This past weekend, our library held a community event called Connection, Acceptance and Community: an Unconference, in partnership with the school district. Last month we held an event In Honour of the Community Commitment to Truth, Healing & Reconciliation, in partnership with Truth and Reconciliation Canada. A few months back, we put together a Newcomers Networking with Local Businesses event with support from Training Innovations. In all cases, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Working collaboratively with community members and partner groups, staff modelled inclusivity and compassion. I am immensely proud of the commitment, professionalism and range of talents and skills that are employed by the folks who work in our library. As I witness their professional growth, I see their confidence and capabilities expand. They are creating safe and respectful opportunities for important community conversations and connections to take place. They are taking a leadership role in partnering effectively with other organizations and building the Library’s social capital within the community.
They are at the leading edge of new librarianship in their ability to connect and facilitate in support of building and creating community knowledge and engagement – and inspiring new stories.
I love that we have become the sort of organization that can pull off high-quality community events with purpose, providing meaningful experiences that engage, provoke and support the hearts and minds of community members.
Two years ago when I joined this library, my sense was that the organization was hungry and ripe for change. It had been leaderless for awhile, and staff were clearly ready for a fresh new start. It was already a solid library with exceptional staff; and yet it lacked energy, vision and forward momentum.
Stepping into the role of leader at that juncture, I saw a mountain of possibility for the library. I saw untapped energy and capability amongst the staff. And I knew that the organization’s prevailing culture of extreme hierarchy and control would get in the way of moving forward.
I don’t know about you, but I can never be my best in an environment of extreme control, shame and blame. To achieve the impact that we wanted to have on our community, we would need a culture that is open, compassionate, and empowering. Research shows that people are their best when they are supported and valued.
Peter Drucker famously said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. We’ve all seen well-meaning big ideas imposed from “on high” that fail: the culture just wasn’t ready to support the change.
And indeed, a 2013 Strategy& study, Culture’s Role in Enabling Organizational Change, concludes: “A change effort needs to lead with culture as part of a more holistic approach if a transformation program is to have the best possible chance of success. In particular, the change needs to draw on whatever positive cultural attributes are embedded in the organization. It also needs to minimize any negative cultural attributes that might get in the way.”
I had a good idea of where to take the library in general terms: to one that is more solidly connected with community to support the community’s goals and aspirations; with a clear sense of the library’s value in supporting life-long learning; and to do all of that with a profound sense of humanity and care. I knew that to get there, we would need a culture to support the organization in making it happen.
My approach was to build upon the potential that walks through the door every day: tapping into the personal values and beliefs of the individuals who work here. When we tap into our personal values, we feel a greater level of commitment to the work that matters. And so, staff have become co-creators of the desired culture; they are able to recognize and personalize the attributes that define what that culture looks like. As an organization, we have had a lot of conversations about what’s important, what’s needed, and how we want to work together.
The culture that we are intentionally building – together – roughly boils down to these four areas of focus:
- Connectedness : foster cross-system perspective and interactions; instill a sense of life and humanity into our work; be compassionate, respectful and kind
- Openness : be inclusive; seek to listen and understand; share decision-making process rationale; share thoughts, ideas, information, data, trust; assume best intentions
- Learning : experiment, reflect, learn; approach mistakes with a spirit of generosity; share what worked and what didn’t work; support the development of individuals; try new things: build a prototype, then figure out how to make it better; consider what questions we should be asking
- Accountability : consider impacts of decisions and behaviours; ensure best use of time and budget; make use of data, research, and logic mode ls ; when considering new projects: how will it further the goals of the organization? who needs to know or be involved? who will be impacted?; how can we improve next time?
Since culture is what guides individuals in how to act in the absence of someone to give approval or direction, it’s essential to pay attention to it. And since culture is the self-sustaining pattern of behaving, thinking, believing, and feeling in a given population, shifting the culture requires time and deliberate intention; it doesn’t happen rapidly.
And yet, two years on, I am delighted to already see amazing results of what staff are creating here. The organizational culture is developing strongly and positively. There is compelling evidence of how individual staff members are lighting up this organization and moving it forward.
According to a recent article, The Critical Few: Components of a Truly Effective Culture, there are four signs that efforts intended to foster culture change are working:
- Your culture taps into the waiting reserves of energy within lots of people.
- Your culture guides down-the-line decision making.
- Your culture builds enduring execution capability.
- Behaviors in normal times emulate positive behaviors during crisis situations.
And that list got me to thinking more about the accomplishments of our staff and how they make it all happen. We’re seeing things that would not have been possible, nor even thought of, in our old culture. Members of the public are noticing a difference in the types of experiences they have at the library.
The energy and passion of individuals within the organization are making a huge difference in our effectiveness as an organization. It’s obvious that staff feel a strong emotional commitment to what the organization is focused on. And that individual staff members are making smart decisions, and executing masterful work all across the organization. Our organizational capacity and reputation is growing by leaps and bounds.
These indicators reveal that our culture is improving the performance of the organization.
It’s an honour and a privilege to witness the growth and development of the individuals who work here and see the strong impact they are now capable of delivering. Of course there are many pieces that need to move together to really move the organization forward. For my part, I’m proud of the fact that the relationship with our union is healthy and constructive. And I’m proud of the fact that our new foundational policy states that we “foster a supported and empowered staff”.
Policy supports culture, culture supports strategy and that in turn drives library transformation.
Given more time, an ongoing spirit of generosity, and solid organizational stability and support, there’s no telling where our new staff culture will take the library next!