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Lester Thornhill

April 25, 2018

Unlock Employee Superpowers With A Strengths-Based Culture

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"There is no more effective way to empower people than to see each person in terms of his or her strengths."
- Don Clifton

When Lester Thornhill, CEO of Life’s Abundance, was introduced to the CliftonStrengths Assessment ten years ago, it immediately took him back to one of his defining childhood struggles. Growing up, Lester was never good at drawing. As a teenager, he was getting As and Bs in every other subject, but he was failing art. For years, he practiced in his sketchpad, spending hours on end trying to improve his skills. Despite his hard work, he never received higher than a C in art class. When Lester discovered Clifton's strength-based philosophies, it made him wish he had spent those countless hours developing his natural talents instead.

Today, Lester is leading a strengths-based movement at Life's Abundance, an employee-owned company dedicated to improving the health of the entire family, including our pets. Over the past ten years, he’s integrated CliftonStrengths throughout the organization, using it to hire the right people, build effective teams, and develop employees.

CliftonStrengths is a strengths-based approach to management that uses a comprehensive assessment to identify your unique set of 34 natural talents. According to Gallup, people who know and use their CliftonStrengths are 6 times as likely to be engaged at work, 7.8 percent more productive in their roles, and 3 times as likely to have an excellent quality of life.

The strengths-based culture at Life’s Abundance is a powerful example of how CliftonStrengths can help employees maximize their potential and, as Lester calls it, embrace their ‘superpowers.’

Ready to learn more about building a strengths-based culture at your organization? Here are three ways to empower your people to become their best selves.


Hiring for Strengths

A strengths-based culture begins with recruiting and hiring the right individuals for the right roles. When Lester first discovered CliftonStrengths, he realized that they should be looking at more than résumés and career accomplishments when hiring. He decided to start giving equal weight to soft skills and natural talents, and considering how they would balance out with the rest of the team.

Finding the right candidate begins with having the right job description. At Life’s Abundance, each department head is charged with identifying which characteristics, also called ‘themes’, a new hire will need to succeed in a certain role and looking up the CliftonStrengths description for it. It’s as simple as writing a job description that uses language that will resonate and appeal to the candidate you’re trying to attract. Lester compares it to a dog whistle that helps attract the right people to apply for the position.

For example, Life’s Abundance recently started the hiring process to add a new person to their Marketing team. They started by evaluating the team’s current strengths composition and identifying the characteristics that would balance the team. They decided they wanted to find someone with Woo, which stands for ‘winning others over.’ They read the CliftonStrengths profile for Woo and wrote the job description to appeal to an extroverted, social people person — and when candidates start coming in for interviews, they will take the CliftonStrengths assessment to paint a complete picture of their personal strengths (superpowers!).

Building Strengths-Based Teams

A strengths-based approach to team building helps create high-performing, highly-engaged teams. Not only are teams more effective when they’re doing what they’re naturally great at, they’re also learning about how to communicate more effectively with one another.

At Life’s Abundance, every new team member is given a personalized CliftonStrengths binder report, allowing them to deep-dive into their 34 natural strengths and what makes them unique. Likewise, every employee has a plaque on their desk that lists their top five ‘superpowers,’ encouraging employees to celebrate and embrace their strengths. The transparency helps employees support one another and partner up based on their weaknesses. Across the office, creative types collaborate with strategists, and social butterflies tag-team meetings with introverts.

A strengths-based approach takes what you already know about building teams and systematizes it. For example, you naturally know that you need a Futuristic person on your product development team. At Life’s Abundance, they use Google Sheets to track every team member’s CliftonStrengths, organized by department. Department heads can keep tabs on the composition of their teams and consult the spreadsheet when evaluating performance, considering role changes, and hiring new team members. Lester even keeps a history of the CliftonStrengths of past employees, helping him evaluate why certain people didn’t work out and how they can help future hires be successful.

Developing Employee Strengths

The driving philosophy behind a strengths-based culture is to maximize individual potential by developing people to become great at their natural talents. By focusing on strengths, you can empower people to set and achieve their goals more effectively. Consider Lester’s struggle with drawing as a teenager — what if he had devoted those countless hours to developing one of his natural talents instead? The idea inspired Lester to help his employees work on their natural talents and surround them with people who complemented their strengths.

At Life’s Abundance, they’ve found that focusing on people’s strengths puts them in the position to be successful. Instead of an annual review, all employees complete monthly self-assessments; evaluating their successes, what they could’ve done differently, and their goals for the next 30 days. The reviews are a simple, 10-minute conversation — managers provide feedback and together, they create a plan for the next thirty days. The process creates a continuous feedback loop between employees and managers, all driven by a commitment to help employees become the best versions of themselves.

They’ve also found CliftonStrengths to be a catalyst for personal growth. When employees discover their ‘superpowers,’ they feel more confident about themselves and less insecure about their weaknesses. Because there are 34 CliftonStrengths and an endless combination of themes, the assessment shows employees just how unique and talented they really are. It all ties into the company’s commitment to cultivating personal development for each employee. Instead of investing in just skill-specific training, they help employees develop their personal superpowers, which not only improves their lives at work, but at home too.

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About Lester Thornhill

Prior to his tenure at Life's Abundance, Lester Thornhill worked as a business consultant, identifying and creating innovative ways for companies to save time and money. He’s equipped with a strong background in I.T. and armed with an intuitive sense for business. Since becoming CEO of Life's Abundance in 2008, Lester has worked diligently to implement measures to put the company on a clear path to prosperity. Those who know him characterize him as an energetic, positive man of vision. Nothing brings Lester more satisfaction or fulfillment than helping others to succeed, not only in business but in their personal lives, too. As a leader, his tireless optimism, caring and can-do attitude have encouraged the Life's Abundance team to tackle multiple projects that have streamlined business, boosting sales and profits, even through the economic downturn. It’s that kind of people-oriented direction that’s won the admiration of not just his fellow employees, but also that of the company’s extensive network of dedicated Field Reps. Not only has his leadership garnered accolades of his peers, but also the broader business community … in 2012, they were given a ‘Florida Companies to Watch’ award for up-and-coming enterprises. His latest achievement is the successful restructuring of the business to an ESOP, an employee-owned business. Currently, he’s overseeing a rebranding effort that will increase company visibility and accessibility, opening up a world of possibilities for future growth.