in the, you know, as we aim these. What kind of action would you, as we think about, what kind of action can leaders take, or coaches of leaders take, in this area?

Robert Gabsa 18:09

Yeah, action. So important! Aim it! Yeah, I often, you know, I grew up in Southern California; we used to go down to Venice Beach. And when you go down to Venice Beach with, with friends or visitors, inevitably somebody wants to stop and pay the $10 to get their palm read, right, or their tarot cards read. And they're like, "Oh, wow, yeah, this is really great! Like they, they read my palm. They told me all this stuff about me that it was like -- I already knew! Yeah, and stuff that I already kind of knew about myself. But that was really cool!" And I stopped and think, So what? So what? So taking the assessment's kind of like getting your palm read? Right? It tells you some great things. It's very entertaining. But if you don't aim it at something, and I think leaders have to understand that and people have to understand that. And I know you coaches totally get that because that's what we teach. What are we going to aim it at? What are the actions? I think as a coach, it's really important to get leaders to figure out how they're going to apply this, you know, but as a coach going into this, how are you going to use your strengths to approach this? You know, what is your best approach?

Robert Gabsa 19:15

You're gonna, everyone's gonna have a slightly different style, but decide the best approach. It might be with some one-on-one coaching with the leader, just to give them kind of an idea. It might be doing an executive team session, to get them talking about their strengths with each other and to start to see some of that magic happen. I think you can help, help them take action by literally defining why it is important that they embed strengths into their culture, right, and why and how it connects to business outcomes, how it connects to performance and why that's important. You know, they can help them create talking points, little sound bites of what they can say at their town halls or what they can write in your communications. Sometimes they have a hard time doing that, right. Coaches can help them with that. They can kind of bring an infused strengths language and importance and relevance into their communications, because I think sometimes leaders are a little hesitant on, you know, How do I do that? How do I, how do I communicate that I'm a believer, but how do I talk about it? What, what do I say? I think they can really help them with that part of it.

Jim Collison 20:26

Robert, we're in the middle of a massive disruption going on here kind of globally, right. And how -- when we think about, you know, it's, it's, it's a -- we're in times of great stress, and leaders are under an enormous amount of pressure. As we think about coaches -- and maybe some people are going to be like, "I can't even get senior leadership to answer my emails, much less have these conversations." What kind of advice would you give, you know, when, when you're going through disruption, and disruption happens all the time. We're seeing massive disruption globally, but think about, you know, how Netflix disrupted Blockbuster, right? This, this isn't -- disruption is not original to, to this moment, and it's happening all the time. So for coaches that are coaching senior leaders or who are working with senior leaders and are giving them this advice through times of disruption, when it's really stressful, any advice that you'd give before we kind of wrap this up?

Robert Gabsa 21:18

You know, I think the advice that -- the first thing that comes to my mind (that's a great question, Jim; I love it, because we are in that time) is, you know, we have to remember that, that our talents and the assessment itself, the talents, right, they tap into our limbic system, right. And that's where talent lives. It's that innate, natural, where you go, where your brain takes you, when it's going to be the most effective and the most efficient. It's your best path to excellence. And I think during disruption, it's almost the same thing. It's like, don't, don't forget; lean into who you are and how you do it. React the way that is most natural to you that has helped you overcome things in the past; that has helped you deal with disruption in the past. I mean, you know, I'm Ideation No. 1, right? I'm Futuristic, right? I'm Strategic, Communication. I immediately, when this disruption started happening, started figuring out ideas of what this can be. And I was looking at what it could look like and how I'm going to communicate it. I was leaning into my strengths. I wasn't going off and reading out what other people were doing. Why would we do that? I would coach them into, Stick with who you are; become the best version of yourself during the disruption.

Jim Collison 22:32

I think that's just great advice as we think about it an individual level. We all need to be actively engaged in what we do best right now, during a crisis. During a crisis, we need to not be wasting time on things we're not good at and let other folks go. I do think, you know, disruption -- our COO says all the time that "Chaos creates clarity." And I think it's a great -- we, we're in, we're in the midst of chaos, but again, not unique. We see this happening all the time around the world when areas are disrupted and leaders are in the midst of it. And coaches, you're in the perfect place. If you are a leader, there's advice, you know, get a coach, one. Get a coach to help you out with this, for sure. And then some great opportunities and me, like you, said -- when this started happening -- "OK, what needs to go away? And what can I really focus on that would give me the most bang for my buck?" And so, as we think about senior leaders, I think this is really important. I'm looking forward to Part 2 with a, if you're listening to this as the podcast, we probably have the other 4 recorded for you. But we'll spend some, spend some additional time looking at Part 2, because I think as we dig into this, this is super exciting. So Robert, thanks for joining us for Part 1.

Robert Gabsa 23:43


Jim Collison 23:43

We're looking forward to the rest of them as well. With that, we'll remind everyone to take full advantages of all the resources we have available at the Gallup -- over at, so available for you. If you log in to Access that way, it'll take you right to your strengths dashboard. So some great resources there available for you. If you have any questions at all, send us an email: Especially during these times, if you're wondering, Hey, how is, how is training happening? How are classes happening? How are you guys responding to this? We'd love to chat with you about that. So send us an email: Don't forget, as well, to join us for the, the -- now, speaking of responding, the 2020 Gallup at Work Summit has gone completely virtual. And so you might want to check that out as well -- available to anybody around the world. And you can head out to, sign up for that and join us there. We'll miss seeing folks here in town but, but, but gone completely virtual. And then don't forget to join us in our social area. So Facebook:, or on LinkedIn, just search "CliftonStrengths Trained Coaches." You don't have to be necessarily trained in that, but you can join us there. Ask for permission; I'll let you in. Want to thank you for joining us today. Again, if you're listening to us as a podcast, just go to the next one. If you're listening live, stay around. With that, we'll say, Goodbye, everybody.

Robert Gabsa's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Woo, Futuristic, Strategic and Maximizer.

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

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