Effective Leadership and Creating a Learning Environment

Agency culture can be defined as “…the basic pattern of shared beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, and assumptions acquired over time by members of an organization” (Connor, 2006). In other words, the way employees actually perceive, think, believe, and behave determines the culture of an agency. Behaviors in the work setting evolve from staff attitudes and belief systems, with the agency’s formal policies and procedures acting as the framework and guidelines for those behaviors. For their pursuit to be successful, an involved, focused, and responsive management team is key. Leaders should embrace and be fully committed to a continuous quality improvement (CQI) structure and process, and their actions should set the stage for full implementation of CQI.

Uneasiness in staff, over altering procedures and change in general, can sometimes increase challenges in implementing a CQI program. A crucial factor affecting employees’ perception of change is the degree of control and involvement they have in implementing those changes. Thus, it is critically important that management involve all levels of staff (particularly field staff) in evaluating and designing change initiatives; staff should feel a degree of ownership for practice changes, as well as the implications of those changes.

Management should anticipate and proactively deal with any apprehension (particularly at the worker and supervisor level) surrounding implementation of a systematic, ongoing process of examining, shifting, and improving practice. Great care should be taken to minimize misinformation, reassure staff, and reduce any anxieties. For example, management in some agencies in the midst of significant change have held open door office hours in areas being impacted as a venue to encourage staff to express any concerns and/or offer suggestions.

By whatever means they can, leaders should continually solicit input, provide information, answer questions, and attempt to allay concerns; doing so will result in staff feeling much more empowered, positive, and engaged in change initiatives. Leaders who are committed, forward-thinking, enthusiastic, transparent, and sensitive to staff needs can enable employees, external stakeholders, and the organization as a whole to adapt and thrive in the challenging environment of change.

There should be unwavering constancy of purpose in communicating to staff at all levels and in all divisions the immense rewards of a well-functioning CQI system, and expectations regarding their full participation in the process. Staff should be helped to understand that CQI is not a time-limited project or initiative, but will instead be transformative and lasting. CQI will not just augment their work; it will become the way the agency does its work.

This section further explains how effective leaders will go about creating and sustaining a continuous learning environment that yields ongoing improvements. It also discusses using leadership to deal with challenges and promote change, with a focus on the Adaptive Leadership model.

Note: For more information about Adaptive Leadership, visit the Cambridge Leadership Associates Web site at LINK