Culture in the Time of COVID-19

What’s Your Organization’s Culture?

What role does an organization’s culture play in response to a pandemic?  We hadn’t even considered that until we had a conversation with one of our clients, Tammie Strobel.  Tammie is the Deputy Superintendent and Chief Quality Officer at Tri-County Tech, a Baldrige Award recipient in Education in 2018.  We asked how she, the rest of the staff, and the students were faring during these challenging times. Her response frankly surprised us.

“Our culture here at Tri-County Tech is so strong that it has really sustained us.  And that culture is reinforced in multiple ways starting at the top with our Superintendent/CEO, Lindel Fields.  From the beginning of the pandemic, he admitted that the situation was complicated and, although uncertainty reigned, he assured all educators that they could be certain their jobs were secure.” [Note: At Tri-County Tech, all teachers, staff, and administrators are referred to as educators. Each role is considered important and reflected in one of their mantras, “If you’re not taking care of a student, take care of someone who is.”]

Along their performance excellence journey using the Baldrige Excellence Framework to guide them, the senior leaders intentionally developed the culture at Tri-County Tech to reflect their mission, vision, and values.  They reinforce it with the use of mantras that reflect what is vital to the culture.  Tammie shared that after the COVID-19 crisis hit, the Marketing Workgroup created a video with each of the senior leaders working from home with homemade signs reading, “In This Together TCT,” which was added to their other mantras.

Tammie said that the Tri-County Way is their distinctive way of taking care of students, other customers, and each other.  She said, “Our culture is enabling us to not only survive but to thrive during this crisis. We care about each other inside and outside of the boundaries of our campus.  For example, recently one of our educators’ husbands unexpectedly passed away. Without the mechanism to have a memorial service, our educators secretly decided to participate in the memorial from their vehicles at the funeral home. The parking lot was absolutely packed with Tri-County educators, many holding signs of love and support for the grieving TCT family member.”

Because of their rural location, many staff members are having difficulty in buying food, so Tri-County Tech has purchased food and supplies through its “industrial” vendor and sold it out of the cafeteria.  Also because of the rural location, many students don’t have access to WiFi at their homes.  Tri-County Tech purchased “Hot Spots” and found places in each community with open WiFi that students could access from their vehicles.  They distributed Chromebooks to those without computers.  The Director of Quality and Student Services personally delivered technology tools, books, etc. to students who did not have transportation to get to campus. Another example of the strong culture and personal actions of senior leaders was when the Director of Instruction drove 300 miles in one day delivering Care Packages to each individual teacher. Care Packages included toilet paper, homemade cookies, etc. He was not asked to do this. He took this upon himself.

We asked Tammie, “What would you recommend to other leaders about building an organizational culture that can withstand the kinds of challenges this pandemic has thrown at us?”  We loved her response, “The Tri-County story was years in the making. An essential piece is the Baldrige Excellence Framework that Tri-County Tech uses as an integrated performance management system for improvement. I cannot imagine going through this pandemic without processes already created, tested, and improved. It reminds me of building the Ark before you see a raindrop. Once it starts to rain, it is too late.  Building a culture to withstand challenges does not occur overnight.

To begin an organization should assess workforce satisfaction and engagement. Assessment, analysis, and improvement require courage, but it will lead to a culture of improvement that can eventually withstand any challenge. To measure workforce satisfaction, TCT uses an index created from Fortune’s Great Place to Work Assessment.  Tri-County also uses the eNPS or Employee Net Promoter Score to measure Employee Engagement. These two metrics combined help us with benchmarking and uncover actionable insights to build a great culture-specific to Tri-County Tech.”

What has your organizational culture revealed during the time of COVID-19?  Does it make you proud, or does it frustrate you?  Senior leaders have the ability to intentionally shape and reinforce the culture they want, that reflects the mission, vision, and values.  It’s never too late to evaluate your culture and begin to move it in a direction that will allow your organization to not only survive but to thrive.

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