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Culture Clues


Life is always teaching us stuff. Lately, it's reminded me that we're human beings, not human "doings". When we are in an environment focused on all the "doing" we often feel like a thing or a resource. The clues to this are displayed in a lack of hearing people say...

  • I'm sorry
  • I need help
  • I don't know
  • I made a mistake

These clues may seem overly simplified, they aren't. They often indicate too much fear is present. When we don't feel safe, our moral courage is shut down and replaced with survival instincts. This fear holds back individual and team growth. Having the courage to say these is a sign we feel psychologically safe.

With a little more discovery we may find deeper issues.

We find it hard to model organizational values because they aren't reflected in the "how" work is accomplished. The structures, systems, and processes aren't in alignment.

"Most of what we call management (leadership) consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done." -Peter Drucker

Leadership is the key, always. AND...we fix processes and coach people.

Inspirational and effective leaders embrace building great teams. Those teams embody the organization's values through the leadership of the individuals within them. This is a direct reflection of the kind of organization you desire to have. People can and will operationalize the stated values when the structures, processes, and systems align with the desired culture.

What's rewarded is repeated

Do the formal and informal recognition systems select leaders who embody their values alongside company values? A system that views these leaders as outsiders will soon lose them in favor of compliant, low-risk employees after a perfect record. Embrace the Mavericks!

"Clear is kind." -Brene' Brown

The systems and processes can support bureaucracy with too little connection to desired outcomes. Fix the processes and coach the people so they have clarity on organization expectations.

Psychological Safety

Do employees feel less seen, heard, and valued and more like interchangeable commodities? This is indicated by a decline in engagement, morale, and retention.

Again, simply professing organizational values won't matter if the methods of carrying them out don't reflect them.

Stand for something or Fall for anything

If organizational values don't matter, don't have them. Take down the posters. Communicating your cultural values without committing to them creates results way worse than the honest alternative.

If organizational values do matter, it's everyone's responsibility to not let any structure, process, or system survive that gets in the way of upholding and protecting them.

You have a team of leaders. Use them. Get them engaged on how to express their desires for a positive work environment. When this happens you will see positive changes in all measurable aspects of your organization. And, the human "beings" will show their appreciation with unconditional loyalty!

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About the Extension Foundation

The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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