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Entering a New Leadership Role? (Part 1)

No matter where you are, in any capacity, whether it be in a corporate office, a mission-driven non profit, a place of worship, a school setting, or a sports team, the conductor that is oftentimes behind the scenes of the operational orchestra, is that of organizational culture. Culture determines agency priorities, philosophies, and presence, both internally and externally. Culture either drives innovation and sustainability, or invisibly by decidedly impedes progress and performance. According to Business Dictionary.com, organizational culture is defined as, “the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization. It is based on shared attitudes beliefs, and customs, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time, and considered valid”. Business Dictionary.com goes on to say that culture can be observed and assessed through the following aspects:

1) The ways the organization conducts its business, treats, its employees, customers, and the wider community


2) The extent to which freedom is allowed in decision making, developing new ideas, and personal expression


3) How power and information flow through its hierarchy


4) How committed employee are towards collective objectives


As an incoming or transitioning Leader, it will be imperative to O.W.N. your role:

O- Observe the situation.

W- Welcome ALL feedback.

N- Narrate a new story.


Observe the situation

Leaders are excellent observers! We see the impact of external and internal variables upon our operations and staff. We see stated and unstated cultural norms and practices. We detect inefficiencies in workflow models and subsequent outcomes. We foster meaningful discussion to tease out themes and disconnects between company vision and direction, and employee perceptions and performance. Then, we create plans for success and realignment where necessary. However, the foundational basis of our plans and interventions must stem from our keen propensity for curiosity and observation.


Along with observing and noting the impacts of organizational culture, we can also observe along the following parameters:

1) Adaptable Infrastructure:

a. Do the internal structures, culture, and systems of the organization serve as an effective foundation for the achievement of company vision, mission, and objectives?

b. Do employee job descriptions match their day-to-day experiences?

c. Is there a systems and workflow chart that clearly describes the relationship between individual tasks, departmental/ interdepartmental goals, executive leadership expectations, and the achievement of company goals and objectives?

d. How do the current workflows, systems, and hierarchies add value to, and present barriers for staff who are placed under my leadership?


2) Human Capital Resources:

a. Does the agency implement best practices in the on-boarding, training, evaluation, and disciplinary functions of performance management?

b. Are there safety nets set in place to effectively evaluate, address, and prevent workplace stress and burnout?

c. Does the agency champion the development of employee competence and mastery of job tasks and roles; and innovation in thought?

d. What is the current level of staff morale, commitment, and performance as it relates to staff placed under my leadership?


3) Resource and Risk Management:

a. Is the company effectively and effectively utilizing all internal and external resources at its disposal?

b. Are knowledge management and communication structures effective facilitated within the company?

c. Are financial resources efficiently assessed, stewarded, and distributed, with an eye towards the achievement of the agency vision and mission?

d. What are the current human capital, financial, or technological needs of employees that are being placed under my leadership?


4) Sustainability:

a. Are relevant bodies of knowledge and organizational history and values, and changes in strategy and direction, effectively communicated and evidenced throughout the agency?

b. Is there a process of incremental assessment and evaluation of company performance, leadership development, and societal impact within the organization?

c. Is the agency culture healthy enough to withstand the ebbs and flows of leadership, fiscal, technological, and regulatory compliance changes, in this age of accelerated and simultaneous change? Do we practice a reactive or a proactive positioning strategy?

d. Do employees that are under my leadership currently feel that they:

i. Clearly understand the direction that the company is heading in.

ii. Feel connected to that vision and understand how their role is essential to the achievement of that vision.

iii. Feel that the organization affords them the opportunities for positive recognition of performance, encouragement of life-long learning, and opportunities for professional growth and promotion?


Welcome ALL Feedback

In addition to your own observations, be sure to ask your superiors, colleagues and peers, and staff the questions that are listed here as well. Some people will happily share their thoughts and experiences with you; others will be more reserved and cautious. Either response is understandable, as they are getting to know you, just as much as you are getting to know them. In his (LinkedIn) article, “Two Snap Judgements People Make When They First Meet You”, Dr. Travis Bradberry shares that we immediately begin to assess:

1) Can I trust this person?

2) Can I respect this person’s capabilities?

Welcoming all feedback and connecting with each person under your leadership will increase the likelihood of someone answering a resounding YES to both of those questions.

There are a number of ways to gather observational data in the foregoing areas including the use of surveys, a review of HR exit interview data, focus groups, relevant documentation reviews, and formal and informal one-on-one conversations.


Narrate a New Story

Once we’ve taken the time to thoughtfully observe and gather diverse feedback, now we can jump into the analysis portion of the data that we’ve gathered, by asking the following questions:

1) What are the themes, ideas, or feelings that are repeated throughout my observations and feedback?


2) How are those themes, ideas, or feelings historically and currently impacting individual and organizational performance? Where is my department/ the company doing well, and where can we improve? (S.W.O.T. Analysis)


3) How does the information that I’ve gathered resonate with, and conflict, with my ideas and expectations that I had coming into the role? What did I already know, and what have I been surprised to find out?


4) Based on what I know now, what adjustments do I need to make to my leadership style, operational plan, and communication style, to continue to promote success under my leadership?


It never fails that what you think you are going to face, and what you are ACTUALLY facing, rarely turns out to be the same thing! By taking the time to consider these questions, you will empower yourself to develop a relevant operational and performance plan for your department/ organization, which both meets the needs of your staff where they are now, and can encourage them towards organizational achievement. The themes that come from your observations may also serve to help you prioritize interventions and/ or access the need for deeper exploration and evaluations within the realms of adaptable infrastructure, human capital resources, resource and risk management, and sustainability. Lastly, by involving each staff person within the process of your observational discoveries, you will increase the level of staff and leadership buy-in and ownership of your integrated operational performance plan, as staff would have had the opportunity to both be heard, and to have their voice acknowledged and incorporated into the plan, and the company journey moving forward.


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