Organizational culture isn’t like a sports car. It cannot instantly change directions and make a hairpin turn. Instead, it’s more like a tanker ship that takes time and planning to put on the right course. If you think about how your organization or team arrived at the culture it currently has, it’s unlikely you can point to a single event, or even a few moments, that explain your current culture. Instead, it is the slow changes that happen, unnoticed at the time, which better explain how most organizational cultures develop. Not actively managing your culture doesn’t cause it to quickly turn off course, but instead allows it to drift slowly astray until one day you wonder how you got to Baffin Island when you thought you were headed for Halifax.
This reality came into clear focus about two years ago within the Social Assistance and Employment Opportunities (SAEO) division at the Niagara Region. At that time, I was the Human Resources Consultant (HRC) supporting the Community Service Department (which includes the SAEO Division) of the Niagara Region. As an HRC, I acted as the lead contact and strategic resource for the management team of my client group. Since that time, we have been on an exciting and interesting path characterized by thinking differently about what boundaries mean and how to use them to keep culture on course.
SAEO, one of three operating divisions within the Community Services Department of the Regional Municipality of Niagara, administers the Ontario Works program to approximately 10,500 households within the Niagara region who are experiencing significant financial hardship (Niagara Region, 2014). The SAEO team includes over 220 employees comprised mainly of unionized (CUPE) staff.