Category : Talent Management

group of people sitting in chairs

Using CliftonStrengths to Bridge Generational Gaps at Work


Everybody loves working for Gary.

He’s been a manager at the same manufacturing company for 20 years. He knows every detail about his employees’ lives — from their favorite teams to their kids’ names.

He delivers honest, unflinching feedback that makes people carefully examine their performance. And he makes people laugh — often in the same conversation.

Gary has coached and mentored every person on his team for decades. Without a doubt, many of his coworkers have stayed at the company because they love having Gary as their leader.

This year Gary decided to retire, and the site leadership thinks they have the perfect person to fill his role: Shanna. She is a conscientious, methodical and an extremely reliable supervisor. Shanna’s team has been the plant’s top performers since she arrived five years ago, and she has developed many cost-saving and safety-improving initiatives. Site leaders are eager to promote Shanna to expand her leadership skills and keep her engaged.

There’s just one problem: Shanna is nothing like Gary. They have completely different leadership styles, personalities and — although nobody says it out loud — Shanna is 30 years younger than Gary. What’s going to happen when millennial Shanna gets thrown in with a team of baby boomer “lifers” with more experience and longer tenures? Honestly, even Gary was secretly skeptical.

Getting Honest About New Generations in Management

Gary’s and Shanna’s situation is increasingly common in workplaces today as the baby boomer generation retires and Gen Xers and millennials take on more supervisory and leadership roles. Traditional organizations that worked desperately to attract millennials are now having to navigate an intergenerational workplace.

Millennials make up 38% of the workforce, and that percentage is only increasing. But as millennials enter management roles, only 39% strongly agree that they know the strengths of the people they work with regularly, which is lower than all other generations.

A major component of managing changes in leadership is easing individuals’ anxieties and worries. Strengths-based education and dialogue are valuable tools for doing this:

  • CliftonStrengths focuses on future potential. When people think about their strengths, they focus less on how things could go wrong and more on how they can make things go right.
  • CliftonStrengths is universal. All people — regardless of generation — have talents that contribute to their team’s success. A strengths-based approach shifts the conversation from “us vs. them” differences, stereotypes and biases.
  • CliftonStrengths is personal. In times of change, people want to know that somebody is paying attention to them personally. Having strengths-based conversations lets each person know that they are seen and respected as an individual and a contributor.
  • Strengths-based conversations focus on the positive. Having conversations about CliftonStrengths help individuals think more about why differences are good rather than bad.

Not Bad, Just Different Strengths

When Gary’s team filed into the conference room, the skepticism was obvious. Here were Gary, Shanna and Joan from site leadership who were going to tell everybody to “get along and give Shanna a chance.”

Joan began by talking about Gary’s top CliftonStrengths themes: Woo, Significance,Restorative, Relator and Maximizer. She asked the team to talk about how Gary used his strengths in his management role. Everyone shared what made Gary so beloved and irreplaceable. It was clear that this recognition meant a lot to Gary.

Next, Joan presented Gary’s bottom CliftonStrengths themes: Achiever, Adaptability,Arranger, Command and Competition. She asked everyone to talk about Gary’s bottom themes. With a lot of good-natured laughs, most of the team agreed that these areas of lesser talent were “no big deal” because Gary was good at so much else.

Finally, Joan brought up Shanna’s top CliftonStrengths themes: Consistency, Relator,Discipline, Achiever and Restorative. Joan asked Shanna in what areas she used her strengths as a manager. To everyone’s surprise, Shanna had two of the same top strengths as Gary — they just showed up a little differently.

One team member mentioned that he had the same strengths as Shanna. Another said that she had some of Gary’s other strengths and could help out if Shanna needed it. Soon people were sharing their strengths and letting Shanna know how they worked best.

By the end of the meeting, the team was buzzing with anticipation. The question on everyone’s mind had shifted from, “What does Shanna lack?” to “What is Shanna amazing at, and how can we best work with her?”

The facts of the situation had not changed: Shanna wasn’t Gary. She would never be Gary. But Shanna had unique talents too. The team didn’t need another Gary to survive. In fact, Shanna might be just the person the team needed to solve some of its most intractable problems.

Joan noticed by the end of the meeting that Gary was beaming.

“I’m just so glad to see that the team I built is going to do just fine without me,” said Gary afterward. “Shanna is going to be great.”

Gallup can help you bring the power of CliftonStrengths to your organization:

Nate Dvorak is a Researcher, Predictive Analytics, at Gallup.

Ryan Pendell is a writer at Gallup.



Feedback is a Gift – Really?

By: Helene Tracey, M.Ed.

In the sincerest effort to help another, know the complexities associated with feedback. Resist the enthusiasm conjured up by gift giving and the expectation that gifts are met with gratitude. Always provide a gift that is thoughtfully chosen and caringly given. The receiver of a gift sets its value.

An early definition of feedback according to Merriam-Webster did not apply to people, but rather to machines:

“the return to the input of a part of the output of a machine, system, or process (as for producing changes in an electronic circuit that improve performance or in an automatic control device that provides self-corrective action.”

Somewhere along the line, someone applied this idea to people thereby creating one of the greatest interpersonal challenges: how to give feedback that isn’t resisted or rejected. Google “giving feedback” and a myriad of models to effectively give feedback appears. An old time favorite, the “sandwich” model, is recognized by many HR pros to be widely used and vastly ineffective. They explain its flaws: Upon hearing feedback is coming, the recipient braces for it and misses the first “positive” comment. Then, and now teetering between the virtual pieces of feedback bread, the person is told the “critical” piece of the feedback and uneasiness causes the recipient to miss the message, resist it, or worse debate it. Finally, the last “positive” comment is made and is inevitably not heard at all.

Why so many models to bestow a gift? Why isn’t this gift universally and enthusiastically embraced? Clues can be found if we further explore the notion of resistance to feedback. In his article, Managing with the Brain in Mind, David Rock expounds on what happens when we hear: “Can I give you some advice (feedback)?” ( He writes this question puts people on the defensive because they perceive the person offering advice as claiming superiority—a challenge to their status. Rock cites the findings of three researchers whose independent discoveries reveal the powerful neurological effects status has on our health and performance. Rock explains, “. . . we are biologically programmed to care about status because it favors our survival.” So, neurological factors likely drive resistance to receive feedback.

Curiously, numerous examples can be shared by employees, leaders and HR professionals of the benefits they have witnessed or experienced themselves of giving critical feedback according to a model and improvements occurring. What explains these successes? Neuroscientists tell us other factors like caring relationships decrease the resistance associated with getting feedback and increase the effectiveness of the feedback conversation. Consider a best friend providing feedback. Because there is a belief she has her BFF’s back, the BFF likely does not resist the feedback because there is no threat nor is there a challenge to status.

What happens if the relationship is not necessarily a caring one and feedback are given strictly according to a model? Then, a likely result is the erosion of trust and withdraw; perhaps this is a factor in employee engagement rates that have hovered at about 70% for the last few years.  Possibly, the desire to know what to do more of, less of, or instead of is so great that people adopt a “no pain, no gain” attitude towards feedback and report benefits regardless of the neurological side effects including increased stress. (According to the research mentioned above, Cortisol, a stress-related hormone is an accurate biological marker for the threat response, and it is released when we experience feelings of low status.) Maybe truly wanting to improve outweighs the sting of formula-driven feedback and not being able to stomach sugarcoated feedback leaves employees with no choice but to accept model-driven feedback even the kind that comes virtually wrapped in a bow and called a gift.

If model-driven feedback loses its efficacy if not delivered with care, does ratio-driven feedback work better? The Magic Ratio of 5:1 from a Harvard study reports the number of positive to negative comments was the greatest factor affecting the success of teams. If that study is to compare to the Rock article, one wonders if the nature of the comments not the number of them is the actual determinant of success. (All the comments cited in the online article are non-threatening and do not challenge status. (See

Feedback has complexities. Nature has wired us to resist it as a survival strategy. Using those two facts as a foundation, be clear on how your feedback is a gift: will it help? Is it information only you can provide? Is it of great consequence not just the intolerance of an idiosyncrasy? That is, start with questions, then chose thoughtfully and give with care.

evaluation sheet with check boxes

The Reason for the Season

By: Helene Tracey, M.Ed.

As the holiday season appears in the rearview mirror, realize this article’s title, for many, is an applicable phase for the holiday season. Tweak just it a bit to “the reason for the rating” and the phrase applies to the work nearly every manager whose organization still executes a traditional Performance Management process at years’ end is now likely undertaking.

Non-modernized performance processes have managers do a lot of work with ratings behind the scenes to make sure the ratings makes sense to senior leaders and align to a bell curve. (See more about this (See Laszlo Bock’s Work Rules.) Managers also ensure that the budget for bonuses and salary increases has not been overspent. (Non-modernized performance management processes have not unbundled performance management from compensation. Others factors that make the process non-modern include not acknowledging our inability to accurately rate others; underestimating the widespread bias at play at work; under-appreciating the benefit of employees working autonomously; and misapplying the science behind behavior change.)

If you are stuck with a non-modernized process, going rogue by not doing any of the processes or just going through the motions of it aren’t effective alternatives if you want to create conditions for optimal performance.  You can be more effective in your efforts by making a few “in-bound” tweaks.

First, don’t be selectively smart. You are very likely aware of the best interactions you have with your team regarding interpersonal effectiveness. You are also likely aware of flawed processes that have the same appeal as aptly described by the following phase from the Grinch song written by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel: “a three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.” Executing a sauerkraut and toadstool performance management process can cause some managers to explain to their employees, “HR makes me do this.” (Makes one wonder if someone told those managers to jump off a cliff, . . . .) Flawed execution of this process could also include providing feedback on incidents that happened in the distant past or sharing feedback from non-identified sources. In moments of great clarity and wisdom, managers would never consider executing practices they know to be ineffective regarding performance management; that is, they would not be selectively smart.

Second, imagine alternatives. Try any or all of the following actions.

Tell less. Listen More. If employees have done a self-assessment, have a discussion about it as soon as possible by asking a few open-ended questions. If self-assessments are not an official part of your process, ask your employee capture on paper his/her most significant work or outcomes of the year. Review this information or the assessment before discussing it with him or her so you can reflect on it. Don’t call this first conversation a “performance review”! It’s not. It is an opportunity for you to gain your employee’s perspective on his/her work, accomplishments, and interests. Mine the conversation for nuggets aligned to your employee’s strengths. Ask questions about assignments that hold interest and areas of keen curiosity. Your goal is to make a genuine connection with your employee while looking ahead and agreeing on work that aligns to your employee’s strengths. As the performance management process unfolds over time at your company to conduct “performance reviews,” use this conversation as a foundation for the review. It could help the actual review be less de-motivating for your employee.

Ask yourself questions. Benefit from the interesting work Marcus Buckingham is doing work (See Marcus Buckingham’s blog.”. An interpretation of his work regarding managers executing performance management includes them asking themselves questions like, “Would I assign this major project to the person again?” “Would I hire this person again?” “Would I allocate a great portion of the bonus budget to this person?” Note, the manager is reflecting on his/her actions, not the actions (performance) of others thus avoiding rater bias, which leads to unreliability in ratings.)

Describe the business’ results. Talk about the company’s financial performance and other key metrics based on information that has already been shared or made public. Listen for your employee to respond to your explanation of these results to ensure you are both on the same page. The intent is to set realistic expectations for salary increases without talking out of turn.  (After all, many employees have suffered through poor performance reviews for years and have given up on them being helpful so their keenest curiosity could be about money.)

Be clear on the reason.  Research tells us we retain a part of the brain from prehistoric days that causes us to be threatened when others rate us. More importantly, research also tells us we are not effective when rating others even with mind-blowing spreadsheets that can calculate a rating to the nearest one-thousandth. Thinking the complexity of such a spreadsheet can help you objectively rate someone one is like believing a thousand words can help a color blind person fully appreciate the many shades of green found in an Irish landscape. Express the reasons you view his/her performance was on the mark, off the mark, or beyond it. Then, listen. Likely, key information will be shared and conditions for better performance created. If your perspective of the performance is off the mark and this is a surprise, explain your delay. Apologize and commit to being more regularly available in the future to listen to your employee as he/she reports progress/barriers, and/or requests your assistance or guidance.

Lastly, make the best of a less-than-ideal process by having thoughtful conversations with your employees; connecting with them regarding work that aligns to their strengths; and explaining how you see their work based on reasons you both agree to.  Most importantly, volunteer to partner with HR to make 2018 the last year for non-modernized performance management.