November 4, 2015 in Events (live blogging), #cipd15

#cipd15 – Performance motivation – a strengths-based approach for a more productive workforce

Alex Bailey (Bailey & French), Ailsa Suttie (CSMA Club), Rachel Collier (iCrossing UK).


Alex Bailey opened the session, referencing the emerging theme of the conference looking at how we make workplaces more human, and introducing a session to look at what practical things we can do to make this happen in practice.


And we’re underway, turning to the person next to us and sharing 3 Good Things about the last day – an exercise that I am a huge fan of! As always with this exercise, there is a huge buzz in the room as we share our 3 good things!


Carl Fillery (CEO, CSMA Club) talked of how things were not as he wanted them to be just 18 months ago, and they weren’t creating the culture they wanted. Now, the culture is really positive and feels energised and vibrant. Their vision is no longer just about changing business performance, it is about changing the sector they’re in – and doing it with passion and purpose. They thought about what type of company and environment they wanted to create, about how they wanted people to feel; the answer was to create an environment that respected people, were people could be themselves and be comfortable, to be trusted, and to show leadership by example, and to be genuine. The language of the company is very much ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. It is empowering to work with peoples’ strengths, with what they are, rather than fixing weaknesses. The focus is on exploring the positive, and trusting their intuition. The organisation started to reduce complexity and worked on driving the vision. The first step was binning an irrelevant people management initiative, and to embark on a new path. Things are now in really good shape, with people empowered and excited, and with the company now having a vibrant talent pipeline. Carl now feels great, feels liberated doing his role, is motivated to come into work, and feels like he has more time (this is the power of playing to your strengths!).


Ailsa Suttie then delved into detail of what has delivered the change that Carl described. These are some of the foundations:

Openness – encouraging open dialogue, equipping people managers with toolkits for asking positive questions (very similar to appreciative enquiry).

Outcomes – encouraging people to have a really clear focus on outcomes, and all people now have one-sentence role descriptions which give a clear outcome of what they are there to do. We’re then into another bit of audience participation as we give our own one-sentence summaries .

New ways of thinking – They’ve embraced outcomes thinking, and also a project called Blonco – where the senior managers worked together, using their strengths, and they delivered a new product which will now go to market. Everything is underpinned by a belief that everybody is talented. They’re working on a different approach to helping people to be their best selves. Ailsa talked about applying this same approach to change, not worrying about the detractors but focusing on the positive aspects of change.


Rachel Collier (iCrossing UK) then talked about how they applied strengths-based thinking to performance management. Rachel cited Gallup on how only 17% of employees get to use their strengths at work every day, and how not nearly enough people are thriving in their purpose at work. People’s potential and purpose is too often diluted. iCrossing saw strengths as a powerful untapped resource within the business.

Performance = Potential – Interference     (Tim Gallwey – The Inner Game of Tennis, 1974)

A lot of HR processes inadvertently diminish performance but increasing interference and by discouraging potential by focusing on weaknesses.


Sam Vining (iCrossing UK) then talked about his experiences as part of a senior leadership team, and of how a knowledge of the individual strengths of the leadership team helped them to get the best out of each other. This quickly led to a reorganisation, aligned to client outcomes and aligning people to achieve this through playing to their strengths. This meant relinquishing any element of didacticism / command and control but it has has a massive positive impact on ownership and outcomes for clients. Sam mentioned how a better understanding of his own personal strengths was empowering. He could recognise some of his strengths in Gallup StrengthsFinder, but he couldn’t recognise all of them as he wasn’t getting to apply all of his strengths.


Rachel Collier then talked about how small hinges can swing big doors. Their hinges:

  • Let go of the competency frameworks, and lose the focus on weaknesses. Change performance management to focus on strengths, allowing teams to be more creative and agile in their roles. Old job descriptions were replaced with much simpler role profiles, with one-sentence outcomes for individuals and teams – focusing on the application of strengths.
  • Introduce coaching skills – great managers are great coaches, and they have a simple coaching toolkit which is backed up by a team of master coaches who help support strengths-based coaching.
  • Openness – create a groundswell so that people want this to happen, and it isn’t driven ‘top-down’ or by HR.

The three principles:

  • Strengths are unique, enduring, and everyone has them – not just top talent
  • The greatest opportunity for our development is in our areas of strengths, not weaknesses
  • We don’t ignore weaknesses, we make them irrelevant (e.g. partner with people who have the strengths we don’t have)


One thing to note was that Alex introduced all of the speakers by their outcomes and strengths, not by their job title – A refreshing change.


(Given that this is the sort of work I do every day as a Gallup-trained strengths coach, I really enjoyed this session as I felt very much at home and I see the massive positive impact that we unlock when we focus on our strengths).



(This was live-blogged during a session at the CIPD Annual Conference & Exhibition – #cipd15 – I’ve tried to capture a faithful summary of the highlights for me but my own bias, views – and the odd typo – might well creep in.)

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