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Practical Perspectives: Addressing Organizational Culture in the Process of “Transforming the Organization”
By Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, Jail Administrator, Scott County Sheriff's Office
Published: 12/06/2010

County jail
Editors note: The following is a continuing series of articles written by Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, of the Scott County Iowa Sheriff's Office. Mr. Tebbitt is a Jail Administrator and a PhD candidate. The series includes: contemporary issues with jail/corrections administration. The series uses the fictitious County name of Acme County.

As the Corrections Division organization within the Acme County Sheriff’s Office transitions from a past operational philosophy and practice modeling punishment motives – a custody practice of the past evidenced not to work, and has been proven to increase recidivism – leadership within the organization has been challenged. Leading up to 2008, Acme County had been deploying a Punishment Model of corrections within the jail system for approximately 110 years. From a cultural standpoint, multi-generational barriers to change embedded well into the organization’s leadership mindset poses the greatest challenge. The literature suggests conditions under these circumstances bring about tension that can arise from having two conflicting thoughts at the same time, as when one engages in behavior that is inconsistent with one's beliefs (Swann, 2007). In addition, leadership’s influences over the many years has unquestionably transcended to all levels of the organization as normal, acting as guideposts for distinguishing right and wrong, and instilling a cultural mindset that motivates resistance to change.

The leadership challenge clearly was to influence the overarching governance that represented the decision-maker within the County landscape. These organizational stakeholders, recognized to move along the transition process the organization needed to take on an employee development strategy. After thorough review and thought consideration in depth within the County, the jail was directed to use training and its staff development policy as the administrative vehicle and primary means to leverage transition of the assumed culprit of poor past and current performance outcome, e.g., the organization’s culture. This framework of this training staff development was seen as a prelude to engage a preceding cultural assessment of the organization, which in part was intending to validate assumed performance and opportunity gaps assumed to exist in the organization.

Early in the assessment and response, planning, and development process two primary concerns became abundantly apparent. The organizations subordinate leadership performance levels was determined to be a primary hindrance in advancing change interests, and their culturally influenced perceptions caused intentional road blocking behavior. Clearly, after setting the course for the organization to abandon the Punishment Model ideology and convert operational activities with “evidence-based best practices,” recognized today as the Rehabilitation Model, a need for progress and initiative visibility was needed. The strategy was built with the intent to bring focus on these areas determined in need of employee development resource leveraging a Visibility Model (Harris, 2008; Weiss & Molinaro, 2006). The approach proposed in this presentation involves creating a comprehensive strategy for subordinate leadership development and implementing the strategy effectively to bridge recognized gaps currently existing in the jail’s operation. The integrated-solution ensures that all development options are focused on helping the jail gain competitive advantage in moving from a strategic context (i.e., new operating environment, limited resourcing, and history) to strategic choices (i.e., current business strategy, supporting objectives, and recently revised Sheriff’s vision) (Tushman & O’Reilly, 2002; Weiss & Molinaro, 2006).

So what are we to do in finding solutions to the jail’s performance gap? Strategy is about being different… To stretch the organizations thinking to bring about different and better ways of providing service, delivering customer value, and growing from your experiences – finding your race to run and winning it (Abraham, 2005). Strategic thinking within our training and staff development is a way of solving strategic problems, and will facilitate closing the performance gaps currently existing in the jail. The literature suggests a number of key elements that have relevance for strategic thinking, namely systems thinking, creativity and vision (Bonn, 2005). The next logical step is to energize this sense of urgency through an organization of staff within the jail that would communicate the address of perceptions and attitudes hindering the transformation. The staff group, formed to both develop the action plans and steer the execution of the developed plans, would be charged with the mission to transcend the newly adopted inmate-management philosophy throughout the organization, eliminate all key obstacles, generate short term wins, lead and manage various associated change projects, and harbor new approaches deep in the organization’s culture (Kotter, 1996).

In the process, the Corrections Division has recently updated it entire general orders volume to include rewriting much of the Training & Staff Development Policy. This policy provides the division a method and measure to level its employee an organizational development capacity building, and change it culture in the process. Recognizing however, you don’t know what you don’t know, not having the information from a cultural assessment at this point this learner did attempt to infuse what is assumed of the jail’s culture and what has been driving decisions to date. It became very apparent from the outset has seen it necessary to infuse intelligence into the landscape of our community corrections decision-making process – formal and informal – to avoid wasting time in the process of transition (Rhine, Mawhorr & Parks, 2006; Shrum, 2004; Visher, 2006).

The literature suggests a number of key elements that have relevance for strategic thinking, namely systems thinking, creativity and vision (Bonn, 2005). All of which were a consideration in the formation and content of the information provided within the strategy itself. The resulting integrated-solution approach to leadership development represents a more strategic, synergistic and sustainable way for organizations to build the leadership capacity required to gain competitive advantage (Weiss & Molinaro, 2006), and thereby leverage cultural change assumed desperately needed. Hence, the premise is that strategic thinking within the organization’s training and staff development is a way of solving strategic problems, integrate cultural characteristics and leadership behaviors based on research supported maximizing performance dimensions, and will facilitate closing the performance gaps currently existing in the jail.

The literature also suggests that only teams with the right composition are critically important in the process of forming a group to guide change. Within the context of the business model, the group formed, as a coalition needs to be chartered with the power to create a synergizing effect that is empowered to multiply the desired transformation outcome. In this instance, the first step in putting together the kind of team that can direct a change effort is to find the right membership (Kotter, 1996). We have that right membership in the current Training Committee. Hence, heretofore, the guiding coalition formed most be equipped with the capacity to make needed change happen despite all the forces of inertia (Kotter, 1996).

The road ahead for the jail and its strategy to marshal employee development resources with intent capture an overarching cultural shift to more productive staff performance was energized through a sense of urgency in needing to advance change interests within the organization’s operating systems. This administrator realizes the strategy expanded the operating scope of the jail, and found the exercise to have a stimulating affect throughout the organization when effectively managed and implemented. In addition, subordinate leaders found in order continue the simulation; the next logical step was to stay focused on the concept that a sense of urgency from the outset brought visible results.

The cultural assessment and follow-on staff development training action plans have been determined critically important to the organization in the process of transcending the newly adopted inmate-management philosophy throughout the organization, and thereby enabling the organization to embrace a shift in culture has been found more effective. In addition, with greater cultural situational awareness the organization has been better equipped be to eliminate numerous key obstacles, generate short-term wins with an obligation to lead and manage various associated change projects, and harbor new approaches deep in the organization’s culture (Kotter, 1996), albeit a guide in the process of transforming the organization.

Other articles by Tebbitt:


Bonn, Ingrid. (2005). Improving strategic thinking: a multilevel approach. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 26(5/6), 336-354. Retrieved March 18, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 929444921).

Harris, Acme. (2008). Making Space for Dialogue. Offender Programs Report. Vol. 12 No. 1, Pages 1-6. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from Civic Research Institute. ISSN: 1093-7439.

Kotter, John P. (1996). Leading change. Chapter 1-2. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. ISBN: 0-87584-747-1.

Rhine, Edward E; Tina L Mawhorr, Evalyn C Parks. (2006). Implementation: The Bane of Effective Correctional Programs. Criminology & Public Policy, 5(2), 347-357. Retrieved March 18, 2009, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1072403961).

Shrum, Harvey (2004). No Longer Theory: Correctional Practices That Work. Journal of Correctional Education, 55(3), 225-235. Retrieved March 18, 2009, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 726738701).

Swann, William B Jr. (2007). Blind Spots. American Scientist, 95(5), 451-452. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1370718971).

Visher, Christy A. (2006). Effective Reentry Programs. Criminology & Public Policy, 5(2), 299- 302. Retrieved March 18, 2009, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1072403581).

Weiss, David and Molinaro, Vince. (2006). Integrated leadership development. Industrial and Commercial Training, 38(1), 3-11. Retrieved March 17, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1017980341).

Other articles by Tebbitt:


  1. charst46 on 12/09/2010:

    And on a more critical mode: what specific measures did you implement? What team structures did you employ? How did you reconcile team structure environments with the typical Mechanistic structure encountered in a majority of criminal justice organizations? What external stakeholders did you identify so that you could leverage change within the internal stakeholders and vice versa? These are critical compnents as well. Again I think the issue may not be with you but with the editors.

  2. charst46 on 12/09/2010:

    This level of discourse is appropriate for my dissertation (DBA) but when I discuss these sort of issues with line staff and most corrections professionals, every day English is the word. Major, you need to leave your dissertation material in your dissertation and for the academic journals. Actually, the criticism needs to be directed towards the editors. Cross publishing is fine, but sometimes you need to re-write...maybe contacting the original author? And I am certain your planning horizon is a little longer than what are we going to publish in our next mag publication...this month....

  3. prznboss on 12/06/2010:

    Pretty impressive. Now put the thesaurus aside and say it in English for us knuckle draggers!

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