Page 1


straight talk on strategic issues volume 1

issue 4

spring 2007

Words from the Wise: An Expert’s Viewpoint

From an interview with Knowing Your Marcus Buckingham Strengths and Weaknesses:

The Key to Engagement


ou define Strengths as “activities you love doing” and Weaknesses as “things that you hate doing.” How does using Strengths affect engagement in the workplace?

Using Strengths is, simply, the most important factor that drives engagement. In a host of surveys, we’ve found that when you measure all the aspects of engagement, you find that the strongest driver of performance is a positive response to the question, “Did I have a chance to use my Strengths at work today?” It’s the master lever – the strongest correlate to business If you know where your performance. Other shoulders are broadest, things are important, you become the team but these are diminished member that others can if people are in the always count on. wrong role. As for the intuitive measure, imagine that you work for your favorite charity. You really believe in it, and you love the people you work with, but you hate having to ask people for money.

The chances of staying in that position are really small, because your sense of purpose is diminished. If you want to build engagement, you must attend to what people’s Strengths are and how they’re being used. When people realize their Strengths, how does it impact the team? There are two outcomes you can expect. First, your shoulders get broader. As you learn to use your own Strengths, you’re able to volunteer for the right projects and right situations where you Look Inside! can really come through for the team. In this way, your team People Powered by wins, even if the other team Strengths: The Hampton members aren’t recognizing Strengths Revolution their Strengths. If you know Jim Haudan on the need where your shoulders are to matter. broadest, you become the team Plus a ready-to-use visual member that others can always tool you can use now! count on. Please turn to page 7.

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Jim Haudan President and CEO Root Learning, Inc.

From the CEO’s Desk

Need to Matter: “Human Beings Work Here”

By Jim Haudan



f each person’s work is a self-portrait, most of the best pictures are being painted on weekends and evenings after work. Have you ever wondered how people can be so emotionally involved in sports, so focused on hobbies, or so devoted to their fantasy football teams, yet be so apathetic when they come to work? Although it may not always be obvious, people want to go to work feeling as if they are making a difference. Nobody wakes up saying, “I think I’ll just go through the motions today.” Yet, survival is often the primary objective. It’s increasingly hard to be human at work. Changing external forces, complexity, specialization, outsourcing, and segmentation in the workplace continue to break our work into isolated pieces that separate what we do from the impact we can make in the lives of others. We are drowning in tasks – while starving for meaning and purpose. When asked what’s important to them at work, most people say they want to contribute to something meaningful. They want to be needed. We listen, but then put them into “seats on a bus,” focus on increasing their job skills, encourage greater productivity, and entice them with incentives. We need to get back to the fundamental desire of human beings to connect what they do to a difference they’re making in the world around them. Workplace demands create gaps that separate people from: • How they fit into the big picture. • Their contributions and the impact of their work. • The purpose of their work. • How they make a difference and why they matter. So, how can we close these gaps? Here are three ways that are powerful, proven, and valuable. 1. Context matters. Many companies leapfrog the “big picture” to expedite behavior change and skill-building necessary to execute strategies. Don’t do it! Skipping the “why” and the context can stop people from getting excited about their work. As people begin to understand a project’s destination, it’s easier to become interested in helping you get 2

there. Spend as much time on the “why” and the context as you do on the “what” and “how.” People without a big picture understanding can’t really accept total responsibility for their efforts, but people with that understanding can’t avoid it. 2. Contributions to life. Recently, a restaurant chain ran a contest to find its “best customer.” The winning restaurant nominated a painter named Fred. Fred’s story was filmed and shown at the chain’s annual convention for 3,000 people. The celebration was appreciated, but the unintended consequences were phenomenal! Fred explained how special he felt when he visited that restaurant because everybody knew him by name and were genuinely glad to see him. Very soon, satisfaction scores across the chain went up dramatically because the impact of employees on the lives of other human beings had never been clearer. They weren’t just providing cheap food; they were a special break in an otherwise hectic, routine day. The simple act of bringing to life the impact of their work inspired a remarkable improvement. 3. Meaning and purpose. These are the two most fundamental elements of sustainable engagement. Meaning and purpose are the only things that allow us to persist in the face of significant challenges. They ensure that we will be successful when the odds are stacked against us. They make the difference between a bricklayer who is just stacking bricks and one who is building a cathedral. It’s why the piano tuner is creating musical poetry, why the bookbinder is saving an essential piece of history, and why the firefighter is saving lives. Meaning and purpose can best be derived from a vision that captures the noble purpose of our work. Anyone who engages people has the responsibility to remember that they are human beings first… who need context for their actions, who need to matter, and who need to know their purpose and meaning. As managers, before we set tasks for our people, we need to be sure they know how their contributions impact others in a bigger sense than just completing a task. We need to treat them as human beings – not just employees.

Building Strong Teams – Lessons from


still vividly remember a grade school experience when I played the flute in a musical ensemble. I was encouraged to play an instrument in 4th grade, and for reasons I can’t remember or choose to hide in my subconscious, I ended up with the flute. It was apparent from the beginning that I wasn’t particularly talented, and practicing was somewhat painful for me and more so for anyone who had to listen. Despite my obvious shortcomings and significant concerns on my end, I was deemed ready after a couple of months to partake in this musical ensemble sponsored by my school. I remember the curtains opening and looking at a crowd that seemed like it was in the thousands, even though I am pretty sure now that it wasn’t more than 50. When it was my turn to join in, I started out so off-key that I derailed my fellow I was never asked to musicians in my general play the flute again vicinity. The derailment after that day. spread rapidly through the rest of the group, ultimately hitting the chorus. Our musical performance disintegrated into disconnected mumbling from the chorus and completely offbeat sounds from the instrumental support. Our conductor brought the operation to a grinding halt. I was never asked to play the flute again after that day. There are two impressions from this story that apply directly to the concept of building high-performance teams in business. Marcus Buckingham writes eloquently in his new book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work, that “excellence is not the opposite of failure” and that, as such, “you will learn little about excellence from studying failure.” Don’t study my 4th grade music ensemble to determine how to create a high-performing one. All too often in business, we have the tendency to study failure or poor teams to determine how to create new success formulas or great teams. This mindset is prevalent with many clients we work with, and it simply isn’t the smartest way




Point of View By Rich Berens Rich Berens is Executive Vice President at Root Learning. Contact Rich at

to determine how to build high-performance teams. Instead, to quote Marcus again, “To find the secrets to a great team, you have to investigate the successful ones.” Our research has shown us that successful teams tend to have a clear line of sight to what they are trying to achieve, have goals clearly defined and connected to broader outcomes, have an engaged and committed team, and last but not least have the required skills that are needed to succeed. What often isn’t grasped is the interconnectivity of these components. Lacking one of them might not make your team unproductive, but it will prevent you from being a high-performing team. Think of my music ensemble. We had three of the four components in place, but were missing the appropriate skill. Not all teams will have as disastrous a result as I did in 4th grade when missing one component, but they won’t be near the top in terms of performance. In summary, to learn about successful teams, study successful teams and use the four primary components that determine high-performance teams as a checklist to ensure you have set your team up for success.


Try this! Work through this activity with your team or by yourself. What do your responses reflect? If you find the answers intriguing, let us know at


The Workout Rooms –

Strengths and


According to Marcus Buckingham, the ability to use your Strengths at work is the strongest correlate to business performance. People who concentrate on playing to their strengths are more creative and achieve more goals. This exercise will help you understand more about how this works. 1. Look at the scene in the gym. What is happening? How are the two sides different? Read all the signs and posters on the walls. 2. Now, focus on the left side – the “Weakness Workout” area. Read the labels and quotations. What do you observe about the people on the machines? 3. Notice the man lifting weights. What does he see in the mirror? 4. Read the quote above the man looking through the door. If you were working out in the Weakness side, how would this statement make you feel? (Write your thoughts below.) ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 5. Notice the trophies in the Strengths side of the gym. Compare these to the awards on the Weakness side. What do they mean? If you were to receive an award for a strength, what would it be? (Write your response in the empty box above the trophy.) 6. What do you observe about the machines in the “Strengths Workout” side? Why do you think they aren’t being used? 7. Read the quote above the trainer with the clipboard. How would concentrating on Strengths instead of Weaknesses help you or anyone else? (After you have thought of several ways this would help you or your team, write them at the side of the visual.) 8. If the people on the two machines used the equipment in the Strengths side that corresponded to their strongest muscles, how do you think they’d perform? 9. What conclusions can you draw from the answers to these questions? 5

Gina Valenti is the Senior Director – Brand Program Development & Integration/Hampton® Hotels

Case Study

People Powered


In 1984, Hampton Inn, part of the Hilton family, opened the first mid-scale, limited service (without food and beverage) hotel in the industry and created a brandnew hotel segment. The segment grew as competitors recognized the opportunity it offered to both travelers and investors, but Hampton led the category for many years. As Hampton approached its 20th year in business and had slipped from its top position, brand leaders saw an opportunity to “turbo-charge” the entire brand product offering to reclaim leadership position in the industry. We responded with an initiative called Make It Hampton, an investment in the properties’ product offering, focused on four key touchpoints: the guest room, the welcome, the breakfast, and the 100% Hampton Guarantee. To effect this change, we teamed with Root Learning and other key partners to define and communicate our Hampton Brand Story and provide training on our culture of “Connect.” At the same time, we had to influence owners and operators (as Hampton is 99% franchiseowned and -operated) to reinvest in their hotels through implementing over 100 product changes at each location. Root helped us with a variety of approaches, from Learning Map® modules and job aids to games and conference activities. As a result, we were able to differentiate ourselves from the competition and become the first choice of franchise investors.

by Strengths By Gina Valenti

To stay in that position, however, we knew we had to keep working on our performance. The competition could copy our products, but not our people. What more could we do? I had read Marcus Buckingham’s book, First, Break All the Rules, about building engagement through tapping into the strengths of each employee. I could see that this would be valuable at Hampton. What started as a product initiative, Make it Hampton, evolved into a culture … People Make It Hampton. Originally, Simply Strengths® was a six-week journey designed for small groups or one-on-one coaching. With Root’s expertise, we were able to translate the content into an engaging training curriculum that could be accessed by Hampton’s entire workforce. We successfully collaborated to create a series of seven 45-to-60-minute electronic learning modules. Six were based on the original steps of the Simply Strengths® course developed by The Marcus Buckingham Company, and the seventh helps managers coach and support team members through the “learning journey.” The curriculum allows the individual to identify personal Strengths and apply that knowledge to be more productive and fulfilled both in their personal life and the work environment. Team members who play to their Strengths each day then create an edge in delivering the quintessential Hampton guest experience. The first six modules feature Marcus Buckingham’s film series Trombone Player Wanted®, supported by a unique combination of animation, computer-generated graphics, Hampton film clips, and interactive exercises that create a truly immersive environment. Course registration was discretionary, and the modules were supplemented with reflection journaling tasks and other activities to ensure that the lessons were put to practical use. Continued on next page


The story doesn’t end here. By leveraging our partnerships, we will continue to be set up for success. Our rally cry, People Make It Hampton, is powered by the Strengths of each team member across the 1,400 hotels – a competitive advantage that will be tough to beat.

What are your growth inhibitors? We all want to do a good job and perform and exceed expectations. But are there “things” at your job that keep you from growing professionally? Issues and challenges out of your control that you’d like to change? Let us know what they are and we can address them in an upcoming issue of The Watercooler!

And when you do that, you… Get a Free Book on CD! If you’re one of the first 25 to respond to our questions, we’ll send you a complimentary copy of Marcus Buckingham’s book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work, on CD. Visit us at

Knowing Your Strengths and Weaknesses, continued

The Simply Strengths® modules were launched to managers during Regional Meetings. The curriculum received fantastic reviews by the franchised General Manager population. After test-driving the curriculum, General Managers were encouraged to recruit hotel staff to participate. Hampton’s Strengths Revolution continues to evolve with Root’s partnership, and we’ll soon launch an updated version of Simply Strengths – translated into Spanish and French Canadian – that will include a Strengths Engagement Tracker system designed by The Marcus Buckingham Company, which allows individuals to assess their current and potential levels of engagement.

Second, respecting your own Strengths and Weaknesses allows you to respect those of the others on your team. If you know who you are, you can be more generous and more respectful of the Strengths and Weaknesses in others. When you realize you’re not perfect, you stop expecting everybody else to be perfect. And you start to be more forgiving of other people. There are some things that, for no real reason, you are weak at. You may even be competent at something, but doing it makes you feel brittle. You may get angry with yourself because you don’t understand why certain activities diminish you. This extends to other people – and you wish that they too would stop letting you down. If you don’t face up to this fact, it’s easy to extend that harsh judgment to other people. When people can recognize their Strengths, how does that benefit the business? When you can recognize your own Strengths and those of others, you become more strategic about where you put your people. We aren’t taking about things that make people feel good or increase self-esteem, because there is no relation between increased self-esteem and performance. However, there is a strong link between self-efficacy and performance. Self-efficacy is the specific feeling of competence you have for a certain task or set of tasks. You look forward to this task, you feel up to the challenge, you even feel that it’s “cosmically correct.” These activities give people a sense of power, and this provides three benefits for the organization: 1. People set higher goals for themselves. 2. People bounce back more quickly when they meet with resistance. 3. People are more creative, come up with more new ideas and more new goals. Our organizations get the most out of our people when we learn to recognize Strengths and Weaknesses. Leaders can be more sophisticated in recognizing even more Strengths in people, be more pragmatic, and be smarter in terms of what you ask your colleagues to do. And in this way, everyone benefits. From an interview with Marcus Buckingham, author of the book Go Put Your Strengths To Work.


Events and News • Check the Root website ( for upcoming Thought Leader Summits – The Un-Conference!

Root on the Move!

• Hannah Kahn, Brand Manager for Holiday Inn Express, will present “A Blended Approach to Consistent Employee Training” at the SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition, June 24 – 27 in Las Vegas

Our London office has relocated to: London Office 35-41 Folgate Street London E1 6BX, UK Phone: +44 207 611 3890

The next issue of The Watercooler will be published in July 2007.

straight talk on strategic issues


• 2007 American Society for Training and Development International Conference and Exposition, June 3 – 6, Atlanta

And, as of May 29, Root’s client destination (home office) will have a new location as well: 5470 Main Street Sylvania, OH 43560

1715 Indian Wood Circle Suite 200 Maumee, OH 43537

• Elaine Gregg, SVP CPO of Anchor Blue Retail Group, along with Jim Haudan, President and CEO of Root Learning, are presenting “Strategic Employee Engagement: Give every employee the big picture” at the 16th Annual Corporate Communicators Conference, May 8 – 10, Chicago www.ragan. com/ccc07

Putting Your Strengths to Work  

Everyone has unique strengths. When you put those abilities to work, people become more emotionally involved in what they do. It’s about the...

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