In a media center at the 2019 Transforming Local Government Conference in Reno, Nevada, Dr. Maria Church discussed the significance of organizational culture with Susan Gardner from Municipal World. With the background of a changing workforce landscape and evolving priorities, their conversation shed light on the crucial role culture plays in today’s municipal local government context.
Here are some key takeaways from their enlightening discussion:
Culture as a Differentiator
Dr. Church highlighted the role of culture as a powerful differentiator for organizations, particularly in the context of municipal local governments. While these organizations often face budget constraints that limit their ability to compete solely on wages, a strong and appealing culture becomes a magnet for attracting and retaining talented individuals. She emphasized that having a vibrant culture can overshadow monetary compensation, and people are drawn to workplaces where they feel a sense of belonging and purpose.
In essence, culture has become the differentiator that sets organizations apart and makes them an attractive choice for potential employees. In an environment where every municipality faces similar budgetary constraints, the establishment of a strong culture can provide a sustainable competitive advantage. By recognizing and leveraging this advantage, municipal local governments can position themselves as sought-after employers in a dynamic and evolving workforce landscape.
Culture vs. Compensation
Traditionally, compensation has been a primary driver for job seekers, with competitive salaries and benefits packages serving as the main incentives for individuals to join and stay with organizations. However, the municipal local government sector faces challenges due to limited budgets and financial constraints. While these organizations may not be able to offer the same financial perks as their private sector counterparts, they possess other avenues of differentiation.
Dr. Church underscored the growing importance of organizational culture as a valuable asset for attracting and retaining employees. Culture encompasses the shared values, beliefs, and norms that define an organization’s identity and the way its employees engage with their work. It serves as a lens through which employees view their roles and responsibilities, contributing to their sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Citing research from Deloitte, she pointed out that an astonishing 95% of job seekers prioritize culture over compensation when looking for opportunities. This trend is particularly noticeable among the millennial generation, which values meaningful work and a positive work environment. This change in perspective represents a shift away from earlier generations, who tended to emphasize monetary incentives above the importance of workplace culture.
The Importance of Purpose and Meaning
In the modern workplace, the concept of purpose and meaning has gained prominence. Dr. Church highlighted that organizations are increasingly recognizing the need to align their culture with a sense of purpose that resonates with employees. When individuals find purpose in their roles, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and committed to their organization’s mission. This shift is particularly evident among millennials who are more inclined to prioritize job satisfaction and fulfillment over immediate financial gain. For them, purpose and meaningful work contribute to their overall health, well-being, and quality of life.
Culture as the Foundation
Dr. Church emphasized that culture serves as the foundation upon which an organization’s strategies and initiatives are built. While culture isn’t more important than strategy, it provides the essential groundwork for effective strategy execution. She used the metaphor of a house, where a solid foundation (culture) is necessary for the structure (strategy) to stand strong. In this analogy, culture plays a critical role in ensuring that strategies are carried out smoothly and cohesively.
The Power of Storytelling
She also emphasized the role of storytelling in reinforcing organizational culture. Sharing stories that illustrate how employees’ work positively impacts the community and individuals can deepen a sense of identity and pride within the organization. These stories also help communicate the organization’s values and mission both internally and externally, contributing to a more positive public perception.
Reinforcing Culture through Communication
Dr. Church mentioned that organizations are adopting various communication strategies to reinforce their culture. One approach involves creating “Y videos” where employees explain why they chose the organization and the impact of their work. These videos help showcase the underlying values and mission of the organization while enlightening its employees.
Through the art of storytelling, municipal local governments can communicate their values, purpose, and impact, fostering a sense of belonging, pride, and purpose among employees. As organizations seek to attract and retain talent and shape their external perception, storytelling emerges as a useful tool that bridges the gap between culture and communication.
Celebrating Success and Learning from Failure
By sharing stories of both success and failure, organizations can foster a culture of learning and continuous improvement. Highlighting instances where employees have exceeded expectations or demonstrated exceptional dedication helps reinforce the organization’s values and encourages others to follow suit.
Dr. Church’s insights underscore the profound influence of storytelling in reshaping the perception of municipal local or any organization. By harnessing the power of positive narratives, these organizations can shed light on their valuable contributions, counter negative stereotypes, and foster a more accurate and favorable understanding among the public. In this case, through strategic storytelling, municipal local governments can transform their image, effectively conveying their commitment to making a positive impact on their communities.
As the workplace landscape evolves, the emphasis on culture as a driving force behind employee satisfaction, retention, and innovation will likely continue to grow. Organizations that prioritize building a positive culture and sharing their stories will be better positioned to attract top talent and create a lasting impact on their communities.
In conclusion, the article underscores the transformative power of organizational culture within municipal local governments. By recognizing culture as a differentiator, prioritizing purpose and meaning, and leveraging storytelling to communicate their values, local governments can not only enhance their internal dynamics but also reshape their external perception. As the workforce landscape evolves, culture will remain a cornerstone for creating a positive and impactful workplace environment.
Maria is a local government and corporate alum with Fortune 500 experience, and academia adventures that constitute a treasure trove of colorful experiences over 20 years. With a doctorate of management in organizational leadership, Maria works with local governments to create workplaces that attract and retain the best talent. Yes, she is the author of Love-Based Leadership: The Model for Leading with Strength, Grace, and Authenticity – and no, it is not a book about Kumbaya, puppies, kittens, or rainbows. Her latest book, A Course in Leadership: 21 Spiritual Lessons on Power, Love, and Influence was released in June 2021. Maria is a classic rock and Motown junkie who hopes to learn drums from Keith Moon and Benny Benjamin in Rock-N-Roll Heaven.