Leveraging Strengths in New Ways

Leadership Rhode Island’s strengths initiative, now in its tenth year, has helped more than 11,000 individuals, from managers and workers to job-seeking college students, identify and develop their own top strengths.

Since Make Rhode Island Stronger launched in 2014, more than 36,000 Rhode Islanders have discovered their “Top Five” strengths as employees for strengths-managed workplace, college job-seekers, or individuals curious to learn what their natural talents may be.

Strengths training — the engine that keeps the Make RI Stronger initiative moving forward — has positive effects on workplace productivity and performance, outcomes long supported by Gallup survey data and research.

This year, in addition to providing its premier strengths training program to business, government and nonprofit clients, staff is incorporating the strengths-mindset into two new endeavors: Improving the employee hiring and on-boarding process, and increasing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace.

“We’re excited to see strengths being leveraged in these new ways,” says Executive Director Michelle Carr 2014 Kappa II.

Reimaging the on-boarding of new employees at United Way of Rhode Island was led by strengths coach Cindy Scibetta-Butts, who has more than 30 years’ experience in Human Resources.

As UW staff members met in a series of workshops led by Scibetta-Butts, they realized that bringing a new person aboard is a perfect time for existing employees to “re-board” by renewing their own commitments to strengths-based behavior.

Re-boarding, she says, is the least expensive way to make strengths philosophy stick and to weave a strengths-based approach into an entire organization.

“Each time a new person is hired, they bring a fresh energy to the organization and continue the conversation and value of a strengths-based approach,” she says.

Robert Bush 2022 Sigma II, chief operations officer, says that LRI had been working with United Way to bring strengths-based development to managers and teams so applying asset-based thinking “to reimagining our recruiting, hiring and on-boarding process felt like a a natural next step.”

An action plan emerged from the process that will allow United Way “to continue integrating strengths into every part of the employee experience,” he says.

Using concepts associated with strengths development is also a useful tool for conveying the values of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) in the workplace, according to coaches Sterling Clinton-Spellman 2019 Omicron II, and Sulina Mohanty CLRI ’06.

“Strengths is a great starting point into DEIB because it gives us all a common language and framework to learn about ourselves and each other,” explains Mohanty.

DEIB, says Clinton-Spellman, is more than a strategy, it’s a cultural shift. “Strengths-based approaches help lay the foundation for this shift by encouraging self-awareness, empathy and the celebration of diverse perspectives,” she says.

The first organizations to receive diversity training are the staffs of Ready Set Work and Workability, organizations associated with Skills RI; the Cumberland School Department administration and leaders, and Meals on Wheels.

The roster of on-call coaches who lead LRI’s different strengths training sessions is larger and more diverse than ever. The current group of 33 coaches includes 13 coaches of color.

Diversity comes in many forms, says Renzo Arteta, recently promoted to Senior Training Manager. “We work with clients from different professional backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, ages, languages spoken, and more. My goal is to mix and match the coach to the client so that the experience of the group of participants feels tailor-made for impact.”

A more diverse bank of coaches is particularly timely because 22 of this year’s clients are grant recipients of the Papitto Opportunity Connection, a foundation committed to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.

LRI agreed to offer strengths development training to Papitto grantees when the private foundation awarded LRI a five-year grant of $1.75 million in 2022.

The organizations undergoing training this year include Amos House, Dorcas International, Nonviolence Institute, RI Black Business Association, The Avenue Concept and Young Voices.

There are benefits, coaches of color say, when they, as trainers, “look like” their trainees.

“If you put somebody in front of participants who they can relate to and want to listen to, they will open up,” agrees Arteta, recently promoted to Senior Training Manager. “You get these really authentic discussions.”