Worried about your culture?

Start with an honest look at your values

At the heart of any discussion about organisational culture you will often come across the notion that somewhere out there is a ‘system’ or ‘programme’ which will resolve the issues and make all the bad behaviours go away.

Unfortunately this system doesn’t really exist. There is no easy short cut to shifting the culture of an organisation that doesn’t require both significant time investment and honest self-assessment, primarily by the leaders.

But where to begin? The answer is to look past the (visible) behaviours that need addressing and focus instead on the (invisible) values that underpin them. Because the values that we hold are what drives our behaviours, which in turn is what shapes the culture of our organisation. If we want to see change in that culture, we must start with an honest look at our values.

Look in the mirror

While it can be tempting to focus our gaze on the values (and related behaviours) of others – as leaders, we must start with a look at ourselves. Here is a thought-provoking exercise: Take a careful look at the company’s values (most likely prominently displayed on your website or poster in the staff room) and ask yourself the question: ‘Am I really owning these values and living them out in the way I do my job?’

If the honest answer to that question is anything other than a resounding ‘Yes’, here are five simple steps you can take to begin to align your own values and behaviours with those of the organisation (and make the first move towards positively influencing your company culture):

1 – Take an honest assessment

Whether you are responsible for a department, an organisation or even for several linked organisations, the journey starts with you. It is crucial to take time to think about what ‘good’ looks like when it comes to the behaviours and culture you want to see in the long term (from both yourself and your team). Keep this picture in mind as you move forward on this journey.

2 – Start courageous conversations

It can be hard start to honest conversations about your own values – and associated behaviours – but if you are fortunate to have a trusted circle of colleagues, why not ask them the honest question: ‘Which of my behaviours are helpful, and which ones less so?’.  Think of it as a doctor making a diagnosis. You first need to know the symptoms to be able to recognise the disease so that you can move to recommending treatment.

3 – Be committed to personal change

None of us are perfect and one of the greatest attributes a leader can hold is humility. Being aware of your own shortcomings as a leader whilst also being genuinely committed to change is a great starting point.

4 – Establish what needs fixing

Once you have a strong idea of where any weaknesses lay – in how your own day-to-day values align with those of the organisation – you can start identifying where you want to make changes in how you live out these values. From there, you may want to start thinking about involving other leaders in your team on a similar journey of reflection and alignment. Consider how you want the culture of the organisation (or your department/team) to look and feel once the process has concluded. Ask yourself: ‘What needs fixing in order to get to that place?’

5 – Bring in outside help

Knowing what you want to achieve is one thing, creating a clear plan of action and having the tools to see it through is another.  While all roles in education require a diverse skill set, it is unlikely that your primary role at work is change management. Using external advisors not only brings in valuable experience and tried-and-tested methodologies but also allows you to take a step back into the team.  A facilitator can cut through the chatter and get to the nub of what needs to happen. They can help map out a clear plan for doing so, bringing in specialist expertise where required.

‘Fixing’ what is broken with an organisation’s culture is no small feat. But my hope is that by considering your values, and going through this process of self-awareness and alignment, you take the first step in a journey towards shifting the culture of your organisation for the better.

Alistair Bullen is the founder of ABA