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The Shortlist Episode 55: Focusing on Team Strengths

From astrology to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), personality theories offer introspection and insights to deepen our understanding of others. We all recognize that marketing is a collaborative effort, encompassing strategic planning to interview coaching. The beauty of being part of a team lies in having a diverse array of perspectives, experiences, and talents to draw from, yet it isn't always smooth sailing. Differences in personalities can present challenges in understanding priorities, intentions, and approaches.

At Middle of Six, we leverage the CliftonStrengths (or StrengthsFinder) theory. This 20-year-old assessment highlights personal strengths rather than weaknesses, while also facilitating understanding of how to best support our teammates when stressful situations prompt "overdone strengths."

In Episode 55 of The Shortlist, we take a deep dive into the Middle of Six team with Principal Wendy Simmons, Operations Manager Susan O'Leary, and Senior Creative Strategist Lauren Jane Peterson to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of such assessments and how they've effectively utilized CliftonStrengths to establish a common language in the workplace.

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to The Shortlist.

We're exploring all things AEC marketing to help your firm win The Shortlist.

I'm your host, Wendy Simmons, and each episode, I'll be joined by one of my team members from Middle of Six to answer your questions.

Today, we're talking with Middle of Six operations manager, Susan O'Leary, and senior creative strategist, Lauren Jane Peterson to discuss team strengths.

Hi, Susan.

Hey, Lauren Jane.


Hey there.

Thanks for coming on the podcast and taking this fun topic, a little different topic for us about team strengths.

Specifically, we're going to reference CliftonStrengths or Strengths Finders.

We'll probably use all of those terms interchangeably.

Don't kill us.

This is just how we talk about it in our office, but we thought this would be a great conversation for our listeners, a perspective of how we use it.

So we'll get into that detail in a minute, but to start off with, I'd love to hear from both of you about what is inspiring you?

What is new in your life or that you've brought back into your life to bring a little bit of inspiration from our day-to-day work lives?

I could go first.

I have been noticing all of the blossoms on the trees and the fallen blossoms on the sidewalk.

And in my neighborhood, when I walk my dog, there are so many sections of the sidewalk and the median between the sidewalk and the street that are grass that are covered in pink confetti from the trees.

And it's so beautiful.

And it's a great way for me to slow down and pause and see a little bit of nature and just take a little bit of a moment when I'm walking my dog.

And that feels like a great reminder that spring is coming and the weather's nice.

Yeah, you just get rejuvenated when you smell those sweet scents in the air.

There's a jasmine that's blooming outside the back door of my house, and it practically knocks me down.

It's so, just makes me stop in my track, breathe in for a minute, and wish I could have that scent all year long, but it's fleeting, so you just have to appreciate it when you catch it.

Yeah, and then a little more excited when I go sit down at my desk and have to write out a whatever, fill in the blank thing.

Susan, you go on a lot of dog walks.

Do you find any inspiration with you and Daisy out and about?

Yeah, I think definitely in the same line of Lauren Jane is it's spring and people are out, you know, and it's just an exciting time, especially living in Washington, where everybody hibernates for six months out of the year.

And then all of a sudden, everybody's out walking their dogs, and for me, looking at my calendar and for summer and what am I going to do?

How am I going to take advantage of the nice weather and all the fun events that are going on?

So that's in my mind of like, okay, how am I going to see people and enjoy this great season that's coming?

And I think for Middle of Six, so we have a big retreat coming up.

So I'm definitely focused on that and excited to get our team together in person and all the fun things that we're going to do.

Yeah, the changing of the seasons.

And for people, I think everyone on this podcast today happens to be sunshiny people who are looking forward to, you know, going out of the gray into the blue skies.

That can be really exciting.

I don't know if I've ever said this on the podcast before.

I'm sure I've talked about it with our teams, but one time I read some business book of the million business books I've ever read.

And there was the author said something to the effect of when you're running a business as an entrepreneur and you're wearing all the hats and doing all this stuff, it's really important in time to create enough hobbies and interests outside of work so that you don't just work all the time because your business is so satisfying.

It's so fun.

It's the biggest, best, most interesting puzzle you'll ever get to work on.

And you could spend all your time working on it.

And so he's like, make your life so interesting outside of work that it forces you to get up, walk away from the computer, the spreadsheet, stop analyzing, stop planning and start living a little bit there.

But the reason why I mentioned that for teams and under the umbrella of inspiration is that, I mean, that's good advice for everyone, right?

And I think in when you are part of a team or you're working in corporate America, you're trying to balance this like work life balance or create that effect.

And people have lots of ideas about if that can even be a thing.

But I would just wanna say, hopefully part of your adult career time is creating those places for inspiration and being excited about things beyond and not feeling guilty about that.

Yeah, definitely.

Embracing it, and it makes you better.

And you need to have that time off so that you can bring your full self when you come back to work.

It's all about the balance, right?

Balance, yeah, we say that a bunch.

We may say that some more here in this podcast.

So we like to start off with a trivia question, but I felt like it might be helpful to tee up a little bit about strength finders and CliftonStrengths before I give the trivia.

So changing it up today.

I did a little Googling, although I have the book and I've facilitated some strength finders with our team, and I'm no stranger to it, but I thought maybe I'd just share a little bit.

And then Lauren Jane and Susan chime in any minute if there was something in your research or that you want to pop in here in this kind of intro, but maybe we give the high level overview first.

So CliftonStrengths, which used to be called Strengths Finders, that's why you'll hear both of those terms a bunch, and was developed by Don Clifton when he was the chairman of Gallup.

So they do tons of studies.

I've referenced them, Gallup polls, all the time in the Middle of Six podcast and other places.

So pretty reputable group.

And he created a strengths and personality test because he was inspired by looking at, you know, focusing on people's strengths as opposed to their weaknesses.

Like, let's not look at what's wrong with people.

Let's focus on how we can support their core interest strengths where they naturally gravitate to.

So he developed this assessment.

And if you take the test, which is one of those tests where it gives you, I should have actually looked at this because it's been a long time since I took the test.

So Susan, Lauren, Jane, Chyman, if you can remember exactly.

But don't you get a question and then you can weigh if you're like on the far left or the far right of that, like how much you agree, how much that statement applies to you?

Yeah, I think that is right.

Yeah, so then you take this multiple question assessment and there, I really love assessments that go like this, where they ask you the similar type of question many times to weed out inconsistencies or biases or maybe just a small preference or a personal element in one question that might sway it.

So they try to cancel that out by asking these questions multiple times.

And in the end, they report out five top strengths, your number one, two, three, four, five, out of 34 strengths, you can choose to either look at just the five or get the full report with 34.

And all of the strengths fit into categories for main domains they call executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking.

Let's just give a quick overview of what those domains are.

So the first one, or the first one on the list, because there's no ranking, no order of importance, no one's better than another, but is the executing domain.

Those themes answer the question, how do you make things happen?

So how do you turn ideas into reality?

That's the executing domain.

Probably self-explanatory, but we all know some people who are masters of the to-do list, need to map out a plan or a schedule or can see years in advance, you know, those are people who have those skills that fall in the executing domain.

And I can just share a couple of those too, which would be achiever, arranger, consistency, discipline, focus, that type of thing.

So next would be influencing domain.

And influencing domain, it's, you know, in the name, but it's how do you influence others?

How do you speak up?

How do you make sure that others are heard?

How do you take charge?

And the attributes in influencing domain include activator, command, communication, competition, maximizer, self-assurance, significance, and woo.

I like that one, woo.

I know someone who did not like that they got woo.

Come on, that's not so bad.

All right, Susan, will you share relationship building?

Yeah, so relationship building answers the question, how do you build and nurture strong relationships?

They may help hold your team together, and there are a few things that are included, adaptability, correctiveness, developer, empathy, harmony, includer, individualization, positivity, and relator.

This was very heavy on our team.

A lot of people had their strengths in relationship builder.

Yeah, including both of you, you know?


A lot of those strengths just popped up right there.

And then the fourth domain is strategic thinking.

So strengths in this area answer the question, how do you absorb, think about, and analyze information and situations?

Strategic thinking, again, pretty self-explanatory, and people might actually just sort of self-identify with that pretty naturally, but it would be the strengths of analytical, context, futuristic, ideation, input, intellectual learner, and strategic.

So that's an overview of those different domains, and again, you should definitely dig into this on the Gallup CliftonStrengths website, because you can just go down that information hole forever.

So that's the basis of the test.

It's been around since 2001, and so it's been around for a while.

They have given the test to a lot of people.

It's become pretty ubiquitous in business.

I'm guessing a lot of our listeners have heard about this, maybe taken the assessment themselves.

So this is not breaking news by any means, but we really like to use it, and it's been a good tool for us.

That was part of the reason why we're bringing it together.

So Lauren Jane, Susan, anything to add about big picture?

What is StrengthsFinders?

I would only add that StrengthsFinder feels, or CliftonStrengths feels, much more in the category of you at work, you in your career, you in your profession, versus other personality, quote unquote, personality tests or assessments that I have seen or taken or been given, that focus maybe either just on the personal or personal and professional.

And CliftonStrengths is much more in the who you are at work, who you are in the profession category.

Mm-hmm, that's a really good distinction.

They also have, if you go on to the Gallup website and CliftonStrengths, you'll see they have now over the couple decades they've been doing it, provided variations on strength finders and they actually have a whole book about well-being at work.

I haven't read it myself, but I'm kind of interested in it.

So I'll put that on my to-do list for sure.

But you're right, I think the focus is in the professional setting.

Let's look at our teammates and the people we're working with and identify what strengths they have and then manage those weaknesses.

Or I think maybe they've even moved away from that original mantra way back in the day and to talk about, you know, some of your quote unquote weaknesses are just overdone strengths.

And so here's how we recognize them.

And it's not really a negative thing.

I guess I'd also mention that since you've talked about the workplace setting piece, it's important for me to say that like Middle of Six uses this, but we don't hire or fire or discipline anyone based on strength finders.

It's an additional layer of information that's only as good as like the conversations you're having with your teammate.

So it does not define anyone.

Clisten is pretty clear on their website about talking that race, gender, nationality, those factors do not change a person's strength.

I think that based on all the assessments they've done and the data that they've gotten along the way, they say that with confidence.

So that can be a helpful thing, and we keep that in mind too.

But just wanted to share that part that it's not intended to be this like grading assessment type factor.

It's supposed to be on the positive side of just learning more about your coworkers or probably you're not identifying anything that they didn't know, but it might be things that you didn't know.

And so giving you some more insights there.

Yeah, and on that note, actually we have had some candidates come to Middle of Six and provide their strengths to us, which is interesting.

I think just we didn't, it didn't really matter in terms of hiring or not that person, but it was a little bit more insight and we appreciated it.

Yeah, so if you see it on a resume or if you're thinking about putting on your resume, don't think that that would be bad.

I'm not an HR person, so I'm not sure exactly like what is allowed or not.

But for us as marketers, I'm looking at the visual layout of someone's resume and seeing that little extra detail.

And because it's something that we're interested in, piqued our interest even more.

Okay, well, before we get more, more into the why of all this, we're like getting ahead of ourselves.

I do want to ask the trivia question.

I feel like Lauren Jane Susan, you probably know this because if you did one second of Googling, you found the answer in the world.

But I'll still ask it anyway.

So two-parter here.

How many people have taken CliftonStrength's assessment since it launched in 2001?

And the bonus question, if you know how many people took the assessment in its first year.

That's tricky.

Either of you run into that.

I did not Google it ahead.

And I don't even know how to guess, but I'm gonna guess maybe 5,000 people took it in the first year.

That could be low, but a new thing maybe means that less people got into it, and it's probably grown ever since.

So I would say since launching, you know, maybe 300,000 people have taken it.


You guys are always so brave.

I love it.

Just throwing numbers out there.

Throwing numbers out there.

And then halfway through the podcast, you're gonna be like, oh my gosh, I did the math wrong on that.

But okay, Lauren Jane, what do you think?

I remember seeing it in my research, but I didn't bank that number in my brain, but it was in, I'm pretty sure, it was above 100,000, but I can't remember exactly how many, but I know it's at least above 100,000, or if that's my guess.

I think that's a good guess.

Well, we will come back to that at the end of the podcast, just to share a little tidbit there, and probably gives a little validity to some of the other things we're going to be talking about.

So thanks for guessing.

Thanks for being the guinea pigs.

Appreciate it.

So curious if anyone is guessing along at home or just yelling at us.

I don't know.


All right, well, we like to start off our podcast.

Once we get through all that good stuff, why this topic, why would it be important to our listeners?

So let's just go around the table, share a little bit about why you thought this would be interesting to talk about.

I was going to say that I think it is really interesting.

I just love that it focuses on people's strengths.

And, you know, more energy towards that, not what you're doing wrong, what your weaknesses are or where you're failing, but what's working and what you're good at.

And I just love that.

So I think that anything that encourages that in the workplace is great.

As you were talking, Susan, I was thinking, hmm, how does Susan's response align with what I know of her strengths?

So it was just very interesting because my response to Wendy's question or, you know, to posing why is this important is also in line with my number one strength, which is individualizer.

And I'm fascinated by what makes people tick, how people differ from each other, really getting to know people on an individual basis.

And CliftonStrengths feeds that, like absolutely feeds that strength of mine.

And that's why I'm so interested.

We might need to get you to facilitate the next strength finder at How We Treat, who just inspired me there because you're so right.

You have a lot of blues, a lot of those relationship building, focused strengths, and this fits in right alongside.

I'll just add to those comments that for us at Middle of Six, well, first of all, the podcast is a great place for us to share some insights to what we do.

We are pretty open book.

And so we like to share what is working and not working at Middle of Six in case that is useful for other teams or other consultants or whatever.

We just like to share that.

So that may be the foundational piece, but where it gets to why Strength Finders has been helpful for us is that for me, it's a little bit of a cheat sheet.

Five strengths, I don't have them memorized for every team member, but I certainly have a couple in my mind when I think of that person and what their strengths are.

And I probably, even without thinking about it, draw on that every day when we're having a conversation with the team and making some decisions about who should be involved in a project.

And it's all positive things, but we want to pull in Grace because she is going to add this because her strengths are in this area.

I mean, that comes through my mind all the time.

So that's just kind of one example, but we might, as far as long-term planning and even on the day-to-day, we're like, oh yeah, that would be really positive for them.

So let's loop them in and bring in this pull from the strength area.

So I like that it's short.

Five words is generally pretty easy to remember or connect with a person, even though there are the full 34 strengths.

I wouldn't even try to memorize my own 34 strengths too much.

I know my limit.

It is a lot.

Okay, and we'll probably also talk a little bit about, through this conversation, about potential downsides to assessments.

And we've hit on some of them at the very top, but that might come up too.

And I think that's fair to put in the Y category, explore things from all the angles.

Can't just be our pretty positive experience.

It's good to highlight a few other things too.

So, all right, well then, let's get into it.

Susan, would you mind kind of sharing how Middle of Six has used strength finders like in the details of it?

And we can kind of bounce through some of the things that come to mind as you're talking through that.

So, our team at Middle of Six initially took the test and the assessment and tracked all of the results.

And then as new team members have come on, essentially we send them the book, which includes a code and you can go and log on the website and take the assessment.

And then you get your results digitally.

And then with the book, what's nice is that it has all of your strengths broken down.

So then they can go through and really dig in a little bit deeper than what's just sent to you.

So whenever we have a new team member, like I said, we ask them to do the test.

And then when we are together as a team during our retreat, we like to have some sort of activity to go through our results together.

And we've done this in a couple of different ways.

Yeah, so one of the first things that we did, and again, we were a smaller group at that time, but we brought in a facilitator to join us for our day-long retreat when we used to fit in our office.

We could all sit around the conference table and share a bit about ourselves.

And that was a good baseline of getting to know each other as a small, young company.

And then we actually brought a facilitator back, I think two years later, bigger team, more personalities in the room.

And we used different exercises in both cases, but actually most of it was conversational.

You can plot things out and look at the reports that CliftonStrengths gives you, which is really great.

But the nice thing about having an outside facilitator is to ask intriguing questions about how does that show up for you in your life?

Or what does that look like?

How do you feel, how do those strengths connect to your work?

What would you like to do?

I mean, I don't know, I'm just kind of spitballing all the types of questions, but asking, having someone outside of our group ask those questions and for us to explore and roll around the answers and learn more about each other was really a great way to get the strengths embedded into our group.

I want to know what prompted you to implement CliftonStrengths in the first place, if you remember.

I do.

Thank you for asking.

I first took CliftonStrengths Finders in, gosh, I think it was probably 2010.

So it had been out for a while.

A newer leader came into the firm I was working for.

This was before Middle of Six, and they liked to use it with their full team, and so they actually brought it and had our whole company take it, or a huge group in the company, and we used that.

And I don't actually recall a lot of facilitation and digging into the details.

It may have happened, but that just doesn't stick out in my memory, but I thought the assessment was so clear and simple and memorable, and I'm pretty sure we did the thing where you put the strengths on your door tag outside your office, so it was just around, or we had a little poster, so it's easy to walk into an office and be reminded of someone's strengths.

So that's where I was introduced to it, and because, you know, it's a very affordable price point, $25 a person, and you get this book to go with it, so you have this reference material.

It's not just only online.

It seemed like, why the heck not?

Why don't we see, when there are four of us, how our strengths fit together and just to learn more about each other?

So I guess it was just that influence of having it near me and seeing the potential, and I think we've done a lot with it, considering we are a small group, but we've done a lot of thinking about it, returning to it on occasion.

Lauren Jane, what about you, when your first experience with Strength Finders, was it pre-Middle of Six?

Yes, I've also been acquainted with CliftonStrengths for a very long time.

I'm trying to think.

I first took it when I was interning in college.

So, this will tell everyone how old I am, but probably in 2012, 2011, 2012, I took it.

And it's been interesting, and we can talk about this a little bit later as well, but it's been interesting to see how my strengths have changed over the course of that time.

I first took it when I was very much in the end of my adolescence, right?

I'm like transitioning into being an adult, and seeing how my strengths have changed over time has been quite interesting.

But yeah, I took it the first time in 2012-ish, and then actually again at my old firm.

And then when I came to Middle of Six, I had already had an account.

And this is something interesting to note.

I had created my account and uploaded my results.

And so when I went to Middle of Six and you asked me to take the test, I put the code in and it said, hey, here's your results from the last time that you took it.

Oh yeah.

So basically it was trying to prompt me to not take it again, which is quite interesting.

So that's a little flag for anybody who may have taken it in the past already.

Yeah, we should dig into that a teeny bit more.

I want to hear the end of your journey though.

Yeah, so I ended up not taking it again because my results were already loaded in.

And the last time I took it was three years ago, right?

So not that long ago.

But what I did instead was took a deep dive into the strengths again, and reviewed them as they were the last time I took them.

And it was a great refresher for me in how can I bring that to the team and use my strengths again in this setting and this scenario and how could I incorporate that into my new position?

Let me just share, this is gonna be interesting for other people who have taken strength finders multiple times.

I wish we could have some poll out there on LinkedIn to hear how much their strengths changed.

I read somewhere, it's like kind of stuck in my mind that your strengths aren't supposed to change.

I think Gallup has backed away from that a little bit because they couldn't find that firm language, but I feel like I read somewhere in the books or whatever is that your strengths shouldn't change.

And now they probably are like, well, your strengths could change or evolve in time, right?

So Lauren Jane, when you logged in, you were prompted to not take it again.

That's really interesting.

They're kind of like guiding you that way, I would guess.

And I felt pretty comfortable with that seeing as I had taken it in my recent fully formed adult life and seeing the categories that were split between the first time I took it and now is fascinating to me.

I am now fully interesting.

All my top five are in the relationship building category, which I think is a little bit rare to have all of your five be in one category.

But before I had many in the influencing category.

They were my top and now they're more towards the bottom.

And I can kind of look back and see for myself like, oh, I've matured and I'm not, whatever.

I can kind of look at how I've grown and grown up and seen how the experiences that I've had have influenced maybe a little bit more balance or just the change in my work personality and my work style as I've matured.

Yeah, I know I want more data on this.

Like how many people have their strengths change?

I will say that I took mine probably about 12 years ago, 12, 13, 14 years ago.

But it was at a different time in my career and I was in house.

And for all of those reasons, when we brought it over to Middle of Six, I thought I should take this again.

Now I'm running a business, I'm in a different position.

I'd be curious.

And so I retook the test.

I had all the same strengths.

They just were reordered.

So that was all the same five strengths.

I should say that because I have no idea what's going on after six, seven, eight, nine.

Who knows what's happening down there.

But that was my experience.

And I just, I wonder if in time, as our team ends up taking these assessments again, we can find out, you know, Lauren Jane, is it, what's the rare version?

I feel like yours changing might be the official statement on that's rare.

And that it all like clustered into that relationship building area.

But we're not here to just psychoanalyze Lauren Jane.

And find out all of those details.

Susan, what about you?

What was your first experience with Strength Finders?

Was it at Middle of Six or had you done it before?

Yeah, the first time I took it was at Middle of Six.

And it was actually really interesting to me because I had taken a break from working to raise my kids.

And so when I came back and did the test, it was kind of tricky because I had been out of the working world.

And so kind of racking my brain of like, okay, if I'm in this business or professional setting, what would I do or how did I respond in that way?

And I tried to answer the best that I could.

I think that my results are pretty accurate.

I would love to retake it and kind of compare.

I mean, even if you're not supposed to, I just think it would be interesting to be like, okay, what changed?

And did I answer those correctly or accurately?

But yeah, it was an interesting test and kind of hard for me, but I do think that the results are accurate to my personality and strengths.


Do you know off the top of your head which either domains or what your strengths were that showed up?

Yeah, I'm also heavily in the relationship building category.

So my first one is Harmony, which I'm kind of the peacemaker and conflict avoider, which I think is kind of funny.

But, you know, I like to bring peace and bring people together, so that makes sense, and then Empathy is the next one, you know, being empathetic to people's feelings.

And then the last one is Developer, so kind of seeing the potential in people and facilitating that and helping them, which I do think also speaks to me, too.

You know, I think I'm a sounding board to a lot of friends and family, so it makes sense that people come to me to kind of find that support.

Yeah, well, I think that what I've heard from our team when they've taken Strength Finders is to sometimes feel a little bit, I don't know, self-conscious about some of their strengths, even though most of them, the phrasing seems very positive.

There can be, I don't know, we're a consultant group, and I think people want to be more in the influencing and strategic thinking domains, which does not mean that that's good or bad, or that to be a consultant, you have to be all green or red.

We have these color-coded, I think, CliftonStrengths kind of prints them out with colors, too, but do you need to be in that strong influencing, or can you do a lot of influencing or providing direction through relationship building, by listening, by understanding, by interpreting, by communicating?

Yes, you can do that, but, you know, at the surface level, when we're putting it all out on the table or the whiteboard of the screen, I've noticed a little bit of anxiety with the team, sometimes if they feel like they're supposed to be something else.

Have either of you seen that with our group, or did you have that experience with any of your strengths?

Yeah, I feel like some people had noted that they could have answered a question in two different ways.

It could have been on one end in some respect, and on the other end in other times.

So it can be kind of hard to answer those questions.

But like Wendy said, they re-ask it in so many different ways to narrow down to what is actually correct, I guess.

Most true, mostly true most of the time.

Sure, I think so.

And I don't think it's caused our team any serious mental anguish there, but just...


Yeah, everyone's such high achievers, you know, they wanna feel like they're checking all the boxes.

And we've taken some other assessments as a group too.

We're not gonna go in it to today at all.

We don't have time.

But Core Strengths has a lot of similarities to Strength Finders.

And Working Genius is another lens to look at where people kind of find their natural talents and flow state.

And sometimes it's fun to layer on another assessment.

I mean, you could even go bigger than that, and Meijer Briggs or anything to get more data.

But we've found that sometimes we'll just every, I don't know, four or five years, plug in another version and just look at our group from a different perspective.

But yeah, I would say don't fret about any of those strengths.

Like we said at the top, they are areas that you are inclined to work in.

The book goes through a couple different combinations of things like how you do your best work based on those strengths and what you need from your team to perform in that area.

And then also from your team members perspective, how they can relate to you, how they can give you what you need, which is kind of nice.

So each strength in the book has a couple pages of detail going, digging into that.

So as a group, we've been able to kind of really identify, like not only do you have this strength by name, but what does it really mean?

How can we interact?

Wendy, you brought up having feelings potentially about your results and what categories they're in and what that might mean for you.

And if you log in to your CliftonStrengths account online, if you choose, well, I guess you have to do that when you take the test, but if you log in to your account, when you go to your homepage, it lists all of the strengths and it'll tell you one through 34, where which number is assigned to each strength.

And if you click on the strength, there are a series of narratives or options that you can click on for each strength.

And there is information on if it's one of your top strengths you know, some guidance, et cetera, but there is also an option for those characteristics that is something along the lines of if this is one of your weakest strengths, here's some information.

And I can't remember the exact wording, but there is guidance and there is some information for if you want to explore potential opportunities of rounding yourself out or what that might be like if it's one of your weaker options, which I find very interesting.

And a lot of what I've read in the CliftonStrengths website and in the book, et cetera, does say, like I think Wendy and Susan mentioned, this isn't about your weaknesses.

We're not focusing on your weaknesses.

But it's hard to see, oh, these are my strengths, and not look at that inverse, right?

Not be like, oh, does this mean I'm weak at this thing that's number 34?

No, it doesn't, not necessarily.

But if you're curious, you can go in and find a little bit more information online as well.

That's a good reminder that there's a lot of detail that you can get to through the website.

And I logged in, you know, it was part of doing research for this, and it popped up with, hey, here's a daily tip based on your strengths.

Here's something you can work on.

And it was in one of my strengths that I don't like to look at very much.

I don't know why, but it's one that I shovel off to the side.

I was like, okay, that's good to remember.

You know, there's things I can be working on or pulling that to the top of my mind.

And I certainly don't log in every day, but if you did log in every once in a while, you could be even once a week, you could get that tip, some focus area, I guess, for the week.

We also in our last retreat, did some self-facilitation of strength finders.

Susan, maybe you could share a little bit about this exercise that we did, but it was a way of, Lauren Jane, to build on what you were saying about like, how to dig deeper into that, how to make that strength come alive, you know, but to communicate with our team about what the needs are of that group.

Susan, do you mind sharing a bit about that?

Yeah, I mean, honestly, I loved this exercise.

I thought it was really great.

Basically, what we did is we had little slips of paper and we asked everyone on the team to answer four questions.

One, the first one was, you get the best of me when...

So you fill in the blank.

The next was, you can tell I'm stressed when...

You can count on me too, and what I need from you.

So everyone had maybe 10 or 15 minutes to kind of sit and think about this question and how to answer it.

And the results were so great because, I mean, especially to me, you can tell I'm stressed when.

People had physical signs to show, like, okay, I'm maxed out.

I'm working hard.

I'm not showering.

My hair's in a ponytail.

I'm, you know, whatever it might be.

Not breathing.

That was...

That was one.

So it was really insightful.

And I think also just being asked, what I need from you, how often do you get asked that?

Like, okay, you're stressed, you're going through it, you're having a hard time or whatever.

Or what do you need?

And people could put, you know, I need you to be direct, I need guidance, I need this, support that.

And I just thought it was so great.

I think that that is something that we definitely reference again and again.

Yeah, I'd recommend just asking that question, that one, you can tell I'm stressed when...

fill in the blank because so much came out of that.


And including things like people, we had enough time to reflect, and I guess we could always have more time to reflect and be even more real because you want to get past the easy answers when you're in a retreat setting, the one that's acceptable for the group and that you're comfortable sharing to something that might actually help everyone.

But getting to an answer like, you can tell when I'm stressed when I'm quiet, I don't ask for help, you know, these things that you start to really see the person behind that, and then you can recognize that when you're in a proposal crunch and you're asking anyone need help with this or, you know, what can I do?

But someone's not chiming in.

It's because they're in a moment of stress and they've shared that that that's where they go.

So yeah, those four questions were really helpful for us.

And then I guess I would say, creating a good environment where you can get real answers and spending more time thinking through and discussing in real life is the way to make them helpful in the day to day.

Yeah, and I think that when those questions have been answered and then they're brought up at work, like, oh, I can see that you need this.

It's like you're being heard, you know, so it's not for nothing.

There's a reason behind this exercise and these conversations.

So it's a real positive outcome.

Something I find really interesting, and maybe this is something we can discuss a little bit more, Wendy or Susan, you could touch on this, is when we look at our strengths and our top five, I can see a world in which someone would feel potentially pigeonholed into those top five strengths.

I wouldn't want that.

I wouldn't want to just be beholden to my top five.

And so I'm curious, from a leadership or from an operations perspective, how either you, Wendy or Susan, or both, manage that and avoid pigeonholing others or potentially avoid pigeonholing somebody on your team just based on those strengths.

Yeah, I think that's a really thoughtful question.

And it's very fair.

And maybe going back to that statement I made that we're not hiring, firing, promoting, demoting, using this as a tool for performance, like corrective performance or anything like that.

So I think it's important to have that barrier.

That's a line I've drawn, and it's probably a best practice, but I just feel like that's worth saying.

But then when it comes to potentially feeling pigeonholed, I think we do a pretty good job at Middle of Six of constantly checking in with the team, whether it's weekly or quarterly when we're setting goals, certainly annually, but sort of always asking the question, how do you like what you're doing?

You know, and it's separate from strength finders, but it's about listening, really listening to the question, what challenges are you having?

What would you like to learn more about, you know, opening that up?

So that has to happen before you start making assignments.

Then when I look at the strengths of our team, I would say that most of the time it just gives clues to areas that they would like or feel comfortable in.

For example, if someone has a strength of input, they like information or learner, you know, that those input and learner are really closely related in that.

It just gives me perspective that they might like to look at the RFP before we go into the kickoff meeting, right?

There's an example.

They want to read it.

They want to have some advanced information going into it.

In fact, they might go and do their own research to add to it because what we're going to discuss in the RFP is just one piece of it.

They want to look at some recent history related to that project or the developer or whatever it might be.

So, knowing that someone has a particular strength allows as a leader or even as a team member to give them what they need.

And I don't see it so much because I don't know for sure, but I don't think one of the strengths is like, it's not social media management, it's not creative design, it's not copywriter, it's not tasks and roles in that way.

So, we could just look more at the types of strengths that they have to give them what they need to then execute whatever they are working on.

I don't know, does that sound too vague or does that make sense of how we could use it and try not to limit people?

I feel like it makes sense and it feels true in practice to how Middle of Six operates.

Yeah, and then, you know, Susan mentioned that we sometimes get the resumes with the strength finders, but we're never like, oh, yes, strategic, this person rises to the top of the list.

No, no, no, no.

We just want to know more about, hey, you have strategic as one of your top five strengths, tell us more about that.

What does that look like for you?

You know, and just as a conversation starter.

I was doing a little research and prep for the podcast, and I kept seeing over and over that there were no specific job recommendations for the strengths, which I found very interesting.

And I don't think this was a formal statement from CliftonStrengths, but there was some commentary of someone saying that they thought or in their professional opinion, CliftonStrengths doesn't provide job recommendations for the strengths because these can show up in so many different ways.

And it's not only what you're good at, it's how those strengths are applied to what you are doing.



It doesn't seem like any are better than another, you know, it's just your strength.

It's what you're good at.

It's where you excel.

So I don't ever think of it as a negative.

And when you're reading the, through the book, like ideas for action for a particular strength, it might give you some ideas or like ownership of how you can run with that strength, sort of empowering, like, yeah, not only does that sound like me, and I do have those tendencies, or people have told me that about myself before, but now here are a couple of ways that I can use this in a really positive way with my team.

And so it's like a cheat sheet for yourself, in case, you know, you haven't taken a look at yourself in that way.

So, yeah, I mean, I think it's very a fair comment that no one wants to be pigeonholed, but I think that the issue, that issue starts with communication, leadership, mentorship, having an open dialogue, having psychological safety in the workplace so that you can share what you need.

And, you know, every team is in a different place with that, a journey of getting where they want to be.

And so I'd say potentially this could be a tool that your team might use to increase a little bit of that conversation and celebrating each other's strengths and recognizing that it takes, and we're all better for having some elements of all of this, the variety of these 34 strengths.

I guess that gets to the reason why we like it so much.

I think we're at a good place to wrap this conversation up.

I really appreciate you both sharing and digging into this a little bit more.

You're getting us primed for our retreat, which is really good.

And it solidifies in my mind all of the positive things about CliftonStrengths and why we've liked it.

I wanted to share because I think we were all doing all of our Googling and reading all over the place to prep for this, that people can go onto Gallup and get way more information.

You know, we've scratched the surface there.

They have certified coaches that you can contract with.

They have a podcast, which I guess has 11 seasons.

I don't know that I've listened to any of those episodes.

So now I've got to put that on my to-do list as well.

One book recommendation, one podcast recommendation out of this.

They have that Wellbeing at Work book, which sounds really interesting.

And I don't know, just kind of lots of stuff on that website.

You could get lost digging around in there to see if this could be a good fit for your team.

And maybe we'll hit that trivia question, right, before we end.

So the question was, how many people have taken CliftonStrength since it launched?

And the answer is 30 million.

Oh, my goodness.

30 million.

Over 100,000.


One article they had on the Gallup website was in 2022, it was 25 million, and then they had an updated blog post that this year was 30 million.

I'm like, whoa, there has been.

Now, I'm extrapolating here a little bit, but it's like, oh, they have had a huge jump in those couple of years, and I'm just curious if they were ever willing to share some of that pre-pandemic, post-pandemic data, if we would see a big uptick in that.

Maybe, maybe not.

I'm not sure about that, but that was a huge jump.

So maybe, it looks like maybe four or five million additional assessments taken in just a couple of years.

So it seems to be growing.

And on the first year of the assessment, that was the bonus, bonus question, it was 16,000 people took the first assessment, which was done on paper and possibly in person.

I mean, it was very old school.

Now you can just do it from the comfort of your home, probably on your smartphone.

So really small sample study at the beginning, but now they have 30 million plus data points.

And it's pretty interesting.

So thanks for playing along at home and Susan and Lauren Jane for being brave.

Wow, way off, but good for them.

They've got the data, that's for sure.

That's right.

Okay, well, let's wrap up this episode.

Thank you both for being here.

And I hope you have great rest of your week with lots of springtime flowers and dog walks and things that keep you going.

Thank you so much.

Bye bye.

The Shortlist is presented by Middle of Six and hosted by me, Wendy Simmons, Principal Marketing Strategist.

Our producer is Kyle Davis, with digital marketing and graphic design by the team at Middle of Six.

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Until next time, keep on hustling.

The Shortlist is a podcast that explores all things AEC marketing. Hosted by Middle of Six Principal, Wendy Simmons, each episode features members of the MOS team, where we take a deep dive on a wide range of topics related to AEC marketing including: proposal development, strategy, team building, business development, branding, digital marketing, and more. You can listen to our full archive of episodes here.


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