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Changing Culture - Part 2
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 07/31/2017

Ariel prison

The following is the second installment of a two part article:

One of the most common expectations is the fact that employees expect their leaders to create or cultivate their culture. Although it is a collective process, it must come from a source that has authority, power, control, and influence in the business. The most important question posed is “what does the right kind of culture look like and why?”

Honestly speaking, this is where the values must be shared and collectively expressed and desired. Let’s say for example your organization has values of ‘winning’ – that’s a very common goal and value so it is often expressed and created as a strategy to win whether it be in sports or in business. Every sport or business needs to win over potential athletes or clients to have a winning combination. Basically speaking, what that company seeks out is people and their shared values with the business or organization. That is what it looks like from their own perspective as they sought those best suited to win in either a sport or a business marketplace.

Here is the downside of winning – placing such a high value on ‘winning’ can and often does create a culture of greed. It also creates a situation where you lower your standards and devaluate what was once a reasonable standard to live by or to work with. Do you get the picture? When you place such a high value on winning – you forget about people. A culture for winning could cause you to lose focus on the things that were important before.

It may create leaders who will turn a blind eye to all sorts of misdeeds or allegations that normally would not be culturally acceptable under any circumstances. See how the selection or choice of your leaders is the key to setting the right kind of culture? The leader must be in tune with the intent of the mission and the collective values of the organization as well as its vision. He or she must model it and stand by to support it no matter what the alignment must be perfectly in line with the dynamics of the real culture and do otherwise forces a sub-culture to be created hence, the espoused or advocated culture. Here is the most crucial element of changing cultures – a leader cannot force a culture to change but they can model the desired values, ethics, behaviors or actions.

If you want people to change to a new set of values or standards, be the role model it takes to show them what you expect from yourself as well as others. Work with a passion if you want your employees to work with passion. Make sure you have a high visibility factor so they can see your values, passion or creativity on the job. Your personal enthusiasm can be contagious and if you take risks, then they will step out of the box and take risks as well. Let them know you have taken risks and failed. Show them it adds to the overall experience and learning curve when you do so.

Give them the confidence they need to do their jobs with risks and give them a safe work environment. A safe workplace is a hallmark sign of healthy cultures. It provides and breeds trust, transparency, reduces gossip and fosters the truth. It allows others to be themselves and provide genuine service and passion to the mission.

A safe workplace promotes growth – either team growth or individual growth. Your career will experience all kinds of challenges because a safe environment leads to risk taking and taking risks is essential to creativity and innovative ideas. Do an audit of internal policies and procedures and see if it promotes a healthy environment. Are the middle and upper-level managers accessible and is the communication transparent and clear enough to avoid any errors or misunderstandings and do your employees feel safe? This kind of positive interaction promotes both professional and social connections and collaboration.

When you review policies are you asking people what is working and what isn’t? can you or your employees identify your structure weaknesses and if it is weak what does it produce or unintended consequences and how to you make things better? In some cases, the hiring and selection of new employees are often compared to a good, bad or ugly experience. Regardless how it starts, the employer is all upbeat and makes many promises and at the same time, you are accepting those promises at full face value because you are trying hard to please the recruiter or employer. Both sides working hard to come to an agreement before the deal is sealed.

Then in time, reality sets in and you soon find out that the relationship has conditions that weren’t set in before. Often times, you wonder if the relationship will last or if the promises are kept. For some, it has real staying power and for others, it’s a sign to leave and let it go. When you are recruiting a highly talented or robust potential producing employee, there’s a strong temptation to gloss over the realities of the culture that might not fit with the would-be star. Or an eager would-be employee might pretend everything is fine and role play just to get the job. once hired, that may change for the good or the bad.

Remember the promises made that there would be no overtime? Remember how the recruiter said the company value work and your personal life balance? Remember they said you could flex your time and set your own hours to some extent? Sounds great. But the unspoken reality often includes, “You know, once you’ve put in 60 hours a week instead of the usual 40 hours.” The smart play is to be transparent about expectations and to value cultural fit even over talent because a talented worker who hates his or her job ultimately causes more harm than good.

Without a doubt, you know some of these employees or perhaps, that may be you. Likewise, if employees on the team are destroying the culture because they aren’t a fit – they don’t share the values, they don’t buy into the culture – then it’s often best to help them find a great job at some other organization. This is especially true of cultural serpents, those back-biting snakes who gossip and actively work against the values you are building or advocating for the work group. These often are the highest performers and, thus, the hardest to counsel or fire. But the longer they stay, the more they poison your cultural waters. The warning here is to be sure you don’t build a culture of ‘me, me, me’ or in an environment of ‘entitlement’ that can ruin a work group or a team faster than anything you can imagine.

This is where leadership steps in. Getting rid of cultural snakes in the grass not only removes a source of cultural poison, it sends a message to everyone on the team that your espoused or advocated values are important and that there’s a sense of accountability. That type of accountability is vital even when the violations of cultural conduct are less nefarious. A good leader or team of leaders have the ability to infuse energy into the culture and keeps the culture alive and growing while at the same time, align this with desired outcomes. If the leader of the organization or the workgroup did an excellent job of ensuring a sound alignment of values in coordination with organizational mission, vision, and values most employees will buy-in and live it out making it a synchronized effort.

This is where role-modeling yourself is important as the people can see you. It will result in others joining you and thus gather around a common bond or commitment that is critical to growth and success. Personally, and professionally. In any culture, recognition and rewards need to be considered and thrived for as a way of life – a matter of routine but with sincerity and respect. It should never be a one-time thing and awards ceremonies should be invested in as something special and not with a ‘going through the motion’ kind of attitude or behavior. Good leaders know who they are and how important it is to do this kind of activity throughout the year, formal and informal, to show appreciation for those who are living out the advocated or espoused culture. Remember that real culture and espoused culture are dynamics you must pay attention to at all times. Keep in mind, culture grows or declines with time.

The more effort that is given the better the growth while neglect will bring the culture to an end or worse, steer it in the wrong direction. People will come on board to take the place of those who have moved up or on. The competition changes. The world changes and every employee plays a role in the culture you, as a leader, are cultivating. It requires a lot of attention to details and care and definitely some critical adjustments along the way, but if you keep working at it, keep cultivating your garden, the organizational results can be productive, meaningful and spectacularly self-fulfilling for you and the others who benefit from a healthy workplace environment.

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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