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Xylem Uses the SDI to Help Adapt to Change

A leading water technology has committed to the Strengths Deployment Inventory (SDI) as a key lever to help during times of change. From team development to high potential programs and front-line manager training, the SDI is a key component of Xylem’s internal talent development offering.

“It’s the best tool I know of that will help us take a look at better understanding what is happening, give us a language to talk about it, and suggest some alternative behaviors.”

Charles Cook

Learning and Development Manager at Xylem

The Challenge

Xylem, a leading global water technology company, dedicates development effort on its managers as a way to drive change throughout the organization.

“During times of change, most of the challenges that you have aren’t associated with the change,” said Charles Cook, Learning and Development Manager at Xylem. “They are associated with how people are receiving the change message, and how they are delivering it to others. We want to better prepare managers in the middle of the organization for that challenge.”

Xylem introduced the SDI into the organization in 2012 to help address some of the challenges it was facing around change. Since then, the SDI has been helpful in directly addressing these challenges through greater understanding of individual and team motives and by improving communication.

“The SDI is one of the best tools I know for helping people understand differences within and between teams, and for seeing the potential for conflict resolution,” said Cook. In addition, Cook explained that the SDI helps people realize that many issues result from perception as opposed to an actual problem with a particular team member.

The Core Strengths Solution

Xylem initially used the SDI to develop its teams and in high-potential development programs in Europe and the Americas. The high potential program in particular focuses on technical skills, but also uses the SDI to emphasize motives and behaviors that drive success. “What we are trying to do with our high potential program is to get that across,” noted Cook. “Making choices about the best way to bring yourself is more effective than ‘That’s the way I am, take it or leave it.’”

In 2017, Xylem launched the “Manager as Change Leader” course, which uses the SDI as a core component, for its 3,000 front-line managers. To date, over 750 front-line managers have completed the training. Managers who have experienced the course often ask, “Can I bring this to my team?” stated Cook. “It’s not coming down from up high. It’s really a tool that works and because it works when managers experience it, they say, ‘I’d like to bring this to my team as well.’”

In 2018, Xylem expanded the use of the SDI by delivering team SDI sessions virtually – a remote facilitator partnering with a local manager who has already experienced the SDI. Virtual sessions reduce travel costs making the content that much more valuable globally.


Xylem has received several tangible benefits by using the SDI as part of its training and development efforts. First, it enables greater understanding. “I’ve been in a location where we had 15 languages spoken in the same building,” said Cook. “How do you get people to connect with folks when language is not the big connector? Personality can be a big part of it.”

Second, the SDI facilitates better conversations and interactions. As Cook said, participants who go through the training typically say, “This better explains some of the challenges we have had within the team and at least we are able to talk about it now.”

Further, the SDI supports manager development through better coaching conversations. “I am helping managers not only have a better conversation but I am helping them point to how can they get people to think back about ‘I am simply dialing back something I am already doing’,” noted Cook. In addition, “It’s not just coaching, not just having a nice conversation, but there is a practical element to this in terms of how we may be unconsciously treating others because of our preferences.”

With ongoing success, the SDI continues to expand throughout the Xylem organization. “There’s only one reason that I recommend the SDI,” said Cook. 

“It’s the best tool I know of that will help us take a look at better understanding what is happening, give us a language to talk about it, and suggest some alternative behaviors.”

About the Company:

Xylem is a leading water technology company committed to “solving water” by creating innovative and smart technology solutions to meet the world’s water, wastewater, and energy needs.

In a world of ever-growing challenges, Xylem delivers innovative water technology solutions throughout the cycle of water. From collection and distribution to reuse and return to nature, its highly efficient water technologies, industrial pumps and application solutions not only use less energy and reduce life-cycle costs, but also promote sustainability.

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