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Organizational Climate Change for Leaders


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Managing Teams
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By Tom Davidson

As natural resource professionals, we’re familiar with the issues and impacts of climate change, both on the environmental and human side of the equation. Climate change is complex, emotional, and divisive. As leaders, we also need to be aware of the issues and impacts related to organizational climate change, another complex, emotional and divisive subject – for leaders.

NYPD Blues
A recent and dramatic example of organizational climate change came to a head on Saturday, December 20, 2014 in New York City.

It was part of a series of fatal and racially charged events across the country. This particular piece of the saga climaxed when two officers with the New York Police Department (NYPD) were executed while sitting in their police cruiser on a New York City street. Starting that day, NYPD and other officers literally started turning their backs on the mayor in public appearances. Officers also booed and heckled him at a cadet graduation ceremony in early January.

The police union says that it’s all because de Blasio helped foster an anti-police atmosphere when he previously implied that they were racist and untrustworthy. Many believe that his statements contributed in some degree to the murder of officers Ramos and Liu, saying that the mayor had “blood on his hands.”


Trust is eroded, not exploded
What leads to this type of organizational climate change is the subject of Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace: Building Effective Relationships in your Organization, by Dennis and Michelle Reina.

One of the authors’ main points is that trust is eroded slowly over time. Like a mudslide or a sinkhole, while the loss of trust may appear to be the result of a single event, it is most often the result of a much slower process of structural degradation. For example, while Mayor de Blasio’s climate change appears on the surface to have been the result of a single major event, it is more likely to have been a “final straw” after many smaller, less public episodes of trust erosion.

Fortunately, most everyday leaders will never be in a de Blasio-like situation, but none of us are immune from the erosion of trust or dramatically poor morale. In fact, your team or organizational climate can change significantly without your awareness. So it behooves all leaders to take periodic temperature checks, to know where they stand before it’s too late.

Taking your leadership-climate temperature
Even if your staff falls short of turning their backs on you as they did to Mayor de Blasio, they may figuratively do so and let you fail. Don’t wait until you have an unexpected climate change in your team, department or organization. Here are three things you can do to affect your climate:

  1. Get an up-to-date 360-degree feedback to take the temperature of your leadership behaviors and impacts. The key here is the word “impacts,” because people cannot see your intentions. Speak with your human resources department, a certified professional coach, or give me a call for resources to consider.
  2. Conduct an employee satisfaction survey or get the latest one conducted by your organization with your department carved out. If you don’t have one, you can conduct your own with the help of a qualified human resource practitioner or coach. One snap shot of the entire organization is not enough; you have to find out the “microclimate” in your area of responsibility.
  3. Buy a copy of Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace: Building Effective Relationships in your Organization, by Dennis and Michelle Reina and share it with your team. Have a discussion about each of the three parts that build and erode trust. Listen closely to your team’s comments and ask them simply, “What do we do well in this regard, and what could I do even better?”

Even if your staff falls short of turning their backs on you as they did to Mayor de Blasio, they may figuratively do so and let you fail. Don’t wait until you have an unexpected climate change in your team, department or organization.

Use these tools or any barometer you can to be aware and proactive at building and maintaining trust. Not knowing where you stand and not caring enough to find out is no excuse; and it’s the nature of leadership.


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