Changing to a Thriving Culture

In my previous blog post “Choose Thriving Cultures in 2022,” I discussed the five steps organizational leaders and members must take to consciously choose what they want their culture to be and to attain that new culture. One of the most powerful and effective ways to do this is to use the quantitative tools developed by Human Synergistics. These tools measure, analyze, and report on cultural styles to identify the gaps between what the organization’s culture is today—the current culture—and where the leaders and stakeholders want it to be—the ideal culture.

Introducing “The Bigs”

One organization that did this beautifully is the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho chapter (BBBS). I have worked with them for many years, during which time they completely transformed their culture. Over a three-year period, we assessed and reassessed what was broken and how well the organization was healing, using Human Synergistics’ culture surveys. Today they continue to be a unique and important asset in the Boise, Idaho community.

bbbs sw idaho logo

Tools to Facilitate Transformation

BBBS’s vision included being recognized and becoming an organization of character: trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair, caring, and relationship-focused. Unfortunately, they weren’t known for what they do—matching “Bigs” with “Littles” as part of a mentorship program—and, instead, were often mistaken for the Boys and Girls Club of America, which focuses on after-school sports and care, not long-term relationship building.

To start laying a foundation for their transformation, we administered three surveys. The first two were versions of the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) to assess the current culture and the ideal culture. The first OCI measured the current culture in terms of behavioral norms (see below). The second OCI, the Ideal version, was used to create a vision and picture of what members thought the culture should be. The third survey administered was the Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI) to provide feedback on members’ perceptions of organizational structures, systems, technology (in terms of the design of jobs), and their skills and qualities. This climate survey was used to identify (and subsequently change) the factors that were shaping the culture and leading to suboptimal outcomes at the individual, group, and organizational levels.

The OCI measures values (ideal culture) and norms (current culture) using three descriptive categories:

  • Constructive: Includes norms for the Achievement, Self-Actualizing, Humanistic-Encouraging, and Affiliative behaviors (what we at K2OHSolutions refer to as “We” beliefs).
  • Passive/Defensive: Includes norms for Approval, Conventional, Dependent, and Avoidance behaviors (“Me” beliefs).
  • Aggressive/Defensive: Includes norms for Oppositional, Power, Competitive, and Perfectionistic behaviors (“Me” beliefs).

Human Synergistics created a “Circumplex” to visually illustrate an organization’s results on the OCI surveys along these 12 styles. The smaller image below represents the ideal culture as described by 21 members of BBBS in 2017. BBBS board members and staff deemed the Constructive styles to be optimal and the Passive/Defensive styles unsuitable for their chapter. However, the current version of the inventory showed that the then-prevailing norms were not aligned with their values and the ideal culture they desired and needed.

bbbs profile a.

The “gaps” or differences between the chapters’ current and ideal profiles can be addressed using Human Synergistics’ “How Culture Works Model.” This framework, along with the OEI results, highlighted the climatic factors responsible for the disconnect between the ideal and current culture—an important piece of the puzzle. BBBS’s survey results indicated that the agency’s climate failed to fully encourage or reinforce Constructive norms. Instead, Defensive norms were being shaped and reinforced by negative factors including inadequate goal setting, job design and, most importantly, BBBS’s inability to articulate its vision, mission, and strategies for serving the community. Beyond the need to better articulate the vision, the survey data showed that outcomes such as members’ roles clarity and the adaptability of the organization could be targeted for improvement.

bbbs profile b.

Character Matters

At the request of Emily Johnson, CEO of the chapter since 2016, we shared with the agency’s leaders, board members, and staff the OCI and OEI survey results, the framework above, and our Organizations of Character Model. We then began planning around vision, mission, goals, strategies, and the nature of work and roles at BBBS. Through the intentional inclusion of the workforce, Bigs and family members, it became widely accepted that one of the central goals was to achieve a more balanced Constructive and “We-focused” culture. Organizational members began to see progress toward this goal after just a few months of meetings.

Leaders began to talk about what was going right and to celebrate their achievements. In addition to generating momentum and hopefulness, they developed a three-year plan that included three major areas of focus:

  1. Organizational Resilience: Create and maintain a safe space where members and stakeholders can discuss and identify BBBS’s vision, mission, core values, and passions, including the importance of its voice and brand.
  2. Community/Business Relations: Frame a conversation around BBBS’s positive influence on the community.
  3. The Business of BBBS: Find new opportunities for growth and financial sustainability.

With a solid mission in place, a focus on the ideal culture, along with improved processes and procedures and more-clearly defined roles, BBBS leaders and members now knew where they were headed, what was needed to get there, and how to empower their stakeholders. A spirit of teamwork emerged that carried over into new and highly successful fundraising efforts—and BBBS had a surprisingly good year, financially, in 2020. In fact, they secured the funding needed to pay off a loan on their facility.

To maintain momentum and continue improving, they decided to retest using the OCI and OEI. The results stunned us all. All of the areas that were targeted for development had, indeed, improved so much that the culture now reflected the Ideal Profile that was developed three years earlier.

bbbs profile c.

Like many organizations, BBBS experienced a hiccup recently. I checked in with Emily Johnson to hear how they were doing during these challenging times. Since the leaders and team members were already familiar with the tools and exercises needed to identify a viable short-term plan, they were able to come up with one to get them through the pandemic and into the future. Emily said:

We were struggling a bit as we onboarded 30% of our team. I again found myself leaning on the results of our culture survey. Our focus had drifted, and we needed to recalibrate. Once we were back to intentionally clarifying roles and responsibilities, I perceived more employee satisfaction, especially in the onboarding process. Based on the changes we made, we feel much more confident that we can adapt to today’s challenges while continuing our mission to serve the community.

bbbs kathy & emily
Kathy Hagler and Emily Johnson CEO of BBBS

Choosing and changing to a thriving culture in 2022 is possible. With purpose, intention, and reliable and valid assessments and surveys, you can quantify the needed changes and mark your process. Here’s to healthy, thriving cultures in 2022!

For a video and slide-deck of the BBBS case story, click here.

Editor’s Note:
The culture and climate terminology discussed here is from Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. and J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D., Organizational Culture Inventory® and Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®, Human Synergistics International, Plymouth, MI. Copyright © 1987-2022. All rights reserved; used by the author with permission.


Choose Thriving Cultures in 2022

Recently, people from different areas of my life have asked me if today’s problems are too big to solve. They fearfully wonder about what tomorrow will bring. What will be the new normal in their work and personal lives? While the issues today are more complex—and more intense—than I’ve seen before, the root cause of our problems is the same: We are all struggling to survive when we want to thrive—and so are our organizations.

Having spent a lifetime helping and healing organizations, I can assure you that we can move from crisis to creation. It’s all about choice. Most of us are good at knowing what we don’t want, but not what we do want. This causes us to react subconsciously as opposed to intentionally and consciously setting a course. But without a vision and conscious choices to move in that direction, we will tread water—sometimes until we drown.

Using intention and inclusion—consciously and jointly changing, adapting, and improving—involves a five-step process: 1. Stop broken thoughts and feelings; 2. Consciously calm fear; 3. Allow connection with others; 4. Reinvent actions and processes; and 5. Share the outcome.

Step One: Stop the Brokenness

There are plenty of factors that divide us and put us at odds in the workplace today. A climate that is hard to navigate has been created by: Dealing daily with pandemic burnout and new mitigation strategies for Covid; the need for hybrid work solutions; the desire for inclusion, diversity, and equality; the Great Resignation and today’s hiring challenges; supply chain constraints; and more. Remember, every individual brings their baggage and concerns to the workplace (or to school, etc.). To heal this brokenness, we must stop the wounded frame of mind and shine a light on the issues by naming them and seeing them as opportunities for growth and renewal.

Step Two: Consciously Calm Fears

As I mentioned above, the root of all the stress and chaos is a primitive drive to survive. With a virus circulating in many workplaces, survival takes on a literal meaning, making people even more stressed. Underneath it all, most people want to find meaning and purpose in their work, not just a paycheck. They want to know what their workplace will look like in one to five to ten years, specifically if it can transform into a place that enriches and expands them.

Fear is natural, so welcome it! We all want to move from fear to comfort as soon as we can. But we can learn to honor our fear, recognizing its arrival, listening to its intelligence, and respecting it as a harbinger of transformation. Indeed, it informs us that the change we are contemplating is significant, enabling us to approach it with the proper reverence.

Step Three: Allow Connection with Others

Organizations operate effectively only when their members share in creating the vision (where the organization is headed) and mission (its reason for being). The intentional inclusion of individuals in their workplace allows them to regularly evaluate their shared strategic direction and reaffirm passion for their mission. It becomes their professional calling and their avenue for growth and satisfaction.

Step Four: Reinvent Actions and Processes

Once members are included in creating direction and reaffirming purpose, they then must regularly explore:

  1. What are our stakeholders’ needs?
  2. How will we address these needs in the most efficient and effective manner?
  3. Are all our members prepared with the latest and best tools and skills to do so successfully?
  4. “How are we doing?” must be asked of and answered regularly by external stakeholders and workplace members.

One of the best ways to get individuals to engage in and guide the future of the organization is to have them (as stakeholders) assess the processes and procedures currently in place and suggest areas for improvement. This may result in, for example, process reinvention, additional staff development opportunities like cross training, and engaging in new efforts designed to increase job satisfaction and opportunities for advancement.

Step Five: Share the Outcomes

Developing both quantitative and qualitative data on results is key. While it’s true that (almost) everyone wants to feel good about what they are doing, sharing information on specific improvements allows all team members to understand how they have contributed to the work and accomplishments! It also elevates confidence in the vision, mission, and processes in place.

Human Synergistics provides the necessary tools for analyzing and reporting on the workplace: the Ideal and Current versions of the Organizational Culture Inventory®. Using the two forms of the culture survey together with the Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® provides the ideal vision of the culture, the current view of the culture and climate (including the reciprocity between the two), and the specific gaps that need to be addressed. Used in conjunction with qualitative focus group input, the exact map of workplace satisfaction and success is not only ready to be drawn and defined, it is also within reach.

We can meet the challenges in 2022 and thrive. We must be intentionally inclusive, focused on our future vision, and diligent in our search for meaning through qualitative and quantitative feedback on our values, beliefs, their resultant behaviors, and our shared successes. Let’s all choose a thriving culture for our future.