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Changing Cultures: Adapting Business Principles to Meet Educator Needs

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Culture is one of those things that all organizations say is important, but it is easily ignored or forgotten in the daily grind of running a business, non-profit, or school district.Building an environment where employees feel valued and engaged, however, is critical to an organization's success. This could translate to greater productivity and profit for a growing company or more effective teachers and improved student performance in the classroom.

I read a great article in the July/August issue of Harvard Business Review by Jon R. Katzenbach, Caroline Kronley, and Ilona Steffen called, "Cultural Change That Sticks: Start with What's Already Working." The authors profile the cultural-change journey of Aetna, the mammoth Fortune 100 health and disability insurance company. In the early 2000's, Aetna was losing customers, physicians, and more than $1 million per day due to "cumbersome processes and enormous overhead, as well as unwise acquisitions." The issue? An outdated culture that "encouraged employees to be steadfast to the point that they'd become risk-averse, tolerant of mediocrity, and suspicious of outsiders. The prevailing executive mind-set was "We take care of our people for life, as long as they show up every day and don't cause trouble."

Then, Dr. John W. Rowe, the fourth Aetna CEO in a five year span, was hired in 2001. Instead of beginning his "rein" by asserting his importance and announcing an organization overhaul as we often see in business--and sometimes in education--he met with employees at all levels to understand their work and gain insight in what processes they believed to be broken, as well as gather input on Aetna's future. Dr. Rowe then used this information to develop a new organizational strategy that helped the company complete a successful turnaround.

The Harvard Business Review article also details five principles that organizations, including Aetna, Microsoft, The Four Seasons, and Southwest Airlines have executed to obtain focus on customer excellence, higher employee performance, and greater organizational ethics. These principles are not specific to business and could be adopted by school districts when it comes to change management and culture. They include:
1. Matching Strategy and Culture: "Too often a company's strategy, imposed from above, is at odds with the ingrained practices and attitudes of its culture."
2. Focus on a Few Critical Shifts in Behavior
3. Honor Strengths of Your Existing Culture
4. Integrate Formal and Informal Interventions: Formal interventions include decision rules and rights; reporting structures; training, leadership, and organizational development programs; compensation and rewards; performance management; company events; and internal communications. Informal interventions include senior management behavior modeling; manager-employee connections; engagement; and physical and resource changes.
5. Measure and Monitor Cultural Interventions

Is your organization currently applying any of these change management principles, and if so, what results have you seen?

For more information on comprehensive human capital, performance management, or continuous improvement in education, you can follow Emily Douglas (@EmilyDouglasHC) on Twitter.

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The opinions expressed in K-12 Talent Manager are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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