A dive into the strengths-based philosophy utilizing Gallup’s CliftonStrengths assessment with Pari Smart, President of Smart Possibilities and Certified Gallup StrengthsFinders Coach
Research has shown that when employees know and use their strengths daily, they are 6x more likely to be engaged, have higher performance, and are less likely to leave their current role. Additionally, Gallup has found that building employees’ strengths are a far more effective approach to improving performance than trying to improve weaknesses.[i] However, we can’t assume employees and managers recognize and know how to leverage their strengths.
In a recent episode of “Bring Out The Talent”, we discussed the strengths-based philosophy utilizing Gallup’s CliftonStrengths assessments with Pari Smart. Over 26 million people have utilized CliftonStrengths assessments to help define their unique talent DNA. As a certified StrengthsFinder coach, Pari discusses ways that leaders can use and understand their strengths, as well as their employees’ strengths, to help develop and reinforce the positive attributes of their teams. In this blog, we highlight the key takeaways from our conversation.
Q: Can you explain what the Gallup StrengthsFinder is?
A: The StrengthFinder from Gallup is a personality assessment. That’s the easy way to describe it, but it’s so much more than that because it’s not an assessment that says you’re one of four types or you’re one of 16 types of personality. What the Gallup StrengthFinder does is it looks at you as an individual and says that truly you have unique gifts that you bring to the world. When you take the assessment, you’ll get a list of the thirty-four personality traits, that are specific to you. They’re going to be in your order and your intensity. The likelihood of anybody even having the top five talents in the same order is only one in thirty-three million seven hundred thousand assessments.
The assessment shows that not only are you this unique, amazing individual with gifts that nobody else can bring, but it’s going to help you leverage those gifts. This allows you to reach a level of excellence faster than others that are not aware of their strengths. Rather than saying this is what you’re terrible at which is extremely demoralizing, it helps you figure out how to take what you’re already really good. You can then focus on that so you can achieve a higher level of success with a whole lot of energy left at the end of the day.
Q: What made you decide to become a certified Gallup StrengthFinder coach? What did that process look like?
A: I am so fortunate that I was in a wonderful situation. I was working for a construction company as their Director of Professional Development, and they had some very enlightened leadership. They decided they wanted to be a strength-based organization because we know that if we’re focusing on what our employees do well rather than what they’re struggling with, we can bring the teams together to be stronger.
I heard this floating around in the executive committee and raised my hand and said, please let me do it. So, they sent me to Gallup for a week, and it was a week of pretty intense classes. There were folks from all over the world, and then after that week was over, we were all sent back to our home to our company and given about three binders, with about three thousand pages worth of material that we had to study and use to prep for an exam. We took an exam with Gallup. Once we passed that, we then had to present to Gallup 10 different folks who are agreeing to be our clients. Gallup contacted those 10 folks and we had to receive a score of 90 percent on our coaching abilities. Once that happened, we were able to be certified. It was a process that took several months, a lot of studying, a lot of reading, a lot of anxiety, but has certainly paid off. They allow us to recertify every year. It’s not a one-and-done. It’s something that you must be passionate about and willing to stick with. And I’ve been certified now going on five years.
Q: Can you explain what the assessment looks like?
A: When you’re interested in taking it, you can go online and it takes about 30 minutes, it’s available to anybody. There is a small fee, but once you take the assessment, you automatically get your results. They appear on the screen. You are going to see thirty-four different strengths as they appear in what I refer to as your talent DNA. When you look at those thirty-four, the report breaks it down and explains how to read the report. Coaches can help you with that as well, but when you get that list of thirty-four, there are three areas I like to help people focus on. The first area is going to be what’s called your top five. They are also known as your signature strengths. The way I explain this to people is that when you’re nervous or when you’re really relaxed, but either really stressed out or really relaxed and you react without thinking about it, you’re going to naturally react in one of those top five ways. You just can’t help it. If you’re right-handed, that’s how you pick up a pencil. If your number one is achiever, that’s how you automatically react and those are going to be your top five superpowers.
I tell people when you can live in those top five, you’re going to have lots of energy at the end of the day because you’re acting naturally. Then we drop down to 6 through 10. These are called your supporting time and supporting talent. It’s not going to be your first reaction, but if you think for just a second, you can react and you can use those 6 through 10. they’re going to be just as energizing as if you are using one through five. So, you’ve got 1 through 10 and when I coach folks, I always tell them, this is your pack of superpowers. This is where you want to live. Because folks tend to go right to the bottom. They want to see what’s at the bottom of the list. The bottom thirty to thirty-four are not weaknesses. These are going to be what I consider the energy vampires. So, you can do whatever is in thirty to thirty-four, you’re just going to find it really exhausting.
Q: When you’re working with organizations and doing the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessments, how do you work with them once they get the results? What does the process look like?
A: It always starts with what the objective is. It’s a matter of finding out what’s the objective of doing this assessment. I’ve used this with teams who aren’t functioning very well, and the objective is to figure out how do we work as a team. I’ve also used it with managers who just want to individualize their supervisory style so they can get the most out of each person. There’s a couple of different ways to go about it. I always tell folks is when you take the assessment, you get a sense of self-awareness that you wouldn’t have otherwise. And that’s really where it starts. I hear a lot of people say that what the assessment did for me is helped me put into words things I always knew about myself but wasn’t able to express. And I think that’s really, powerful because once you start understanding who you are, you can also understand how others perceive you.
That’s when you look at challenges you’ve had in the workplace with projects or with individuals. For instance, I have Woo and that can come off very strong. It allows me to be deliberate in how I present it based on the audience. It’s just a matter of figuring out what’s the goal of using it.
Q: I’ve heard that your top five strengths can change over time. Is that true? Do they change a lot?
A: Yes, that’s a great question. I get it in almost every single training session I do. What Gallup says is that because these strengths are inherent to who you are, you will not normally see major changes over time. Maybe your number three would drop to number five, or your number two would drop to number four or number nine goes up to seven. If you haven’t had very specific traumas in your life, your personality doesn’t normally change a whole lot after age 19. And because of that, Gallup will stand behind the results. You might see little shifts based on the environment you’re working in, but you won’t see major shifts unless there’s been a traumatic event that actually has changed your personality.
Q: What do the programs look like when you work with organizations? As far as introducing the Clifton StrengthsFinder, is it usually just a one and done, or is it an ongoing program?
A: It truly depends on what the organization is looking for. I do a lot of teams building where we go in and we introduce strengths and I will come back in a second time a couple of months later and say, how are things going? What are the pitfalls you are hitting? What are successes you’ve had? The idea behind that is to build stronger teams. Sometimes I do an introductory and then I’ll come back and do one specifically for leaders. That’s always exciting because that says now the whole team has been introduced as the leader of the team. How do you take all this information and again manage it from an individual basis to get the most out of your folks? Then a third option that I’ve used a lot is I’ll introduce it to the team and then the company will bring me back in to do individual coaching. Sometimes that’s with every member and sometimes it’s just with key members of a team, but that’s always fun. I would say when you do the one and done, sometimes I worry about the manager sustaining.
Q: I’ve heard a lot of organizations find the StrengthFinder very successful when using it on their sales teams. Can you explain more about that?
A: Just like all employees, when sales folks understand their strengths and they can be deliberate in how they leverage it, we know that their sales go up. Some companies have actually seen sales go up as much as 39% when teams consistently use their strengths. I’ll give you just a very quick story to kind of demonstrate when I was working with a woman. She was on a successful sales team, and she had been successful in the past, but she kind of hit a dry spot. She couldn’t figure out how to get over it. She was talking about some of the prospects and their reaction to her, and she just couldn’t figure out what the challenge was when we really dug into it.
What we found out was her number one talent was positivity, which you think would be a fantastic talent for somebody who must go in and do. I joined her for some of her cold calling and what we found is that her positivity was so, so positive, so over the top that people enjoy talking to her, but they didn’t take her seriously as far as somebody they could buy from. It was a matter of helping her recognize that positivity was one of her greatest strengths. It was keeping her from closing the deal. Then we talked about specific strategies for clients with what sort of strengths can you channel or pull up? How can you pull the positivity down to help you meet your goal? It was fantastic because she succeeded. She had a client that had been giving her the hardest time, she called me about two weeks later, and she said, I can’t believe it. I got the sale. It was just that matter of really fine-tuning her approach. We know that even for sales teams, this has been phenomenal.
Q: When you are working with corporations, do you tend to separate individuals by their departments? And is that beneficial?
A: It’s 50/50 a lot of times. Again, it depends on the project. I do a lot of department work. I’ve also gone in where we’ve got a couple of departments who must work cross-functionally on a project, and that’s really valuable to bring those departments together.