Annually, the leadership team at Escuela Campo Alegre (ECA) in Caracas, Venezuela, engages in professional literature studies of approximately six books, plus articles as they come up. The team spends approximately six weeks reading the same book independently, and then comes together for a team discussion of what has been read. Generally, there is a discussion of the big ideas as well as some of the meaningful details. The conversation then turns to what can be learned and applied here at ECA. Typically, books have been identified in the spring for the following year, often with at least a few following a theme flowing from the work we have been engaged in during the year just finishing. This year, the theme we chose to pursue through a number of the books we read was the idea of culture – the role of organizational / school culture, how it develops, and how it can be changed.
The most recent book read and discussed by the leadership team at ECA was The culture engine: a framework for driving results, inspiring your employees, and transforming your workplace, by S. Chris Edmonds. According to Edmonds, this book is about designing and aligning a desired culture in an organization (pg. 13). He approaches this through the creation of an organizational constitution, in which an organization establishes guiding principals and behaviors that clarify and define a desired culture. In the opening of the book, Edmonds takes the reader through a process of developing a personal purpose. This section initially seemed more a message of self-improvement rather than culture building until its role as foundation for change became apparent. Gradually, the book moved on to a discussion of organizational culture built upon the idea that a meaningful constitution and culture can’t be created unless the leadership involved has a clear sense of their own personal purpose to build upon. Edmonds goes on to discuss a meaningful process for promoting cultural change based of organizational values and success.
Some meaningful take aways from this book include ~
- Leadership is about creating direction and clarifying desired cultural values
- It is not possible to change attitudes. It is possible to change behaviors. A change in culture requires a change in the behaviors that are expected and reinforced
- Changing culture is disruptive. It can cause pain and confusion as an organization leaves behind what “has been okay around here”, and changes to what it is going to be around here (pg. 16).
- Creating an inspirational and productive culture requires constant attention. Attention to change must be intentional, not casual
- Meaningful cultural change requires a focus on servant leadership
- A context for change needs to be provided, followed by constant reinforcement
- It is important to hire and coach to desired behaviors that support the desired culture
- Behaviors need to be aligned to the desired culture. There must be accountability for the behaviors
- In effective cultures, goals cascade down from organizational goals, to divisional goals, to team goals, to individual goals. Goals must be focused, intentional, and accountable
- There are four possible reactions to change, 1) fully embrace, 2) wait and see, 3) leave the organization, and 4) resist the change. Each reaction requires a different response and needs to be responded to promptly
Organizational culture is an important component of a school. A strong, student centered, learning oriented culture can result in some of the most productive experiences possible for students, parents, and faculty, while a culture that is toxic and focused on protecting the status quo can often result in learning experiences that are marginal and far less than they could be. Edmunds reinforces the idea that cultures can change, and provides a powerful understanding of a process for making this happen. He states, “everything a leader does either helps, hurts, or hinders the creation of a great team culture (pg. 14),” in creating a meaningful and impactful culture, we must be constantly diligent about what the culture should look like and align our purpose, thinking and behavior to match that desired culture.