From finding strengths to DiSC assessments, emerging tools help leverage talents

Aug. 19, 2019

Through her work as an executive coach, Haley Samuelson preaches a common mantra to all her clients:

All people have naturally occurring talent within them.

In the typical workplace, however, certain abilities and skill sets can sometimes go unrecognized and undervalued because of long-engrained leadership mind-sets.

“The idea that everybody gets from point A to point B the same way is the typical way of thinking,” Samuelson said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Samuelson’s job as a certified CliftonStrengths coach is to correct this way of thinking. Based in Sioux Falls, she has worked with leaders at multiple local institutions, including EmBe and the city of Sioux Falls, helping them understand and implement CliftonStrength’s strengths-based philosophy.

“It’s all about learning how to leverage your talents,” she said. “There’s a small chance that you have the same talent profile as somebody else. We’re trying to build leaders who give their employees the space to get from A to B in their best ways.”

CliftonStrengths and other assessment tools, including DiSC and True Colors, have steadily become crucial elements of major local organizations. Whether they identify individual strengths or place one’s personality traits onto a wide spectrum, each can provide its own benefits for employee relations, team building and professional development.

Using CliftonStrengths

The CliftonStrengths assessment — previously known as the Clifton StrengthsFinder — is an online assessment tool created by psychologist Don Clifton in 1999. Run by management consultant giant Gallup, it focuses on 34 themes that could make up one’s personality, including ideation, consistency and discipline.

Representatives from EmBe and the city human resources department said their organizations have used CliftonStrengths for the past few years to define employee qualities and use them as efficiently as possible. There are three steps in using CliftonStrengths, according to Gallup’s website, starting with an online assessment.

The hourlong program presents the taker with 177 paired statements, and the person has to choose which one best describes him or her. After deciding to integrate CliftonStrengths into their respective organizations, EmBe and the city had most of their existing employees take the assessment, and new ones take it as part of the on-boarding process.

The next step is receiving each employee’s individual results. Each employee receives reports with an individualized order of the 34 themes and “personalized insights about how they appear in your life.” So if the first theme on your list is Achiever, then you most likely enjoy staying busy and being productive. And an Activator excels at turning ideas into action.

The final step is where Samuelson comes in: using the knowledge of the results to properly aim your talents. She is one of 15 certified CliftonStrengths coaches based in South Dakota and has been hired by both EmBe and the city to run workshops that teach company leaders how to maximize each of their employees’ specific talents. Erin Bosch, the executive director of women’s programming at EmBe, said the CliftonStrengths assessment and Samuelson’s coaching on it have helped EmBe’s Women’s Leadership Program succeed.

“It gives people a common language and dialogue on how to operate,” Bosch said. “We now understand better how we all work best, how we like to be managed. It helps frame more comfortable conversations.”

Alternate assessments: True Colors, DiSC

Along with CliftonStrengths, Sioux Falls organizations use a few other assessment tools to identify employee strengths. The steps of utilizing these alternate assessments are similar to CliftonStrengths — take an assessment, get your results, use those results to improve synergy — but they assess different qualities.

Before 2017, the city widely used the True Colors test, an assessment that focuses more on general personality traits than specific talents. After taking the assessment, a report is generated with a spectrum of four personality “colors.” Orange is a vibrant, motivated person. Gold correlates with responsibility and stability. Green suggests one who is wise and logical, and a “True Blue” person is compassionate and cooperative.

True Colors is a lighthearted and simple, which worked as a first dive into the assessment service pool for the city. And while it’s still used in the on-boarding process, the city decided to integrate CliftonStrengths into its departments to dive deeper into employee characteristics, according to Monique Christensen, assistant director of Siouxland Libraries.

“It’s fun but a little bit more surface level than we wanted,” Christensen said. “It didn’t get us deep enough.”

The DiSC Profile, used companywide by organizations such as Avera Health and Interstates, is sort of a mix of True Colors and CliftonStrengths. Like True Colors, it categorizes individual qualities across a spectrum made up of four main characteristics — Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness — and is “used for discussion of people’s behavioral differences,” according to the DiSC Profile website. And similar to CliftonStrengths, it provides more substantial insight into how individual employee qualities can work in harmony to improve communication, efficiency and ideation.

DiSC has been used as a developmental tool at Avera for seven years and at Interstates for a decade.

Danielle Crough, vice president of people and culture at Interstates, said it has become a central part of success for the company, which provides electrical construction, engineering and control system services.

“It really helps with self-awareness and team understanding of everybody’s work styles,” Crough said. “It’s really a part of our culture.”

Christine Buell, director of leadership development at Avera, was responsible for integrating DiSC at the health care organization. She said DiSC is used in almost every aspect of the organization, with leaders in education, development and customer service departments all well-versed in the program. Avera is expanding DiSC with its sales leaders.

“We’ve really tried to build that into the culture and help our teams see how, by understanding how one another can work and appreciating each other’s differences, that can really make you a great team,” Buell said.

Benefits to a company

Leaders in the organizations that use assessment tools noted it’s important to make them extremely visible in the workplace and give employees access to their peers’ strengths.

At Siouxland Libraries, there’s a poster showing each staff member’s top strengths.

At Interstates, employees have access to a digital “talent card” database that displays each person’s DiSC profile in a graph format.

By knowing the greatest talents and most prominent character traits of both yourself and your peers, it makes working together much easier than before, according to those who work with the assessments.

Self-awareness is the foundation of personal development,” said Rana DeBoer, a “work well” manager in the human resources department at the city.

When we know ourselves well, we can lead well in all aspects of our lives. Anytime you give an individual those tools, that creates great growth. And it allows people to see one another in a deeper way and creates better communication and a way of working together.”

All four organizations also report better conflict resolution for their employees.

“It’s now much easier for people to work together across categories and strengths,” Interstates’ Crough said. “Now, they are saying, ‘I understand why I didn’t get a certain response from somebody in a certain situation before.’ We hear a lot of stories like that.”

As for Samuelson, she’s noticing a significant change in how her clients evaluate and appreciate their employees — a change she said will only make them more successful in the long run.

“I’m seeing more and more the light bulb going off for leaders,” she said. “If people see they (their leaders) value them past their work output, what that does is increase engagement and improved quality of life and culture. I’m really starting to see that needle move.” 

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From finding strengths to DiSC assessments, emerging tools help leverage talents

Do you know your top five strengths? How about if you’re a D, I, S or C? A growing number of employers are using talent and personality assessment tools to optimize the workplace.

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