Values and Revolving Doors

Maintaining an Organizational Culture in a High-Turnover Environment

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

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Hannah Bradford is a graduate of JBU’s Graduate Higher Education program and serves as the Associate Director of Admissions at John Brown University. She has over seven years of experience working in higher education and understands the challenges faced in a high-turnover environment like the admissions department, where new graduates (by design) stay for about two years before pursuing further education or their intended career path. Bradford knows first-hand how difficult it is to establish a culture in this environment, especially when employees also need time to be trained on the more technical side of the job. Over the years, she has learned a few things about maintaining an organizational culture when the makeup of the team is frequently changing.

  • Hire the right people. “Values and culture do not produce results that are measurable, so you really need leaders who are invested and understand the importance of spending time on culture and making it a priority,” says Bradford. Having leadership team who shares your organizational values is an important first step. They will then be able to select employees who share those values and are intrinsically motivated towards the same mission.
  • Write your values down. A list of values and their definitions is essential to maintaining an organizational culture. Bradford says that writing down behaviors that reflect those values is equally important. “For example, hospitality is one of our values here in admissions. If I’m practicing hospitality, then I’m going to go out of my way to greet visitors.” Of course, writing down your values will mean nothing if the leadership doesn’t communicate and model the behaviors. “As leaders, we have to be very explicit about our cultural values. I can’t expect people to pick them up from seeing a poster or a framed list of values on my desk,” says Bradford.
  • Use the language. It’s one thing to write down and model your organizational values, it’s another to actually integrate them into important discussions. This may mean you are asking questions like, “will this new process align with our value of hospitality?” in a team meeting, or simply giving someone recognition for practicing a value behavior. Bradford says that using the language “helps us make decisions, to focus on what we need to focus on, to confront someone using the common language that we’ve established.”
  • Be intentional about relationships. Bradford says that, in such a high-turnover environment, it’s important to spend time building quality relationships because you can’t expect to have years to develop a relationship. Although Bradford’s team has a crazy schedule, they set aside time to get to know each other. “If we are not intentionally moving towards building relationships, it’s not going to happen. It’s not on anybody’s checklist.” Thursday morning potluck breakfasts, team coffee breaks, and weekend staff retreats are small investments with large returns in maintaining a culture. 

Bradford says that when her team uses these techniques, work is better for everyone. “When we are following our values well, we get along. We’re not facing a lot of interpersonal conflicts that cost time and resources. Our visitors feel welcome and comfortable here, maybe leading them to enroll here at JBU.”

Blog HomePosted By: Jessica Turner - 2/21/17 12:00 PM

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