Part 3 of a 4 part series – Changing the culture of an organization, a new sheriff comes to town.
Dr. Dennis Clodi
The most influential members of the board told the incoming Executive Director he was going to need outside help to make the changes needed to get the organization functioning properly. He was given leeway to hire outside consultants to assist with policy development, staff training, financial people to do audits, and new attorneys to assist with terminations that were sure to be needed. A change in the culture was about to begin.
The new director demanded better record keeping, better financial records, and more accountability in every aspect of the organization’s operations. To the staff this meant it would be time to attempt doing to the new director what they had done in the past.
The staff was taken by surprise that someone from their own midst had been hired as the new Executive Director. They incorrectly assumed that since he had been one of them, he would go along with the status quo. They did not anticipate any major changes to be made, new expectations to be set, or staff being subjected to any disciplinary procedures. They could not have been more wrong. This lack of “assuming” life would not change would be the undoing of many on the staff and the ultimate reason the culture actually did make a significant and positive change.
The new director immediately established a new vision for the organization. The staff was not bothered by this. This had been done before and quickly undermined. This was not going to be the case this time. The director began to monitor whether or not staff members were working in a manner that would support the new vision. He demanded better record keeping, better financial records, and more accountability in every aspect of the organization’s operations. To the staff this meant it would be time to attempt doing to the new director what they had done in the past. They disregarded policies and even direct orders. They felt their ability to use the relationship with board members would take care of their new problems.
With a consultant on board working with the director, decisions on how to combat this inappropriate relationship with board members began a priority. Unknown to the staff and board members who were abusing their authority, certain agenda items were not put up for discussion based on a phone poll of which board members would be in attendance at upcoming board meetings. This delayed action on some items, but it did allow policies to be put in place when supportive board members were present and certain other members were absent. This became a very important strategy for getting changes made in spite of staff efforts to stop them.
With the help of the consultant and outside technology assistance, it was soon discovered that the technology staff member was monitoring internal emails. Once that was known, key administrators stopped using the internal email system. Although staff and administration each had a folder in which to store their word-processed or other work documents. The technology person was also monitoring these folders. He was disseminating information to the staff determined to get the “new guy” fired. A decision was made to do three things:
Shortly after the new director took office, he had professional development training of paradigm shifts, coping with change, and conflict resolution provided to the staff.
A policy was established to prohibit the general staff from access to open Internet access. The technology staff member was directed as to which staff would be allowed access. We ultimately discovered, in addition to the “spying” he was doing on the two administrators, he was also giving certain of his friends on the staff access to the Internet in defiance of policy. After a period of time dealing with other staff issues, the technology director was told we knew of his spying activities and that he had given open access to the Internet to people who were not on the approved list. He was terminated. Because of being terminated, he filed a suit against the agency. This was one of the early incidences where the new organization attorneys were brought into action. After many of his threats and letters to legislators, state officials, and other people he felt could apply pressure on the board to fire the director, he concluded he was having no success and losing considerable amounts of money for legal assistance.
Shortly after the new director took office, he had professional development training of paradigm shifts, coping with change, and conflict resolution provided to the staff. The core of the disgruntled staff was brazen enough to confront the consultant during training sessions to complain about the expectation that they should have to make any changes. They were vocal and disruptive to the point the consultant had to ask some of them they were using the wrong forum for voicing their feelings and if they continued with the comments, they would be asked to leave the training. This core of staff was made up of professional and support staff. There was wide spread staff unhappiness at every level of the organization.
The director was told by legal counsel to keep records of all violations of policy discovered, disciplinary actions taken, hostile conversations that took place with administrators, and observations of performance. These records were kept off site to ensure confidentiality of the records and potential actions being planned against certain staff members. No written records were produced on equipment inside the organization. All were generated from home locations.
We knew terminations were inevitable. We make a strategic decision that when a termination was to be made, it would be done at the end of the workday on Saturday. The staff member being terminated would be called in by the director, confronted with the charges, told of the termination, and would be walked out of the building. The terminated person would be required to make an appointment with the Associate Director to return to the building to pick up personal items. During those times, the terminated member would not be allowed to talk with other staff members and all items removed from the office were logged for future reference.
So readers can understand the kinds of problems going on by disgruntled staff, examples will now be cited:
The board authorized employment of an Executive Assistant to work with personnel and finances for the organization. Once responsibilities for some of the work were taken over by the new EA, other people felt it was time to leave. This was one-step that ultimately led to the significant change in culture in the organization.
Another issue that existed was the number of people of the Board of Directors who had vested interests in certain staff being allowed to stay and continue to not be accountable to the new Executive Director. Although the main board officers were quality people, they did not represent a majority of the board, thus those with personal agendas, friends, and relatives on the staff could always pass or not pass policies or decisions that would make the organization better.
Part 4 will discuss the specifics of what had to be done to complete the change in this organization.