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.


About the Author

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Kathy Hagler

Kathy Hagler, PhD, is the founder of K2OHSOLUTIONS and author of Art of Scars (Sept, 2021). Known as an organizational healer in the industry, Hagler partners with organizations through good times, crises, challenges, and obstacles, and moves their culture, climate, and character forward with clear vision, strategic intent, and success in an everchanging world. Mentored by both Dr. Peter Drucker and Dr. W. Edwards Deming, long considered the fathers of management, Hagler is, herself, a pioneer in the field of organizational development. To learn more about Hagler or Art of Scars, go to