Purposeful Talent Development: Does your ‘Climate’ Support Positive Change? 

man pulling back curtain to reveal blue sky
Jennifer Stangl Photo
Director of Professional Development

3 minutes

2020 has underscored the value of assessing how well your culture supports employee engagement.

Asked for one word to describe this year, “stable” is not likely to spring to mind. Instead, words that have been aptly used are “unprecedented,” “inconceivable” and “unpredictable.” As a visual, this year can be likened to paddling through the ocean with one oar as you are jostled by waves, constantly turned in new directions. 

During times of massive change like the current one, we experience a corresponding shift in our ability to proactively control our environment. As a result, staff perceptions of the workplace also shift. The more we understand these shifts and staff perceptions, the more we can adjust our overall climate and culture to ensure our culture and climate remain healthy, strengthening the foundation of our organization and supporting employee engagement.

Budget Your Professional Development for 2021

In The End of Competitive Advantage, Rita Gunther McGrath references former energy industry CEO Bob Best, who said: “Creating the right foundation for your culture allows you to make changes as you need to make changes. Culture is the foundation for all success.” 

For culture to be a foundation for success, it must be more than a message shared with new hires or an idea in the mind of a leader. Culture is created through behaviors that are demonstrated and observed by those within the organization. Culture drives employee engagement and helps staff connect to the organizational mission, vision and strategic goals. 

According to Gallup, from March 2020 to June 2020, employee engagement dropped to 31% from 38%, the largest drop in employee engagement since 2000. This most likely occurred due to the global pandemic shifting the how and where we work as well as the unrest in response to racial injustice placing a focus on how we view and treat one another. To successfully manage through changes like this, we need to understand the current state of our workforce. We can better understand the perspective of our workforce by learning more about the organizational climate. 

Whereas culture is comprised of an organization’s beliefs and values developed over time, climate is built on the behaviors and actions that staff demonstrate and observe in each other on a daily basis. Climate helps us to understand the perception staff have of their work environment. It links to motivation, connection and engagement with the organization. 

For this reason, we are seeing a shift in organizations moving away from using standard engagement surveys to instead employing organizational climate assessments. This means they are moving from cursory questions of staff like “Would you refer someone to work here?” to such deeper inquiries as “Do you agree that people here are committed to solving problems?” or “Do you agree that people here can move forward in the face of uncertainty?” When organizations make this shift, they can gather more meaningful data, which in turn allows for stronger action planning to support staff engagement and connection to the organization’s overall strategic goals.  

$192 million Pasadena Federal Credit Union, Pasadena, California, has placed a focus on developing its culture this year, despite—or maybe as a positive response to—all the disruption. CEO Gary Skraba, a CUES member, chose to complete the Situational Outlook Questionnaire, an organizational climate assessment offered by CUES Consulting, to help him and his team get a clear picture of the organization’s current state. 

Skraba says he decided to do the SOQ because “culture is absolutely critical to any organization, and especially to credit unions. By not cultivating and nurturing a strong, positive culture, leaders risk instability, the loss of great people and the eventual erosion of great ideas into a pile of rubbish.”

Through this assessment, the members of Pasadena FCU’s leadership team were able to understand more about the perceptions of staff in a variety of areas, including how supported they feel in sharing new ideas, how well different viewpoints are exchanged and whether staff feel encouraged to engage in development opportunities. The analyzed data resulted in steps to develop areas of opportunity and nurture the strengths within the credit union’s climate to support the overall culture and strategy for the long term.

If you don’t have a plan to gather insight from your staff in 2020 or 2021, I strongly encourage you to develop one soon. Given the changes we have seen in 2020 and the importance of staff to our success, why would we not want to gather insight and identify actions we can take now to support our best future? Why would we not want to set ourselves and our organizations up to function well in the future? 

Jennifer Stangl is director of professional development at CUES. CUES Consulting offers support in the creation of individual development plans for employees as well as resources for leaders to hone their skills in supporting employee development. 

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