skip to main content
Integrating CliftonStrengths Into a DEI Culture, Part 1

Integrating CliftonStrengths Into a DEI Culture, Part 1

Webcast Details

  • Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
  • Season 8, Episode 79
  • Learn how a team providing services to people in poverty in Washington state has brought strengths into their culture of diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Interested in learning more on this topic? Read more about how to improve teamwork in the workplace.

Nichole Ossa, an Administrator for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Organizational Development; Thanh Tran, Respect, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager; and Ken Sauby, Employee Engagement Program Manager -- all of them at Washington State Department of Social and Health Services -- were our guests on a recent Called to Coach. In Part 1 of a 2-part series, Nichole, Thanh and Ken shared how their organization is seeking to integrate CliftonStrengths into their culture of diversity, equity and inclusion and their work with those who are experiencing poverty and with poverty reduction in their state. Their insights included:

  • What it means to operate from a perspective of diversity
  • How CliftonStrengths has aided their efforts to open up about their lived experiences
  • The way strengths has enhanced their team unity and their work with clients

Access Part 2 of Integrating CliftonStrengths Into a DEI Culture.

A perspective of diversity ... says each person is unique, and each person's uniqueness brings a particular flavor that is needed. We just have to know it and know how to harness it.

Nichole Ossa, 19:11

Anyone that has ever done DEI work, yes, it's hard work. But for us, it's heart work, right, H-E-A-R-T, because it sometimes requires us to be courageous and vulnerable.

Thanh Tran, 23:02

Because we have these constant conversations about our strengths, we're able to help others, our team gels, we [set] a good example [for] other teams ... and ... our team meetings are absolutely fun.

Ken Sauby, 7:40

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

Jim Collison 0:01

I am Jim Collison, and live from our virtual studios around the world -- or at least here in the United States -- this is Gallup's Called to Coach, recorded on December 3, 2020.

Jim Collison 0:22

Called to Coach is a resource for those who want to help others discover and use their strengths. We have Gallup experts and independent strengths coaches share tactics, insights and strategies to help coaches maximize the talent of individuals, teams and organizations around the world. If you're listening live, we'd love to have you join us in our chat room. It's actually just off to the right for you, if you want to sign in there. We'll take your questions live. If you're listening after the fact and you have questions, you could always send us an email: Many of you are doing that, and I appreciate it. They don't come directly to me, but I do get a lot of them. So thanks for sending those in. And don't forget to subscribe if you're there on YouTube, subscribe and follow us there. Or on your favorite podcast app, you can search "Gallup Webcasts" and find us there. We have 3 great guests with us today. Nichole Ossa, Thanh Tran and Ken Sauby are our guests today. Nichole is an Administrator for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Organizational Development at Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. She says she's a natural optimist and believes that the work of DEI benefits everyone. Although, although it's hard work, she says it's also joyful work. Her Top 5 are Positivity, Connectedness, Developer, Empathy and Arranger. Nichole, welcome to Called to Coach!

Nichole Ossa 1:35

Thank you. It's great to be here, Jim!

Jim Collison 1:37

Great to have you. Hey, in a minute or so, can you kind of tell us what they pay you to do there? I mean that, that title sounded pretty fancy. But what do you really get paid to do?

Nichole Ossa 1:46

Well, that's a great question. When I think about my job, I really get paid to develop culture that can create fairness in our organizational interactions and in our business, in all our operations. That's really the heart of what I get paid to do. What that looks like in an everyday environment is I lead a team of folks like Ken and Thanh, who are just incredible experts in their field, experts in employee engagement, experts in organizational culture, and experts in DEI, or diversity, equity and inclusion in the business environment of particularly state government and in an organization that serves at least 1.5 million Washingtonians who are experiencing poverty, who are amongst the most vulnerable folks, particularly at a time like this, when we're, we're all living through a pandemic, right.

Nichole Ossa 2:43

So these are the folks who are most impacted and most affected. And we have a responsibility as an organization, as a branch of state government, to do our very best for those folks. And culture matters in terms of being able to do our very best. So my job is to keep my finger on the pulse of our culture, and to increase our effectiveness of culture so that we can do our work to serve Washingtonians.

Jim Collison 3:10

That's a great, that's a great summary. Nichole, how long have you been in the role that you're in?

Nichole Ossa 3:14

Oh, gosh, I've been in this role for 2 1/2 years. I've been with Department of Social and Health Services for 7 years, though, and in human services and organizational development for about 20ish -- and I'm just gonna say "ish" -- years.

Jim Collison 3:26

You're kind of living the dream right now. DEI has never had more exposure, right, than it's having right now. And so kind of, it's got to be a great spot to be in right now.

Nichole Ossa 3:35

It really is. There's real clarity around the necessity to address diversity, equity and inclusion in really any organization, but in particularly, particularly in public service.

Jim Collison 3:48

OK. Well, thanks. And thanks for coming on. Thanh is the Respect, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager -- don't have to, hopefully you don't have to write that out a lot, Thanh, on your; maybe you got some cards you can hand out -- for Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. He is a community advocate, a loving son, husband, father, brother and uncle. Sounds -- that sounds super important. His Top 5 are Relator, Strategic, Achiever, Empathy, and Connectedness. Thanh, welcome to Called to Coach!

Thanh Tran 4:16

Thanks for having me, Jim. I'm glad to be here. Happy to --

Jim Collison 4:18

OK, we got that long title. Tell us what it, what it really means. What do you do day to day?

Thanh Tran 4:23

Yeah. So for short, we, I just call myself the REDI Program Manager. And I would say this is my dream job right now. And what I get paid to do is to help our staff arrive at work every day as their true, authentic selves. Because our mission is to -- is in the poverty reduction work. And to make sure that our staff understand the mindset that individuals who live in poverty or intergenerational poverty go through, it makes, it makes sense that we focus on our employees. Because if we take care of our employees, they will in turn take care of our clients and the communities that we serve.

Jim Collison 5:02

And Thanh, how long have you been in the role that you're in?

Thanh Tran 5:05

I've been in this role for approaching my 2-year anniversary; I've been in the organization for 5.

Jim Collison 5:11

Good. All right, well, thanks for coming on and being part of our program. Ken is the Employee Engagement Program Manager for Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Ken provide training and communication around the topics of strengths and wellbeing; it's kind of why we're here today. Ken, thanks for being persistent with me. His Top 5 are Maximizer, Achiever, Learner, Context, and Connectedness. Ken, welcome! And from Moxee, I say that every time we're on here. Welcome to Called to Coach!

Ken Sauby 5:39

Yeah, the town with no street lights.

Jim Collison 5:43

It's not always bad. Tell me what, tell me what you do, or what you get paid to do.

Ken Sauby 5:47

Very similar to Thanh, with a slightly different approach. And I try to do anything and everything to motivate and inspire these wonderful staff that are serving the public. And I focus on strengths, I focus on wellbeing, wellness, self-care, other areas in any which way that I can get a platform. And that includes organizing and distributing our monthly newsletter and emails, and offering training, keynote speaking -- anything that helps them to be better at what they do. I started where they started. I started doing interviews for food stamp eligibility when -- 27 years ago. And I've worked my way through supervisor, I was in, in administration for 8 years; I've been now a program manager for 7 years. And I'm on the dream team with a dream boss, and I love my job. And they really had to write the job description around my strengths for what I do now. Because every day, I get to do what I enjoy doing every day. So I always have lots and lots of energy. Love it.

Jim Collison 6:50

Ken, you, I think you're probably kind of known as the strengths guy. Lisa notices in the chat room, all three of you have Connectedness. Do you take advantage of that in the stuff that you guys are doing?

Ken Sauby 7:02

Yeah, there's actually 4 of us on the team that have Connectedness in our Top 5. And, and so yes, it It affects our team. Both Thanh and Nichole lead with Relationship Building themes. I'm more of a Strategic Thinker, even though Maximizer is my No. 1. But because we have these constant conversations about our strengths, we're able to help others, our team gels, we have a good example to other teams about how to work through things. And it's just -- our team meetings are absolutely fun, especially with Nichole leading with Positivity. It's, it's never a dull moment; it's always got some laughter involved.

Jim Collison 7:37

Well, I'll admit, I've been chatting with you guys over the last couple days. And I've really looked forward to this interview. So just that Positivity, Nichole, that -- Ken is right, that Positivity just bleeds through in everything you do. Nichole, let's start with you, as we think about why -- the whys in this, what problems we're trying to solve. You guys kind of identified a couple problems kind of early on. And so with this, what problems are we trying to solve? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Nichole Ossa 8:02

Sure. And, you know, the person who leads with Positivity is going to talk about crisis. Right? Yeah, you do. And, you know, that's really, it's interesting to see what can happen in the midst of a crisis for an organization, what clarifying, how it can clarify what -- where the organization needs to invest in itself. So the problem that our organization really has been seeking to solve from Day 1 in focusing on strengths, DEI, and also respect in our culture, is our having really strongly engaged employees who know themselves, know their strengths, know their teammates, and are really connecting that to the purpose of our organization and the services that we provide in our communities, in a way that amplifies all the good stuff that everyone's bringing, and strengthens us so that we can respond in crisis.

Nichole Ossa 9:04

So when we talk a little bit -- in a minute or so -- about kind of how we got to where we are today and what we're doing, we're gonna actually start in our last economic crisis, which is where we really began as an organization to look at our culture and to look at how, how we can leverage strengths within our organization and within our staff to create the kind of culture that makes us somewhat bulletproof in terms of weathering crises. Back in the last economic downturn, we really saw the need to invest in our culture. And in this economic downturn -- which has been, in some ways, it's very different and it's been in some ways worse than the last one -- we're reaping the benefits of that investment that started, gosh, over 10 years ago.

Jim Collison 9:55

Nichole, sometimes when you're working in this area of poverty, right, that the day-to-day become -- just weighs down on people. It's, it's tough to be in it to begin with, but then when you have to work with it every day, can you talk a little bit about, you know, the mission you all mentioned, in some ways, your mission as an organization is, is working with folks who live in poverty. Can, can you talk just a smidge more about the, some of the real problems that creates with the, with the employees as well, who are having to deal with it?

Nichole Ossa 10:25

Sure. So, you know, the overarching mission of our organization is to transform ... lives, right. And within the, the location that we work, that's specifically for folks who are living in poverty. And it's, but it's, we drill down even further, and we say, let's look at poverty. And let's look at the disparities that exist in poverty. Poverty itself is a disparity. Yet there's also disparities within poverty. So that's our overarching mission is to transform lives in a way that eliminates disparities and -- in poverty and reduces poverty. On a day to day basis, what that looks like for our staffs -- staff -- is they're administering programs, they're providing services, they're, they're taking calls and meeting with customers who are always contacting them on a bad day for themselves, sometimes contacting them on the worst day of their life, in the worst month of their life, the worst year of their life. And that has a wearing impact if we aren't strategic in building a culture that supports our staff to be able to be resilient with -- in providing services to folks who have seemingly intractable problems.

Nichole Ossa 11:35

In a single interaction with one of our customers, we're not going to leave saying we solved poverty for them. We're going to leave saying we, we did something to mitigate the impact of poverty; we helped get them directed on a pathway that will potentially solve poverty for that particular person. But in that individual interaction, our staff, unless we create a culture that helps them connect those dots, they're not necessarily going to see that.

Nichole Ossa 12:02

So that's really what we're trying to do, and have been doing for years, is developing a culture that connects those dots between these high-minded ideals, right: transform lives, reduce poverty, eliminate disparities in poverty. Those are big ideas, which, in the moment, get that transactional moment between a staff person and a client, if we don't help them see the connection of how they, how they speak to that person, what they choose, what opportunities they choose to share with them, how that connects to that bigger picture. So that's really kind of in the smallest nutshell that I can give you, what we're doing.

Jim Collison 12:41

It's a good, it's a good explanation. Thanh, would you add anything from your role's standpoint, as we think about problems being solved? Would you add anything to that?

Thanh Tran 12:48

Yeah, from a, from a DEI perspective, when Nichole talks about reducing poverty in a way that eliminates disparities, specifically here in Washington state, the data shows that 30% of Washingtonians live in poverty, which means if you play the game of Duck, Duck, Goose, for every goose you count, there's someone living in poverty. And the disparities we see is, there are certain demographics that are living in higher rates of poverty above 30%. And so really honing down on the data, and tying in the lived experiences to those demographics, which, in our case, would be our Black community, Latinx community, Indigenous community, single-income households, those with disabilities, mental or physical. And so making sure that our staff are aware of that disparity and how that came to be, as part of the DEI work that we include to make sure that there's a basis and and level setting for our staff to understand lived experiences.

Jim Collison 13:45

And how are you measuring that today among your own staff? Lisa kind of had a question in the chat room, about how's the diversity on the staff? And how, what does that look like?

Nichole Ossa 13:54

Such a great question. So we measure that in a few different ways. So one, in terms of cultural impact, you know, our staff hearing the message and is it internalized in a way that they can deliver, they can deliver that -- the culture that we want our customers to experience through their interactions with customers -- we measure that through customer surveys that we do every year. And we measure that through a staff survey, a organizational staff survey of all staff, which actually is based in a lot of Gallup-informed research. So that's one we -- one way we measure it.

Nichole Ossa 14:36

In our staff survey, we have something called an EDI or -- we oftentimes switch the acronym. I know in kind of the world outside of DSHS, it's DEI, but we also say EDI. So if you hear me say that, that's what's going on. So we have our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Index, which is a subset of questions from our employee survey. And we use that as one way to measure, How is that climate of fairness experienced within our, our staff? And within the, the client survey, there is another subset of questions that looks at How are you experiencing being treated with equity, being treated with fairness and respect and dignity? That's the equivalent of an EDI, or, excuse me, DEI Index. So that's one way we do that.

Nichole Ossa 15:24

Other efforts we have underway include really looking at if there's any unintentional glass ceilings in our organization, right. Let's just be real: That's something that is pretty common throughout really any organization. And, you know, most, for the, for the most part, it's not intentional, it's not, you know, any kind of back-room group saying, "How do we keep people out?" It's actually the absence of intent that perpetuates that. So we're really, this, in these last couple years, in particular, as an organization, we've really drilled down on How do we create more intention around equity within our organization and around leveraging and honoring diversity of all kinds?

Jim Collison 16:11

You had mentioned, let's go, before we get too far into that, because we want to kind of come back to some of that. Let's talk a little bit about the timeline. And so can, Nichole, you mentioned, '07, '08, last economic crisis that we went through. Ken, that's about how things kind of started. So let's quickly roll through the timeline of this thing. Ken, you got this thing kicked off around that time. Talk a little bit about what you did, and then progress from there.

Ken Sauby 16:36

When I took the CliftonStrengths assessment, the first time was 2006. And when I read the personalized report and realized it was everything I did without thinking, I couldn't stop thinking about that. And so I was an administrator at the time, and a few of us got together. And we started just a workshop to get people together who also had their results and talk about it and learning about, you know, where can the team depend upon you the most? And that led into a progression of learning more and more about the CliftonStrengths.

Ken Sauby 17:04

And then, when we did face that recession, the office I worked over at that time with a staff at 24 -- there were 50-plus offices in the state -- everybody was averaging 6 to 12 days to process the amount of, over amount of abundance of all these applications that came in because of the recession. That's just for basic food. Our office averaged 2 days, per office, per family, per person.

Ken Sauby 17:32

And the difference was, we already knew where our strengths were. The people that were Woo and Relationship Building, we put them up front; the people that were processing and deep Thinkers and Executing themes, we put them in the back. And everybody worked according to their strengths. Everybody knew what their Top 5 were in our office. And because we had these fluent conversations, for 3 years, we produced at that level, even though everybody else was still struggling, because we hadn't -- they hadn't had a chance to develop their culture and know it would work.

Ken Sauby 18:00

From there, we took that model example and then started to express it throughout the state. We've done now 116 workshops to over 2,000 staff. We have 1,500 active staff in our community of practice that stay in tune with learning about their individualness through their strengths, what makes them unique. And then we match that into now, on this team, into the Respect, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion conversations, and it's how our culture has grown and how it leads up to how we started to do the Respect culture, which I know Nichole will be best at telling us about.

Jim Collison 18:33

Yeah, Nichole, let's take us, then, in 2013.

Nichole Ossa 18:37

Yeah, sure. So you know, first I'll just say that Ken has really been a pivotal influence within our organization to get the ball rolling on thinking about diversity before we were really using that word even, because with his work around strengths and his champion, championing of the concept of individualized strengths, he really seeded the ground for looking at our, you know, our brainpower, our people power in our organization through a perspective of diversity, that, that really says each person is unique, and each person's uniqueness brings a particular flavor that is needed. We just have to know it and know how to harness it.

Nichole Ossa 19:21

So Ken was really on the cutting edge with that work in 2007. Around 2013, so we had weathered through our last recession, and I will not sugarcoat it, it dinged us. It was hard. It was hard on everyone. It was hard on our organization in many ways. Tough to go through a period of time like that. And you know, similarly, I think we're all experiencing a different challenging time now. So in that difficult time, the clarifying, what was clarified is that we have to have a strong culture. We need strong culture in our organization so that we, as a group, as a community, as an agency, can weather hard times with resilience, can be focused on a purpose, even when we are just going through rapid change and we don't even know what the future will look like in terms of -- and when I say "future," maybe next month, not even a couple years down the road.

Nichole Ossa 20:27

So we started in our part of the DSHS, we started this initiative called Respect, where we just said, we're going to name and claim it; we're going to say our culture, the bedrock of our culture is respect. Respect for others, respect for our customers, respect for our work, respect for ourselves. And then that really blew up into kind of an internal code of conduct, training around how to communicate with each other in a way that, that exemplified that culture of respect and how to interact with customers to exemplify that culture of respect.

Nichole Ossa 21:05

We created an organizational, like a orientation for all new employees, it's mandatory still to this day -- although it's shifted to include EDI -- we developed a community of (well, it wasn't called a community of practice then; it's since developed into that, and I'll let Thanh speak to that in a minute). But we developed a group of people called Ambassadors where they were really, really steeped in and trained in the ideals of this organization and then given some support around how to go back to your teams and help people understand it, and live it out and be an Ambassador for it. And that's the name we've given those folks; they still exist today. And they are really strong champions, and important, really important, flag-bearers, really, for the ideal version of our culture, and we know how things work, right? We know we always have an ideal, and then there's the reality of how well we're living that out, depending on how good your days go. And it might be better one day, might be kind of OK the next day, not so great the day after; it depends on how it's going.

Nichole Ossa 22:07

But we're not asking folks for perfection, nor are we expecting perfection from ourselves. What we are expecting is embracing a culture of effectiveness, of continuous improvement, of respect, of focus on equity in how we treat each other and how we treat our customers, and how we design our work. That's what we're expecting. And hopefully, on a really good day, we do that with excellence. And on a normal day, we do that really well. And on a bad day, we at least still do it pretty darn good. That's what we hope. So that was back in 2013. And we kept that going until about 2018. And then we had another big shift.

Jim Collison 22:50

Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.

Nichole Ossa 22:51

I was gonna kick it to Thanh and let him start talking about our shift towards -- from respect to what we call REDI.

Thanh Tran 23:01

So I want to preface by saying that anyone that has ever done DEI work, yes, it's hard work. But for us, it's heart work, right, H-E-A-R-T, because it sometimes requires us to be courageous and vulnerable, in order for us to open up about our own lived experiences, whether it's professionally or personally. And that requires a level of psychological safety in the workplace.

Thanh Tran 23:25

So how do we achieve that? And strengths has been instrumental in allowing our staff through this process. Because you think about it, it's a very introspective process and an interpersonal one at that, for you to think about your own thoughts when listening to the lived experiences of others that may not be your own. And how do we communicate with each other through respectful dialogue? So in our organization, we couldn't even begin to talk about EDI content until we had established that strong organizational understanding how, of how we choose to communicate with each other. And that's why the Respect initiative that Nichole mentioned that we started in 2013 is still foundational for our REDI culture today.

Thanh Tran 24:06

And so we asked ourselves, how do we support and sustain our culture among 2,000 employees with more than 54 field offices scattered across Washington state in a way that would actively engage and intrinsically motivate individuals to join this discussion? Because I don't believe that we can actually accomplish that logistically by just a few handful of people alone, right? Imagine Nichole or myself or Ken going out to an office at an all-staff meeting, and we deliver a great presentation for the day, but then we disappear for 6 months. We don't call that true culture change. So REDI culture for us, it's more about that one-time conversation or an annual training; it's a consistent, ongoing dialogue with the people that you have the most proximity to. Not me, if you don't work with me every day, but your fellow coworkers. Because those are the Individuals that will influence your workplace environment the most.

Thanh Tran 25:03

So that's why we focused on developing our internal infrastructure to actually train and support dedicated staff who live out our REDI culture and are already stationed at those offices and teams through our REDI Ambassador community of practice. Yes, we have a charter that details what is in scope and out of scope regarding their roles. They attend our monthly Ambassador trainings and affinity spaces. And over the last year, we've created and launched REDI quarterly campaign presentations that are actually delivered by our Ambassadors in their offices. So this would ensure that our staff across the state are receiving a consistent message focused on helping staff make that connection of the EDI at work to our mission of transforming lives and our administration's unified goals.

Thanh Tran 25:53

This platform also allows for our Ambassadors the autonomy to engage in more meaningful conversations with their own coworkers, based on that trust that they've established. And that also allows them to prioritize the conversation based on the needs of that specific office. I'm happy to say, today, we actually have 134 active Ambassadors in our organization. And it's through this duplication process that we've been able to have multiple campaign presentations shared across the state simultaneously. Ofur ambassadors are able to build confidence and competency, while our staff truly feel like their voices are being heard. And we have this continuous feedback loop that we collect feedback forms. And we also follow up with our ambassadors for their experience after a presentation is done. And this has been the work that we've done over the last year and a half that has been really transformational versus transactional, right. So that's what we've been doing.

Jim Collison 26:54

Thanh, asks, Lisa asks a good question, I think, in regards to that. Well, let me ask this one first: Can you tell more about the challenges that the Ambassadors face? I mean, certainly, this can't be an easy job. And then how do you hear back from them on how things are going?

Thanh Tran 27:09

Yep. So we have monthly trainings. We call them our Affinity Spaces for our community of practice. So remember, a community of practice requires a community and practice, right? And so it's during those time frames that we have an hour and a half every month for people to share what's worked for them? What hasn't worked for them? What's the objections that you've had? And so between our team, with Nichole, Ken, myself and the other members of our team, we put together trainings for our facilitators. That could be facilitation training; it could be content around a particular objection that they've,` they encountered.

Thanh Tran 27:52

For example, someone might have a naysayer in their team. How do you overcome that objection, trying to help someone understand why a pronoun is important to establish for identities for individuals, right? Those having that competency and having that training and having the dialogue to allow them to just get more comfortable through practice over time.

Jim Collison 28:17

Ken, you want to talk a little bit about the ongoing strengths work, then? We've talked a little bit about the underpinnings of the, of the actual work that needed to be done. What have you continued with? We talked about you starting in '07, but what have you continued with? What's been working from a strengths perspective?

Ken Sauby 28:32

Well, it's very hard to have me talk to any group without mentioning strengths, even if my topic is something else. Because even when I'm talking about self-care, or trauma-informed circumstances, I always get back to strengths as the best prep to help somebody have that level of resilience they need. So that weaves into the newsletters, the emails, the, any of the all-staff talks that myself or my team's involved in or internally, just even among our own team.

Ken Sauby 29:01

And so I'm constantly looking for those avenues that I can share with others: Hey, strengths isn't just a "flavor of the month"; it is something here to stay. And we need to keep talking about it. Because the more we talk about it, the more we can answer the 2 questions, you know. Where, where can the team depend upon you the most? That is, you know, Here's where you can depend upon me; I can do this all the time. And this over here, I might need some help. And making it, like Thanh described, that safe environment where we can talk about strengths and weaknesses. "I can do this all the time." "I love it over here." "Yeah, I can do it, but I might, might need some help."

Ken Sauby 29:34

Strengths and weaknesses need to be regular conversations. So any format, any opportunity, whether it's one-on-one in coaching or whether it's in the wellness platform that I'm also a part of, any messaging that goes out there, I always find a way to squeeze in strengths. We still continued, even in COVID, we continue doing virtual workshops. We've had 5 workshops, and what, what blew me away was the responses were even more positive from the people that participated in these virtual workshops than even in the in, in person, where you could see people's Aha! moments were happening right before their eyes as they were reading their personalized reports and understanding, we're having these conversations of what we have in common, what we don't have in common. And so it's amazing how the topic itself carries the ball forward. Does that help you?

Jim Collison 30:25

Yeah, yeah. Nichole, would you add to that any?

Nichole Ossa 30:28

I sure would. So I think, Ken, you're humble enough that you probably wouldn't say this. So I'll say it. With over 10 years of bringing strengths forward in the organization through workshops, through keynotes, through mentoring, one on one or in small groups, Ken has significantly influenced our organization. Since he started working with CliftonStrengths, many of the folks he has mentored or who have been through his trainings have been promoted. And they're now in leadership positions internally. And they bring Ken in. And so Ken has been able to bring strengths to very large teams within our organization. You've heard we're, you know, have 2000-ish employees, give or take, if help with how our, our, what our hiring picture looks like. So that's 2,000 employees that all know, all are at least strengths-aware, many of which are in teams that are not just strengths-aware, but strengths-deployed, meaning that's how they converse with each other. That's how they know each other. That's how their leader, their leader includes a strengths perspective in how they lead their team.

Nichole Ossa 31:48

And, and this has been a really lovely unintended side effect. If we -- I wish I could say I planned this, but I didn't; I just sort of noticed it was happening. With teams that have been a little bit resistant to the concept of REDI, a little bit -- and I don't, I want to just stop and say I don't blame folks for saying, "I'm not sure if we want to talk about EDI in our teams"; I'm not sure if we want to bring that into the workplace. Feels like it could be a little, little explosive. That's a fair concern for people, right. It's a fair concern. Sometimes that concern can cause people to really back away and to be really resistant and uninterested in bringing that conversation in.

Nichole Ossa 32:29

However, what we've found is that if Ken speaks to those groups first around strengths, they start to gain some awareness around diversity through the lens of strengths. And they start to begin to see how EDI conversations, how EDI awareness can be something that is developmentally beneficial, not just difficult. And we've seen some of those teams say, "You know, maybe we want to bring that Thanh guy in. You know, we heard he talked to other teams about REDI; maybe we'll bring him in now." And so it's worked out that Ken has opened doors in some areas of the organization where that door was gonna get open eventually. But maybe it happened a little quicker because we were able to have Ken come in there first.

Jim Collison 33:17

Maybe we should jump on the Ken bandwagon. The chat room certainly seems to be doing that. Thanh, would you, would you add anything? And you can jump on the Ken bandwagon if you want. But would you add anything to that as well?

Thanh Tran 33:27

Yes, I actually would jump on that bandwagon, Jim. You know, I am a perfect example of what strengths can do. Ken and I, we're on the same team today. But that wasn't the case 4 years ago. See, 4 years ago, I was also in a different team. And our, my supervisor at that time, we bring Ken in to do an all-day strengths training for 3 different teams. And through that experience, Ken printed this out for me. I got my Top 10 strengths right here. And I know what my Top 5 are. My supervisor at that time knew what my Top 5 are. I mean, he leveraged those strengths to allow me to have other opportunities in the organization to develop myself. That's how I got to this position here today is from leveraging my strengths and the opportunities that were afforded me through the last 2 1/2 years that allowed me to have the skill and competency to be as, as a REDI Program Manager today. And that's all thanks to strengths and the amazing training that Ken delivered to my supervisor and myself.

Jim Collison 34:36

Ken, that's got to feel pretty good, right, getting that kind of recognition live with every -- it's recorded. You're gonna have, I'm gonna have to give you a copy of this so you can play it at your next review, those kinds of things. Ken, anything else you would add as we just kind of come full circle and as right before we kind of talk about some results on this, which we've alluded to, anything else you'd add?

Ken Sauby 34:55

I would add that the workshop experience and, and the information experience of sharing has actually evolved to where now, I will go out and find or staff will volunteer their perspective of different famous people, and what particular strength that person might represent. For example, for Activator, you might have Rosa Parks. For Belief, you might have Nelson Mandela. For Includer, you might have Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For Responsibility, you might have Congressman John Lewis. But finding different public figures that we can now start to educate others of how they did what they did, whether or not we know their, their real Top 5 or not, but the fact that what they did examples that particular theme.

Ken Sauby 35:40

Using that approach, we've now blended the EDI information right into the strengths workshop and into the strengths education that we promote, even to the point where we actually have various levels of different action steps a person might consider, depending upon their particular theme. They look up their theme, they consider these action steps to fight antiracism. But if that step doesn't fit them, they pick a different theme and find a different step. And so we try to find different ways to be creative to say, these conversations are not separate. We're having the strengths conversation and equity, diversity, inclusion in the same sentence. And that has been one of the greatest joys I've seen. Thank you.

Jim Collison 36:25

Good. Yeah, no, I appreciate the emotion on that. Because it, it means so much in what we do. And, and to clarify, we don't know those people have those themes. But we know they embody the idea of those themes. And so as we think of their great examples, right, the, the great examples to think of as, as we as we think about being able to -- and Nichole, I love this word, I'm going to steal it from you -- as we strengths deploy, like that, that's just a great idea, right, as we deploy these for ourselves. And so, Nichole, let's, let's transition a little bit and start thinking about results. Because I think people want to know, like, OK, what has it done? So start with us a little bit, what, what kind of progress have you seen on this?

Nichole Ossa 37:07

Well, you know, I started talking about, and again, kind of fun, that the person who leads with Positivity is looking at and thinking about our crisis and the hard things we go through. But, you know, we, we started focusing on our culture in a crisis, when we knew we needed to, we needed to give it some attention. And so here we are now, in another, if we want to, if we want to spin it with a with a Positivity world -- word -- another challenge or opportunity, right, where we, without the work we have done for the last 12 years, I believe we would be in a very different place.

Nichole Ossa 37:47

So here's just one example. Back in March, I think, probably everyone on this call and everyone on the panel here, we all had to make some big changes in our lives, right, to some extent or another. In terms of our working world, that meant that we had to deploy 2,000 staff to work from home in a matter of a couple weeks. Let's just let that sink in: 2,000 staff to work from home in a matter of a couple weeks. Not all these staff even had laptops. Because you know, that's just the world we worked in. We had to develop from scratch safety protocols for a pandemic. We had to develop from scratch procedures for how we would serve 1.5 million or more customers, who, many of them were coming into those 54 offices that Thanh mentioned earlier, how we would serve them in a way that would not interrupt their service, but we wouldn't be having all those people congregating in an office setting. And we had to do it knowing that we were going to see, in a matter of a week, a spike of applications for services. That was -- would be unprecedented.

Nichole Ossa 39:04

We, the end of March, beginning of April, the increase of applications for services from our organization -- I should have the numbers at my fingertips; I don't -- I think it was 175% or more over a week increase; humungous increase. And it just kept going up through March and May, or excuse me, through April and May. So that's the situation we were in. We passed that stress test on our culture in our organization's operations with flying colors. This only happened because we could deploy our staff in a collaborative way because we were focused on a single purpose together. We were clear on our culture, and people were able to really clearly connect the need to completely, you know, do a complete 180-degree turn on the jobs that they were focused on.

Nichole Ossa 40:02

Some people were -- found themselves doing a completely different job from the beginning of March to the end of March, because that's really what needed to happen. We had to pull people off of particular types of work, cancel all workshops, all trainings, and have those folks deployed somewhere else in an area of work that was possibly unfamiliar to them and maybe not something they liked doing even. Our culture held us up through that, and it has continued to hold us up through that.

Nichole Ossa 40:30

One of the things that is a concern, you know, I know nationally, for everyone, is the psychological impact, and the mental health impact of living through a pandemic. It's just there, right? We have been able to completely build a support program for our employees, so that they are more prepared and ready to support customers whose need is greatest, right now, at this time. It's always a high need, but the need is greater than it has been in the past. We have to focus on our employees' wellbeing because, you know, if they're, if they're, if they're not able to be present to do their work, the impact on our communities is really, it's not good.

Nichole Ossa 41:14

Also, aside from that, we really care about our employees, our employees are dedicated people who are here doing this work because it means something to them. And they're also parents who are at home, working, with their kids. They're also (right, Thanh? I really enjoy Thanh's kids in our Monday huddles), they're also caregivers of other family members. And, you know, they're, they're really, they're going through that what everyone else is going through. So we want, it's just our ethics and are important to us that we're supporting our employees in that way. And our culture-building that has really started with paying attention to strengths moved on to say, OK, we need to talk about how we build in this concept of respect in how we interact and how we deploy our operations.

Nichole Ossa 42:09

And then, wow, we have this great foundation of respect. There's a piece missing, though, there's something to complete it. And that's really close attention to the concept of equity or fairness, the concept of diversity, or just really any difference -- that's what diversity is; it's difference -- and how we honor it, how we appreciate it, how we engage it and leverage it. And then this whole concept of inclusion, which, I'll just add a little bit to that when we talk about inclusion, we're talking about something super specific, we're saying active welcoming. Not just like, come on in, but active welcoming. This space belongs to you and me, all of us together. And by you being here with me, it makes it better. Right?

Nichole Ossa 42:51

So, you know, those are kind of loosey-goosey words. But when we really drill down and we say, how does this, how will this be evidenced in our behavior with each other in the organization, in our actions, in the way we organize and create our programs and services and in the way we deploy all of our operations? What does it look like in action? That's the where the rubber meets the road. And having done that work iteratively for more than a decade, and still working on it, right, it's never completely done work. We always have to keep moving that wheel. Having done that, I believe that our organization, the evidence is in how well our organization has, has done responding to a really unprecedented event. Yeah.

Jim Collison 43:46

Thanh, did, did you feel, did you feel it through the Ambassadors? You know, March hit, and of course, the whole world changes for you guys. Could you feel that? And what kind of, what, what what did you hear from them? How did you know it maybe it was working through just what you were hearing, maybe, from the Ambassadors?

Thanh Tran 44:04

Yeah, that's a great question. I felt it myself, having experienced working from home the last 10 months. And so when we have our monthly meetings, we ask those questions, and through email and Skype chats, and through our WebEx trainings, our Ambassadors tell us what's happening in the field from all over the state. And based on that information, we were able to react in real time and better support them and some of the things that we did, because with 2,000 staff who are now working in isolated environments, that can play into your mental health, right. Working from home, you don't have the same support as you usually do.

Thanh Tran 44:47

And so we started to implement self-care measures. Ken and the rest of our team, we put together newsletters that we will send out monthly in conjunction with our other newsletters that had mental health tips and self-care tips for them and supervisors. We also launched a podcast, where it's a different audio medium, that would really connect the work that was happening in DSHS at that time, because a lot of people were now working in silos. A lot of our staff, when they wake up in the morning, they report to their desk at home; they have nothing else to look at. So they don't know what's happening outside of their own silo. And so really focusing on maintaining that level of connection is how we're able to keep our community of practice together through these tough times.

Jim Collison 45:39

Ken, same question to you. How did you feel this -- did things in March, did things change for you? And how did you know what you were doing was working?

Ken Sauby 45:48

Well, again, the feedback from the workshops, virtual, was just so amazing and hardly skipped a beat in, in the structure, because the way the structure was already set up, it was easily transferable into a virtual world. And so keeping that connection with teams that were willing at that time to share their Top 5 and, and then take it to another level really was motivating to me to know that, that that world wasn't shut down. And just like Thanh, I've been doing the strengths monthly WebExes actually for a number of years now that I've been doing that. And so there's always been that monthly way of keeping connected with everybody, which was already in a virtual world; we just expanded it and started using the chat room and other things that were wonderful features. But that kept that, the group together. And plus, it also allowed me to stay in contact with those that wanted to, you know, any kind of follow-up or any other further discussion or coaching. So it was able, really hardly skip a beat. I was one of the fortunate ones all, all 5 of our sons are grown up, and they have their own families and their own kids and their own struggles. And we have a dog and two cats. And so we're, we're able to handle them.

Jim Collison 47:00

Yeah, yeah, well, I'm in a similar situation to you, Ken, in the fact that when this happened, my kids are gone, for the most part. I could lean into this with full strength. And, and, you know, we, we had already had some things kind of set up in place to kind of be ready for this. So it sounded like you guys did as well. Nichole, there's a couple of questions in the chat room. I'm going to start with you on this. And Donna had asked this question about if you fold these cultural expectations into, into employee evaluations. Can you address that at all?

Nichole Ossa 47:31

Yeah, such a good question. So yes. And so we work for, we're state government; we work for a large organization. So there's, you know, some influences outside of our place in Department of Social and Health Services that create a template that we all use. So there -- I'm saying that. And within our, our section of Department of Social and Health Services, we have created a piece of the evaluation that just says, How are you, how are you using REDI culture to inform your behaviors and actions? That's it. So we're not, we're not we're not using it as a way to evaluate employees in terms of anything that could be punitive. But we're asking them to define for, for themselves how they are exemplifying the ideals in their behavior and interactions with other, their, their co -- colleagues and with staff, or excuse me, with customers.

Nichole Ossa 48:39

The other thing we're doing is, and this has been really an effect of having done this for so many years, we really have more leaders who are strengths-informed, who are EDI engaged, and who truly understand that investing in culture is not a nice "to have," it's a "must have" in terms of connecting people to the "why" of our business, connecting people to a culture that makes -- where they feel seen, valued and heard, and they want to stay. So that wasn't always the case, we do have that now.

Jim Collison 49:17

All right, so it's been softball questions up to this point. Now, now they get a little bit harder. So let's throw these in. Can you give a little more detail? Respect is often -- Lisa says this -- respect is often defined by the dominant culture. How do you know people are feeling respected? Right, especially BIPOC culture, those folks that fit into those classes that maybe are not the dominant culture?

Nichole Ossa 49:38

Really excellent question. All these questions have been really good. This might be my favorite one, though. And I'll make sure to leave some time for Thanh, maybe, in particular, to respond to this. One thing we do is we have something called Rules for Engagement. So these Rules for Engagement are really kind of a bedrock that gives some definition around what we say respect is. In our employee orientation that all new employees -- and any employee can repeat this at any time that they want to -- but all new employees do go through this orientation, we specifically define "respect" as a little different from the dictionary definition. We say our version, our definition of respect, includes people feeling seen, valued and heard; people feeling wanted; and people feeling that the diversity that they bring is, is valued. And, and that we look for the, we, we look for ways to leverage that. So that's a little bit of the definition.

Nichole Ossa 50:37

In the Rules for Engagement, we, you know, I'll just give you a couple of them. One of those rules is seek to under, seek to understand, right. So we really try to bring folks to the mindset of, we're not seeking agreement, we're not seeking endorsement, we're not seeking sameness at all, ever, actually. We really don't want sameness. We want, what we're seeking is to understand the other person.

Nichole Ossa 51:02

Another thing that we bring in is this concept of, and this is included in some of our trainings, but this concept of wholehearted listening. So it's really a training piece that helps folks begin to practice what we call engaged dialogue, versus debate or trying to promote your viewpoint over another or promote a ideology that there is a specific type of person, or a specific standard that a person should meet to be considered professional or part of our organization or credible. So that's, and I won't go into the details, because it's a lot of details. But that's a little bit of it. And then, Thanh, I'm curious, I know, you probably have some thoughts on this one, too. How do we, how do we give folks that information?

Thanh Tran 51:57

What I'll say is, especially addressing BIPOC, or anyone that is in a marginalized group, you have to be intentional about creating a platform and space, right? It's one thing to say, Hey, our organization supports DEI, and then have nothing set up to back it up. And so for our organization, I'm very happy, we actually create platform. So, for example, an example would be after March, after the George Floyd tragedy, we set up over 14 different "Space for Race" listening sessions that elevated the voices of our BIPOC staff to allow them opportunities to share what they were feeling in that moment. Because you all know the saying, "Silence is violence."

Thanh Tran 52:46

And for some organizations, if you report to work the next day, and you happen to be that a Black person that was feeling that pain in that community, but your supervisor or your coworkers treated it like a normal day, that is not what REDI is about in our culture. So we wanted to make sure that there is not going to be any silence. And as difficult as it can be, we're going to engage in those tough conversations, because we want people to be heard. And so that's one of the things that we do is being intentional about creating platforms, and inviting people to those platforms.

Jim Collison 53:20

Thanh, can you also address we haven't mentioned it yet. But as we think about the LGBTQ community in there, and how are you, how are you, are you addressing those in that community?

Thanh Tran 53:30

I have an easy way to do that. We do have trainings that address statistics and charts and data about any of these communities. But leveraging my Top 5, which is Relator, Empathy and Connectedness, the way that you get transformed and transformational change is through storytelling, is through allowing people to connect on a human level, put, put away those stats, and just allow someone to share their lived experiences. Because I guarantee you, when you hear from a coworker who is going through an experience, it's going to hit you differently than if I were to show you bar graphs about, Look at the disparities that the LGBTQ community is going through right now.

Nichole Ossa 54:17

You know, I'll add just a real quick to that. Couple things we do when we're focusing specifically on the E and the D and the I in REDI. We do that a little bit intentionally in specific ways. We, when we're doing that, we bring a mindset and encourage folks to join us in a mindset of looking at equity, diversity, inclusion through a multidimensional lens and through an intersectional lens. And what that means -- a multidimensional lens really means that we're looking at the way EDI is felt and interacts on an interpersonal level, on a social and societal level, and on an institutional and systemic level. And we encourage that because when we look at those different levels, we're seeing different things, right. On the systemic and institutional level, it's really How are our programs designed? What do our policies look like?

Nichole Ossa 55:11

And on the individual level, it might be, What kind of language are we using? Who are we talking to or not talking to? What kind of comfort or discomfort do we have, in particular, within other groups? The second piece of that is that intersectional piece, is we really do, promote looking at all lived identities, and really asking the question, where's -- what's the equity impact here? Right? What's the equity impact within our business, that's related to our business, and what's the overall social, you know, and societal equity impact. And Thanh touched on that a little bit when we talked about the disparities in poverty and how that really is our goal is to reduce poverty in a way that eliminates disparities.

Nichole Ossa 55:54

And then, lastly, in Washington state, we have really robust and strong business resource groups that are around, centered around particular social identities. So there's Rain, which is the Business Resource Group for the LGBTQ community, there's Build, which is a Business Resource Group for the Black community. And then there's, there's WIN, the Washington immigrant network for the immigrant community. All of those Business Resource Groups, they welcome everyone. However, they are centered around that particular needs, viewpoint and perspective of those particular social identity groups. And we really, one, we support our staff to be as involved as they can be, because those, those groups, they get work done. And they bring in a really important perspective.

Jim Collison 56:40

OK, we're out of time. But I have some very good news. We're actually gonna, we've already scheduled a Part 2 to this, which is always great. The three of you are coming back again, we'll add, we'll add an additional person in here. Ken, can you talk a little bit about what Part 2 is going to be? Can you, can you just kind of hint what we're going to cover in Part 2 of this conversation coming up December 18?

Ken Sauby 57:01

So on December 18, we're going to bring one of our former teammates who's been promoted on because, well, she worked with us. Charlene is going to come join us. And the four of us are going to be talking about two of the CliftonStrengths themes, Achiever, and Connectedness, and then how each of us -- where it falls in our top 34. And then it's going to be more of an example of the learning session that we will be doing monthly in our strengths community. So it'll be a discussion about strengths, but also each person will be weaving in and out how they use this particular theme in their REDI work.

Jim Collison 57:37

All right, if you, if you thought this was fun, I think that's gonna be twice as fun, right? So we're gonna have a good time --

Ken Sauby 57:42

You're going to love Charlene.

Jim Collison 57:44

If you, if you've enjoyed this, I'll ask you to head out to And you'll see that event December 18. If you're listening to the recorded version, and that is past, well, it's on by now, and you can head out there and listen to it again. Ken, Thanh, Nichole, thank you for taking the time today to be a part of this conversation. Guys, we could do this for like 3 or 4 hours; there's just so much to cover. But thanks for giving us the hour today to get that done. We'll have a second hour available December 18. We'll invite you back for that, as well.

Jim Collison 58:16

With that, I'll remind everyone to take full advantage of all the resources we have available. I mentioned it before: Great, great place to sign into Gallup Access as well. It'll take you right to your Strengths Dashboard. If you want to sign up for the CliftonStrengths Community Newsletter, it's at the bottom of the page. You can just give us your email address. We won't spam you, but we'll send that, send that out once a month. And gives you some good ideas of what's going on in the community. For coaching, master coaching or become a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, you can just send us an email: We'll get you hooked up with the right person to make sure we get that done. And like I mentioned, follow us on Eventbrite: And you'll get notifications anytime I post something new. By the way, right now I'm posting all 2021 stuff. So you might want to get out there and get registered for that. We got some great stuff coming up in 2021. If you listened live, thanks for joining us. We'll hope to see you back here on the 18th of December to do it. If you're listening to the recorded version, I bet the new -- the next one's already out. We'd love to have you listen to that as well. Thanks for coming out today. With that, we'll say, Goodbye, everybody.

Nichole Ossa's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Positivity, Connectedness, Developer, Empathy and Arranger.

Thanh Tran's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Relator, Strategic, Achiever, Empathy and Connectedness.

Ken Sauby's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Maximizer, Achiever, Learner, Context and Connectedness.

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

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030