Is Your Organizational Culture Strengths Based? Here’s How to Incorporate Storytellers (Without Losing Your Mind)

March 9, 2017 Bethany Johnson

Young women working together, representing a strengths based organizational culture with creative thinking included.

A few years ago, Gallup introduced the business world to Clifton StrenghtsFinder, a methodology that transformed the organizational culture of top brands almost overnight. If you were in business at the time, then you’ll remember the stir. To say the book was a bestseller is a gross understatement. It sold millions of copies, and it’s still a hot topic.

In fact, a fellow millennial gifted me my own StrengthsFinder book a few short months ago. The thing is anything but obsolete.

Curious, I flipped through the book, found my code, punched it into Gallup’s StrengthsFinder website, and started my test. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I huffed almost immediately. “The options to answer these questions aren’t even clear.” An hour later, my results told me that this exasperated reaction could have been expected, based on my personal strengths, if only I had known those strengths going into the test. The revelation was like pure water to my thirsty mind.

I was hooked.

As I read on about my unique cocktail of personal strengths and how they play out in my own business, I harvested the aha moments that set the world abuzz over 15 years ago when the concept was first introduced.

Then it occurred to me: this mass shift in organizational culture took place just before the gig economy took flight.Your strengths-based organizational culture can infuse brand storytelling from the top down, or from the inside out.

That means there are hundreds of agile brands out there hiring freelance writers to carry the enormous weight of executing their content strategy—all without the strengths-based coaching those brands have learned to love. If that describes your brand, your marketing communications could be on unstable footing. If you’ve worked hard to implement a strengths-based organizational culture, and especially if you’ve invested in developing coaches, the thought of hiring a random freelancer to convey your precious message would (understandably) make you twitch. No wonder you’re hesitant. No wonder you feel behind. And no wonder you envy brands that have done it so profitably.

If that’s you, I have great news: your investment isn’t lost. The time, energy, and budget you deployed to make yours a strengths-based organization isn’t compromised when you dip your toe into the gig economy. If you’re worried about outsourcing your creative thinking, stop. Hiring freelancers is not a change of course; it’s a fulfillment of your commitment to the strengths philosophy. Here’s why:

  1. Because storytelling is a skill, not a Clifton-approved strength. Learning the craft of storytelling is not the same as trying to muster up an unnatural talent. You’re not cramming a Maximizer into the role of a Believer, for example, when you emphasize storytelling.
  2. Because every strength needs an effective tool. Story craft is arguably the most powerful tool in the hands of an empowered, diverse team. It can loosen an uptight room full of suits, or it can solidify a lax group of creatives. It can connect with target audiences or disarm a competitor. Stories—when used well—can achieve much more than your marketing team could have ever dreamed of.
  3. Because some strengths are more common than others. Last year, Gallup’s Strengths Center tweeted out the most predominant strengths. Statistically then, your marketing team is probably composed of more achievers, responsibility owners, learners, and strategizers. Based on those odds, it could take years of interviewing to find your perfect brand storyteller. The freelance writer, on the other hand, has already capitalized on his strengths to round out your team. Imagine throwing an ideation expert, an intellection enthusiast, or a natural communicator into your content strategy (or better yet: a mix of all three.)

Courtesy of @StrengthsFinder

Or, Infuse Your Whole Enterprise With Story

Another approach is to incorporate storytelling as a skill within the strengths-diverse team you have now. Gallup has already said that the intellection strength lends itself to powerful writing. What other personalities do you work with who can contribute uniquely to the process? Storytellers know there’s much more to crafting a narrative than the actual pen-to-paper phase. If you’re familiar with the 34 themes, you’ll find these recommendations apply perfectly to the different stages of prolific, powerful storytelling:

  • Achiever and Arranger. Have your high-achieving and arranging personalities establish the content calendar, and check in with others to see whether they’re on track throughout the quarter. Hand your achiever the measurables, and let her track your investment’s ROI.
  • Ideation. If you need an example of this, consider me Exhibit A. I ranked high in the ideation strength, and my clients would agree, my ideas are bafflingly endless. If you’ve worked with an ideator, you know it can be frustrating or relieving, depending on where you have her. Put her in the brainstorming phase of your storytelling content creation, and you won’t be disappointed.
  • Input. Partner your ideation ninja with an input person, and you have a recipe for limitless possibilities in every meeting. Can they write the actual content? Probably not. But your writers will never be dry on inspired material from this duo’s creative thinking.
  • Activator. After each brainstorming session, ask your activator, “Now, how would you put these concepts into practice?” A good Reddit thread may not be a smash hit if you tried to translate it to live video, for example. Activators know these things naturally.
  • Communicator. This is the talented individual who makes you want to cling to your content strategy of the past. He’s a natural wordsmith, so you’re confused as to why his stuff hasn’t gone viral. The answer lies in his toolbox. Put story craft in the hands of your favorite word wizard. Let him read classic fiction on the clock. Sign him up for daily doses of the Humans of New York. Send him to a STORY seminar. Let him finish your sentences when you’re struggling to convey an elusive thought. You won’t be surprised to learn this strength is one to involve in every step of the brand storytelling operation.
  • Analytical. If you have an analyzer around, ask him, “Is there any reason we should not publish this story?” He will have thought of potential land mines you can easily avoid. If your analyzer hems and haws, send in a command personality.
  • Command. Often (wrongly) confused with “bossy,” command’s dominating personality can add a necessary ingredient of decisiveness to corporate storytelling. He’ll declare a story sewage if it truly is. While analytical and command aren’t often chummy with one another, they can solidify your hunch that a particular story will fly…or flop.
  • Adaptability. When one of your stories falls flat—and they will, occasionally—review the case with your adaptability teammate. His anxiety-free personality will calm your nerves and remind you it’s not the end of the world. He may even give you ideas for how your team can learn from the failure.
  • Developer. If you’re like most managers, you have no idea what strengths belong to whom, and that’s fine. You know their skills, but their strengths? Forget about it. Instead, forward this article to your developer. He’s the one who naturally notices where talent lies. He won’t be surprised by any of these suggestions, since he may, given each person’s test results, be able to coordinate your team without being instructed. This personality is naturally encouraging to what already lies just under the surface of every team member, and people feel honored when he notices and develops their contribution.

Everything is changing, I know. Technology is rewiring people’s brains, yes. It’s nearly impossible to keep up, sure. But people are still people. That means they still maintain the strengths you exposed, and they still respond more to stories than any other presentation of data. Put the two together for an illimitable, storified result.

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Featured image attribution: WoCinTech Chat

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