This week, Mayor Nenshi spoke to Calgary city employees about how he wants to start a “culture shift” at city hall. He would like employees to be more proactive, take some risks and innovate to reduce red tape and serve the citizens more effectively. Although it sounds very positive, it was met with mixed reactions from both employees and some commmunity members, since the concept of risk can in some ways go against what people expect from city hall. So it seems that the definition of risk needs to be more defined and it probably varies for different departments. For example, how much risk do we want the people who run our utilities to take? Perhaps this is more about personal risks to speak up with new ideas that could make a difference. And that is maybe where the culture could be a problem – if people do not feel comfortable to speak up. http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/Mayor+seeks+city+hall+culture+shift/3979565/story.html
Coincidentally, I attended a great presentation this week by David Irvine on “Building an Engaged Culture”. David is an expert on building cultures and works with companies all over the world. He talked about the DNA of an organization and the impracticality of trying to change a culture where the new values for the culture do not match the type of people who work there. For example, if an organization has deliberately hired technical people who value precision and results, then trying to introduce a more socially oriented culture may have challenges. Another point was the differences between the visible culture and the real culture. The visible culture is what the company puts out to the public, whereas the real culture includes how people honestly experience the organization, the informal procedures and coffee conversations. In most organizations, employees would not be able to tell you the published values, but they certainly could tell you about the real values. http://www.davidirvine.com/
Coming back to shifting the culture at City Hall – first of all, it would have to start at the top within the administration. Values need to be defined for the culture . The key question that needs to be addressed is, “Do we have the right people in place to drive this new culture?” If part of the current culture is to not take risks, then why is that? Who has been punished or ignored for being innovative and how can that be changed? Teams and workgroups would need to meet among themselves and have conversations to determine, “What does this mean in our group and how can we start on it?” It has to become imbedded in the performance planning process that innovating is good, if it is focused on goals of serving the public more effectively. I look forward to the next chapters in this interesting project!