|Corrections Systems: Creating Positive Culture and Dynamic Leadership|
|By Carol Flaherty-Zonis, MA, MSW, Arizona-based consultant and trainer|
Corrections facilities often operate as if they are comprised of independent parts—the silos we hear about and experience. The staff of each part know very well their perceived level of importance and the power of their voice. All too often, voices that are not as highly valued, coming from staff who are nonetheless critical to the running of the facility, are not heard, or are stifled and disregarded.
My work as a consultant to numerous corrections facilities and systems since the 1990s has involved exploring their cultures (the values, assumptions and beliefs that drive the way people think and behave at work) and working with management and staff to change the culture where people in the system thought change was needed. In addition, using a unique strategic planning process I (with a few corrections professionals) developed under agreement with the National Institute of Corrections (the publication detailing the process is Building Culture Strategically), I have guided the planning/culture change process in several large facilities. This work focuses on strategic thinking, planning, management and response, in the context of exploring all aspects of the culture and organization.
In the work I have done (using Rubik’s Cube® as the theoretical model), I have found the cultures in corrections facilities to be dominated by the following characteristics: conventional, “don’t rock the boat” thinking; a pattern of dependence, with a value on following rather than leading; avoidance of conflict, leaving many disagreements unresolved and even unidentified; a high level of oppositional behavior, focusing on what is wrong and holding on to past wrongs rather than working to find solutions; and a limited willingness to share power and information. While I have found many staff working to reach a high level of achievement, managers encouraging staff’s potential, and a sense of camaraderie, I never have observed these traits running on all eight cylinders in one place.
When I have asked people working in the facilities to describe the culture as they would want it to be, they invariably want the workplace to have a focus on high achievement; to provide opportunities to develop their potential; to function with a sense of team; and they want to be encouraged and valued.
What can be done to bring about the positive change people want?
The work requires conscious, deliberate and strategic thinking and action. It may require the assistance of an outsider—someone who can gather information and perceptions without creating fear; is willing and capable of honestly identifying challenges and strengths; can provoke constructively; and understands how systems function. It requires leaders who are committed to the work, are trustworthy, and can inspire people to be the best they can be. Ultimately, people have to see “what’s in it for me.” (WIIFM).
More to follow…
Editors Note: Corrections.com author, Carol Flaherty-Zonis, MA, MSW, is an Arizona-based consultant and trainer. She works in the areas of strategic planning, organizational development, leadership and management development, conflict resolution and teambuilding. She facilitates the course, “Promoting a Positive Corrections Culture,” and the “Building Culture Strategically” process, both of which she developed under contract with NIC. Carol can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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