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Changing Culture - Part I
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 07/24/2017

Ariel prison The following is the first installment of a two part article:

Without a doubt, the very first vibration you feel as a new employee is an element or the assemblage of the employer’s culture. Almost without exception, you can pick up the vibes the moment you step into the thick of things and realize where you ended up is sometimes between a rock and a hard place or quite the opposite, perhaps a Shangri-La or utopia of some kind. Keep in mind, culture is an inference and not always a factual realism or dynamic.

It can be represented from many different views of how you act and how they expect you to act or speak when working for a business that has a strong internal culture that reveals itself almost immediately. How you handle the culture depends on how you view it to be in your own mind. There are two definite ways to change an organization’s culture. The first is just to do nothing and second is do something. Once you understand that culture is not static or passive and stands by at an idle, you begin to understand that culture is always evolving because it is a product of living breathing things in your surroundings whether it be at home or at work.

Culture has been called a ‘living creature’ with its own dynamics and personality. To completely understand the culture, you must realize that is it shaped or created by shared beliefs, customs, practices, values and morals, experiences and most of all circumstances. It is a morphically type of creature that can change as often as the dynamics allow it to happen. What we should stress at this point is that culture being a change agent at times does not always morph into something positive or something that is a desired quality.

It is totally depended on the moods, values, and collection of individual qualities contained within people and since it is shaped by people, it could change or morph into something good or bad and be either better or worse than it was before. Almost one thing is always guaranteed, it never stays the same so there are always ‘gotcha’ or ‘wow’ moments that may give you a clue that no matter how much it changes, it is never a done deal. It can never be done changing. It is in fact, a constant dynamic that sometimes grows or declines in value or importance. In some cases, it stretches and other times it contracts to give and take things from the surroundings.

Much compared to a relationship, it has its own ups and downs and it develops over time with constant and never ending awareness that it exists. Keep in mind, like a relationship, without giving it any care, it can stop growing and decline in value or importance. It needs constant care because when it stops growing, it begins to die as it starves from the nutrients that it needs to grow or exist. Hence the word culture is associated with the same root word ‘cultivate.’ If you use the analogy of growing plants, there are many kinds of produce, flowers and other living things that grow with practical use and beauty but often die if you let the weeds choke the life out of them.

It really does work that way. Hopefully, your eye is on the growth of new things and positive things that make you committed to sowing new seeds or good seeds. That is how you make a positive difference. Keep in mind – culture is how people behave, thinks, act and do things without being told to do something.

This obviously borders on ethics but for the moment, culture is what you do from moment to moment without being told to do it. I am sure you can see how your own morals, training, ambitions, and creativity plays into the culture and then combined with others, how it fits or doesn’t fit in the organizational circle and how you [either individually or as a group] want it to be.

This is the real culture of the organization – not what is posted on the website or employee handbook but who and how people discuss matters at the cooler or closed meetings and correspond via emails or talk on the phone. Often, the real culture is rarely politically correct and caution must be expressed that one can easily misunderstand intent by not filling in the gaps between what you want people to actually see or what you expect them to do or perform.

Thus, we have two cultures – the real culture and the espoused valued culture. One is real and the other is superficially created. You can see how the espoused culture is easier to represent as it is in so many ways, the things you want it to be. We can all come up with the things we value at work and collaborate such efforts to present a positive kind of culture based on honesty, integrity etc. a good person can see what it will take to fill the gaps between the real culture and the desired or advocated culture.

Surely, this must be a collaborative process that must be achieved to attain the right environment for the business or workplace. Keep in mind, one person cannot establish culture on a positive balance or create a consistent dynamic that all can adjust to or agree with. Anything less is despotic or tyrannical in nature and defeats the entire process of changing the culture for the good. The more the culture lives out your expectations as a group, the better the balance.

If employees are involved in defining the culture, you are doomed to fail from the beginning as you have no buy-in on the end product that you expect them to be happy with or satisfied in as they are involved in the most crucial factor to bring those values and dynamics alive creating a living culture desired. What is important to remember is that many companies, businesses or organizations, government or non-government are ‘mission’ oriented and shape their culture accordingly.

This is not just for competitive purposes but to also have a segment in their organization that creates higher levels of innovation and at the same time, retain a much higher percentage of employees that other businesses. Mission oriented workplaces actually have a culture that is shaped by the employees’ personalities and thereby creating an organizational personality. If done right, a culture can be created that is customized into an identity personality that grabs their company’s beliefs about the company’s purpose while fostering trust, accountability and enjoying their work coupled with arduous work and tenacity that is shared and demonstrated openly and vigorously. Come back next week and read part two of this article.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


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