“Mother Strength” To Help Build Strengths-Based Culture at Interface”
Throughout her career, Marj Barlow has been many things to many people, including mother, homemaker, teacher, college instructor, business consultant, counselor, therapist, speaker and author.
To many Interface associates in the Americas who have had the pleasure of working with her, she is known as someone who truly listens and provides solid advice for productive, healthy relationships. Due to her role to help Interface build a strengths based culture, she is increasingly known for helping associates live up to their potential through her strengths coaching.
Over the next several years, Interface plans to extend the Clifton StrengthsFinder survey administered through The Gallup Organization to every associate so that they can identify their top strengths from among 34 attributes or strengths categories. The idea behind a strengths based culture centers around the positive professional development of associates through strengths recognition and development. If an employee is enabled to fully utilize his or her natural talents within the workplace, then his or her level of engagement also will increase.
“I like to think of her as ‘Mother Strength,’” said John Wells, President and CEO of Interface Americas. “She is an avid learner and a great listener, and is curious about how people think, work and become engaged.”
Marj’s wellspring of wisdom and knowledge derives from a wealth of professional training and life experiences. She obtained her M.S. in Psychology from Texas A&M and her Ph.D. in Education from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She enjoyed a career as a licensed Professional Counselor/Marriage and Family Therapist for public agencies and in private practice until she entered the field of corporate consulting.
Marj grew up on a cotton farm in Texas and became a widowed mother at age 33 when her first husband died in 1962. In addition to rearing five children, she pursued her doctor’s degree after age 45. She has run a successful private consulting practice, is a frequent speaker and has written two books – Couples Night Out and The Possible Woman. She is working on several other books – Wisdom in the Workplace, The Possible Woman Gets Engaged and The Spiral of Growth.
So when Interface launched employee engagement and strengths based culture initiatives with Gallup a few years ago, Marj was a “natural fit,” Wells notes, given her professional qualifications, interests in developing people’s talent, and her previous work with Interface.
She is motivated primarily by her work with people. “People are the most interesting and thrilling of all creation,” she said. “I find each one to be a pearl in hiding and, if I somehow can ask the right question or say the right thing to stimulate (or irritate like a grain of sand) the growth of that pearl, somehow I feel exhilarated and “on track” with my purpose in life.”
Marj began working with Interface on a consulting basis as a Relationship Coach in 1996, working mostly with couples and families. She met with individuals and teams and conducted workshops for focus groups, all in an effort to help strengthen personal relationships that have an effect both in and outside of the office.
In 2004 and 2005, she hosted InterfaceFLOR Commercial’s regional VP’s in individual sessions, which were the beginning of Strengths coaching. All RVP’s are now qualifying as certified Strengths coaches.
“Marj has been an important advisor and coach to me in terms of techniques and strategies that lead to productive, fruitful relationships,” said Wells. He noted that the concepts and strategies that shaped her earlier work in personal relationships also applies to building strong business relationships and teams in the workplace.
Today, she still counsels individuals and couples at Interface, largely by phone, but the bulk of her work focuses on coaching associates on understanding and developing their professional strengths based on the 34 themes or attributes in the Clifton StrengthsFinder survey administered by The Gallup Organization.
“Eventually, the focus on the people of Interface led us to the Gallup Organization,” Marj said. “The Gallup philosophy is aligned with the developmental approach that I believe in—positive (strengths-based) psychology. If you focus on the strengths and talents that you do have, you tend to be much more productive, fulfilled and happy rather than focusing on your weaknesses and the things you don’t have as much control over.”
Marj is certified by Gallup as a Strengths Coach (May, 2005) and as a presenter for “How Full Is Your Bucket?” (2006), based on the book written by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton.
The key to building a Strengths-Based Culture she says lies in the positive development of associates. “When each employee can know what they do well, and has a chance to do it every day with a manager who sees and acknowledges the good work, then the whole organization takes a turn upward on the spiral of growth into becoming a fully engaged work force.”
Based on her work to date, Marj has received much positive feedback already. “An AE told me, he always thought everybody enjoyed meeting people, getting to know them. He didn’t realize that was called a talent. More than one person has said, this has helped them to understand their family and friends better now.”
Her strengths coaching is done mostly on the telephone, with scheduled coaching appointments. “I still travel to meetings and have been enjoying speaking to A&D groups in different regions, taking the Gallup approach to customers,” she added.
“All of my work is in support of the Social Sustainability goal. At present, I am developing more action-oriented use of talents, so that employees will see the value of leading from their strengths.”
“Marj will be an instrumental partner in helping us to build a strengths based culture,” said David Hobbs, President of InterfaceFLOR Commercial. “She’s been a good friend to me and to Interface, and I think we as a company are much more aware of how to develop and leverage our strengths because of her efforts.”
Marj will be extending her work to Belleville, Ontario in May to lead coaching sessions for IFC Canada. She also is actively involved in IWIN, or Interface Women in the Network, and has led several IWIN sessions on leveraging individual strengths and positive personal development.
“Interface will greatly benefit from her experience, wisdom and ever growing curiosity,” said Wells. “Her professional expertise and her natural talents will help us move forward in the coming years to build a strengths based culture. We are very fortunate to have her on our team.”