Cultural Reviews

The following post is an opportunity for me to think out loud about a process that our ITS organization is going through.

A couple of weeks ago we held two sessions with staff in ITS to give them the results of a Cultural Review.   Meghan Kirwin, of the Kirwin Group conducted a series of one on one, and focus group meetings with staff in ITS.   The interviews were designed to cover various key areas related to cultural within ITS.  It did not ask broader questions about Queen’s and distributed IT.  That is being left to a ITS Peer Review, currently under way.

It began late last year when we established a small working group, of staff and managers, to look at Talent Management within the organization.  The groups mandate somewhat broadened, and they decided to undertake this cultural review.  In my mind, I view this as an exercise to test the strength of our foundation.  Where is the organization at; what are the big issues for staff; what things do we need to resolve before we start building a new culture in ITS and moving the organization forward.

The results of the Review were extensive and not everything is discussed here.    As is the case with many of these things, consistent themes quickly surfaced.   If we were to summarize into two high level themes, in terms of opportunities for change/improvement, they would be around Career Development and Leadership.

In terms of organizational strengths, ITS is built on Talented People and organized into Strong Working Teams.   People are considered technically strong, believe in the higher education mission, and work collaboratively in a friendly and respectful environment.  Flexibility in terms of work hours and work/life balance, also surfaced.  I think this is common within Higher Ed., and is an important factor in terms of total rewards for people.  This is not always the easiest thing to describe during the recruitment process, but is critical in influencing retention.

Training also surfaced as a strength, although it doesn’t seem to be consistently delivered across the organization.  Possibly surprising, was the fact that organizational communication was identified as a strength.   This is not normally the case, but if accurately observed, sets us up with a strong foundational piece.   That being said, comments coming from staff also indicated a lack of time and/or desire to access the information for some individuals.   This is certainly, something worth exploring.

In terms of Organizational Opportunities, the staff identified significant resource constraints.   Firefighting feels like the norm, leading to less flexibility and little time for innovation or focus on strategic ideas.  A key observation by staff was that key strategic roles were missing.   This is something that can be addressed and we need to explore this further.  A key recommendation was the development of an HR planning process that focuses on the needs of the whole organization.

Performance Development was also identified as an opportunity.  Currently, the staff feel that the process is inconsistent across the organization and performance gaps are not managed effectively.  Career Development and Compensation were also identified.     Employees felt a sense of inequality, and that there were not appropriate incentives to grow.   Much of this can tie back to establishing a strong talent development process, looking at career paths, succession planning and aligning with our performance development process.   In terms of compensation more work needs to be done on aligning what employees value in the work place to total compensation, and being sure that we monitor this going forward.

There was a great deal of discussion around leadership in the organization.  Structure was identified as a weakness and clarity around roles needed to be better identified and communicated.  There was a general feeling that we needed to define a philosophy around leadership and set clear expectations for the team.  One of the first things we are going to look at is 360’s for the management team, followed by 360’s for the coordinators.   This should be a good growth opportunity for the team and the organization.

When it came to my role, as CIO , and leading through change there was a lot of cynicism.  The review heard on a number of occasions “been there, done that, why is this different?” .  Personally, this is challenging, and requires patience, but I can’t say it was unexpected.   We need to stay the course, act on the recommendations, build trust and hope that people see the change.

This is simply a summary of some of the points that came out in the review.    Next steps are for the Culture Working Group (CWG) to take the feedback and recommendations and put a plan in place to address them.  The CWG is also looking on creating a summarized version of the results that can be posted on the web.  There is some low-hanging fruit, but developing a culture of engagement where people really like coming to work is going to take time.   I look forward to the next steps.

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