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Thursday, 17 January 2013

Steve Loraine: Supporting the Strengths of Young People

This week my colleague Steve Loraine from The Open Channel writes about his work with young people and the positive results which flowed from focusing on strengths.
'I've been working with Strengths profiles such as Strengthsfinder http://sf1.strengthsfinder.com/HomePage.aspx  and more recently Strengthscope http://www.strengthscope.com/  for over ten years. My assignments have involved working predominantly with leaders and senior managers of large public bodies, 'though not exclusively, with my work taking me into the voluntary and community sector and commercial organisations as well.

Most recently and very differently, I had the opportunity to provide Strengthsfinder and Strengthscope profile feedback sessions to several younger people; a current student and two recent graduates now looking to start their careers.

One of the recent graduates had spent the better part of a year working in short-term assignments, as an intern and in the catering industry. She had been interviewed on several occasions for entry-level posts in her chosen career and whilst performing well at interview, had not yet landed a coveted job. The specific field she was interested in is highly competitive, with employers having a strong field of candidates to choose from at shortlist. She was seeking an 'edge' to gain entry into her career and an older relative and client of mine had suggested that Stengthscope might be a way to achieve that.

After a preliminary conversation with my new client I arranged for access to the the web-based questionnaire, which takes around 25 minutes to complete and is best done when one has a quiet period to concentrate on the task, although it's easy enough to save the profile part-done and come back to it later.

Once I downloaded the personalised report from Strengthscope, I was able to arrange a telephone feedback conversation with the client. I generally prefer face-to-face work when executive coaching, but the nature of a strengths feedback session, which is as it sounds, i.e. feedback about the profile and not non-directive coaching, means that it lends itself to telephone work particularly well. I allow an hour for a decent feedback conversation, although a little longer allows for a more thorough exploration of the excellent quality report and its potential.

So, this we did and our conversation around the report, which I'd emailed to the client a day or so before we spoke, was highly engaging and productive. With many clients the notion of concentrating on strengths comes as counter-intuitive, given the power that deficit and problem-focused paradigms have on our organisations and indeed our daily view of the world via the news media, feedback from some managers, self-help books and so on. By starting with and concentrating on strengths, without ignoring activities that might weaken a client's performance, the conversation takes many interesting and encouraging turns. For the clients, and they mention this often, the energy they feel as they explore their strengths and how to optimise them can sometimes come as a pleasant surprise.

So it proved in this case. As we explored the profile, various questions from the client suggested that with little mainstream paid work experience to call on, she felt  the profile might be of limited value for her. Because, though, the Strengthscope profile identifies distinctive strengths, i.e. "ways of thinking, feeling and expressing emotions that lead to exceptional performance," clients can call on a whole range of activities, paid and unpaid, to inform their understanding of the profile. With this wider interpretation it was possible for the client to appreciate her significant strengths and then begin to compare them to the activities of role she was seeking.

At this point we were also able to deal with the perception that there might be an ideal profile for job roles and whether her profile matched that 'ideal.' The answer of course is that research into strengths strongly suggests that in any given role, the profiles of exceptional performers often have no little similarity, i.e. there is no 'ideal', only the strengths set of each person, applied to a particular role. So, we worked on what her significant strengths might offer to the required role, how she would represent those strengths through her understanding of them and how she could talk with confidence to the inevitable question posed by interviewers, "tell us about your strengths." The feedback session concluded with the client feeling comfortable with her significant strengths and how they could add value to a role in her profession and in fact, any number of roles.

A few weeks later I was delighted to receive an email from the client informing me that at her very next interview for her chosen career she had been successful and appointed to a large, nationally known company. When she received feedback on her interview performance, one of the key aspects of the performance concerned how she had been so clear about her strengths and how she would apply them to the role! Success.

We've since had a number of conversations with final year students who believe that having a sound understanding of their strengths, as defined above, would be a real advantage to them, not only in interviews, but more generally as they decide on their career choices and even as they take temporary work whilst considering their futures. Every 'edge' helps in a highly competitive jobs market.

For an informal conversation about how Strengthscope and Strengthsfinder can help you as a student, or for your son or daughter coming to the end of their time in further and higher education, visit us at www.theopenchannel.co.uk '

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