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Updated: August 16, 2021 outside the box

Create a nurturing culture

A picture of Bonnie J. Walker Image | Courtesy of Bonnie J. Walker Bonnie J. Walker

We know change management is an ongoing, critical focus in business. If change is the only constant, then we must accept and be ready for it.

Organizations will grapple with critical change this year and the years to follow as they recover and reconcile organizational needs post-COVID-19 pandemic (and as new variants threaten to create an ongoing pandemic). The road to finding sustainable ways to move forward and thrive will take finding opportunities in the challenge and loss, including a new lens for how we do things and why, letting go of things inefficient, inequitable, and disconnected from priority needs.

This is a huge undertaking, and exasperated by the underbelly of a divided social-political climate in our country. Leaders are going to have to make very difficult decisions around budget, personnel, talent acquisition, and retention.

The most important factor in establishing necessary changes will be to prioritize organizational culture. If an organization’s culture is healthy, the ability to navigate challenges in any area is elevated. Organizational culture must be established, nurtured, and championed by leadership. A healthy business culture, in a nutshell, is established when everyone understands and is committed to their roles and to the roles of everyone else. This fosters a community, where individuals are committed not to self, and not even necessarily to one another, but to the heart of the organization, the why for existence, the pulse.

For example, in a school, the pulse is a commitment to student experience and education. Organizations cannot be stifled or siloed by an insular view of individual contribution, but rather directed by the organization’s mission and vision. Individuals making up the institution who are not committed to the mission are not healthy to the organization’s culture. These individuals create morale issues, quality and efficiency gaps, enrollment or hiring and retention deficits, and ultimately diminish the bottom line.

Elements of successful change are shaped around organizational cultures nurturing an authentic sense of belonging for all members. The following change elements are required: vision, skills incentives, resources, and an action plan. The organization’s vision must be clear and clearly articulated across all areas internally and communicated externally. Folks must have the skills to make the change happen. If we are not hiring individuals with the right skills or training them to gain them, then we will not meet mission and vision. Reasons (the benefits) for change must be articulated, otherwise there will be resistance. The appropriate resources must be put in place in order to execute the change, otherwise members will become frustrated and skeptical. Every vision must have an action plan, otherwise the vision is futile, where instead of creating change, we continue to have a meeting, for the meeting, for the meeting – lots of talking and lip-service.

How do we approach all of these? How do we reconcile the challenges of pandemic and social-political unrest and division? The sweeping general answer is we must face problems, challenges, inequities, racism, oppressions, deficits, and a lack of institutional wellness with curiosity and a mindfulness for problem-solving, not with fear. Ask:

1. Do I understand the problem and where it comes from? This is inquiry.

2. Do I care enough about the problem and the people it harms? This is empathy.

3. Do I know how to correct it, and am I willing to do it? This is innovation, critical thinking, and problem solving.

None of this happens overnight. Wanting to jump straight to a solution without these steps and processes usually leads to more disconnect, dissidence, further inequities, and failed initiatives. Proceed with caution, proceed with strategy, but whatever you do, proceed!

Bonnie J. Walker is the director of equity and inclusion at Worcester Academy, plying this arena in education in Mass. for 16 years. Contact her at

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