Culture - lessons learned from the Leadership Development Session

IheartmyworkPart of the Leadership Development Conference in October focused on five areas that included leadership, strategic planning, performance measurement, culture, and communication.

There were informative large group presentations, but the real work of the day was done in smaller group breakout sessions where attendees gathered to identify barriers and then brainstorm solutions in each of the five topics.

While nearly 600 DOTers attended the sessions, it is up to each of us to make improvements that help the Iowa DOT become smarter, simpler, and customer driven. This is the third in a series of blog posts about the small group discussions.

Today’s topic is the culture.

Words like “mistrust,” “complacency,” and “cynicism” came to the top of minds for the folks identifying what constitutes a toxic work culture. On the flip side, “respect,” “appreciation,” “communication,” and “teamwork” were some of the many words used to describe a supportive culture.

So what words describe the culture at the Iowa DOT? Both the morning and afternoon session agreed: There are both toxic and supportive elements in the underlying culture of our agency, but their focus was on identifying barriers to a supportive culture and then brainstorming ways to address those barriers.

Many of the barriers identified were tied to each other. These included employees who are afraid, either of stepping out of their comfort zone or of change in general. This fear fuels mistrust of how a new idea might be received and can discourage employees from being bold in their jobs.

3 signs modelLorraine Bremer, with the Office of Driver Services’ information center, said, “I think we need to do better at listening to each other and trying to understand each other. I have worked on the same floor for almost five years and I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t know the names of everyone I see. I think we all need to do a better job of getting to know and understand our co-workers.”

Bremer went on to say, “I think because we are such a large agency, many people feel anonymous. The more anonymous they feel, the more afraid they may be to offer new ideas. They may feel like the work they do really doesn’t matter. We need to help everyone understand that we’re all in this together and every job is important to the success of the whole department.”

Breaking down the barriers of fear, mistrust can all be tied back to the agency’s core values of safety, respect, integrity, teamwork, and leadership. Simple things like listening and being considerate and supportive of open discussion can start to create a culture of inclusiveness.

Happiness-is-a-work-ethic-by-gale-mote-10-638One suggestion made in the leadership development session was to read the book “Three Signs of Miserable Job” by Patrick Lencioni (the more recent printing has a new title, "The Truth About Employee Engagement: A Fable About Addressing the Three Root Causes of Job Misery"). In that book, the author points out that a miserable job is one that makes a person cynical and frustrated and demoralized when they go home at night. The three signs of a miserable job are anonymity, irrelevance, and lack of measurement or acknowledgement of an employee’s contribution or success.

Bremer read the book and commented, “It’s so true that how people see their role in the organization can be dramatically changed when they feel valued. Relying on someone’s subjective evaluation of your work can cause fear and mistrust. I believe providing some sort of objective measurement or goals to meet can turn a miserable job into a pleasurable one.”

Beyond the measurable goals related to job duties, Bremer also sees the Iowa DOT’s culture change relying on interpersonal relationships. “Going back to what I said before about not knowing everyone on my floor, I would love to see some sort of mentoring program at the Iowa DOT. I think that would help dispel the fear of sharing knowledge with others and create a true team atmosphere. If you know someone has your back and has made an effort to understand you and what’s going on in your life, you might be more willing to step up and do the same for another person. I think we need to do a better job of taking a genuine interest in the people we see every day.”

Creating a more supportive culture isn’t going to happen overnight. Creating an atmosphere of trust where each individual is valued is a challenge for a large organization.

Why not start the trend in your area? Here are a few things you can do.

  • Show respect to your co-workers by truly listening and responding appropriately to ideas and concerns.
  • Interact collaboratively.
  • Accept those who raise questions and have the courage to raise questions of your own.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to improve.
  • Respond to people honestly, directly, and professionally.

Take a couple of minutes to watch this video and ask yourself,  "What if I..." 



One last thing

Don’t miss out on your chance to provide input into the Iowa DOT’s recognition policy. We are asking all employees to fill out a survey to collect feedback on the existing service award recognition program as well as employee recognition connected to the Iowa DOT’s mission, vision, and core values that were shared as part of the rollout of the updated strategic plan.

Please fill out the survey electronically at by Friday, Feb. 12. Offices across the state such as garages, RCE’s, and other field locations will also be receiving this survey in hard copy form. If you are in one of these locations you may fill out the survey in whichever manner is most convenient for you. Thank you for taking the time to complete this survey. Your feedback and input are needed to help make existing and potential future recognition programs meaningful to employees.

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