A Transformational Leadership Culture Change Story with Lasting Effects

🕑 8 minutes read | Jan 19 2023 | By Becky Gendron

There are numerous studies showing the significant impact that leaders can have on the quality of a company’s culture. A leader’s talent, skills, and knowledge can exponentially improve a company’s culture and productivity. In fact, one study found that there is a 70% difference in culture quality between companies with inadequate leaders and great leaders.

In a recent episode of our podcast, “Bring Out The Talent,”  TTA’s CEO and President, Maria Melfa, and Recruitment Director, Jocelyn Allen discussed a powerful Brandon Hall award-winning transformation story with Kisha Dixon (TTA Learning Consultant) and Angie Tinch (Director of Special Projects at Girl Scouts of Kentucky’s Wilderness Road Council). This was an amazing project that transformed the Girl Scouts of Kentucky’s Wilderness Road Council and reinvented their leadership culture. Today, over 5 years later, the changes that the Girl Scouts of Kentucky’s Wilderness Road Council adopted continue to make a tremendous impact on the way they operate, how they lead, and how they continuously nurture a transformational workplace culture.

This initiative transformed a stagnant culture of dysfunction into one of empowerment. It led to a 22% decrease in employee turnover, the creation of a formal professional development program, the adoption of a new national sales strategy, increased membership renewals and retention, and went on to win a 2017 Brandon Hall Group Gold Award for Learning Excellence.

In this blog, we cover some key points from this episode:

Q: Angie How did you form your career with the Girl Scouts of Kentucky’s Wilderness Road Council?

A: I started working with Girl Scout’s Kentucky Wilderness Road toward the end of 2012. I started in the membership department for membership recruitment and led a couple of service centers, which included volunteerism, programming, membership, and the operational side of things. During that time, we were going through some significant shifts in the way we served the girls, volunteers, and our constituency. The business model was shifting.

I learned a lot in those first few years about the business side. Because of everything that I learned, I was in a good place to help identify and shift some of the culture work when Kisha came on board. I had gone from operations to more of the people side of it and understood what needed to shift within our culture if we were going to serve the business side.

Presently my title is Director of Special Projects and I have been in the council for ten years. I float in and out with my leadership if there’s a leadership vacancy or if there’s a support that is needed in a department. We have found that if we can grow our leaders and grow our staff and get them to the point where they need to be, then that’s the work that I do.

Q: Kisha, when you were originally brought in to help the Girl Scouts, it was supposed to be to teach a technical class. What happened?

A: I was part of a group that helped launch a Salesforce initiative across Girl Scouts of the USA and landed in Lexington, Kentucky. I was preparing to teach the class and met Angie.

She told me about the people and that they might be a little rude, and this person, you need to watch out for that, and this person, she is going to look like she’s not happy, but that’s just her face. I said, “Wow, that’s a lot of information that has nothing to do with Salesforce, what is going on here?” We taught the Salesforce class, and it went very well. It was a step in the right direction of business development to help implement Salesforce to the council.

We went to dinner afterward, and Angie asked what did you think of our people? I said that I like people, and I pay attention to people. We started having a conversation, and I was invited to come back as a sales consultant.

The first thing we put in the proposal was, let’s do some focus groups and get to know the people to find out if sales is where we needed to focus or something else. The “let me tell you about our people thing”, kept ringing in my head. Maybe there’s something a little deeper here, and maybe the solution wasn’t sales related. That’s where the real work began.

Q: Angie, from your perspective, what was the state of the culture when you were talking to Kisha?

A: We were a mess, but I knew we were a mess. You don’t want people to know how much of a mess you are. I was trying to control the chaos because that’s what we had been doing for so long that it was just part of our normal, everyday functioning. We were completely dysfunctional and moving in no direction really. We were focused too much on the sales part of it, and the sales shifting business model. We really forgot to consider our people and how it would impact them.

Q: Kisha, how did you work with Angie and the management team to address this?

A: I wasn’t prepared to really give any feedback. I spent some time talking to the leaders. At the end of the day, I remember very distinctly walking into the CEO’s office and making sure I wasn’t too harsh. As I started the conversation, I gently closed the door and said, all right ladies, let’s talk. And that made it easy, it was not uncomfortable,

Nobody was in charge. Everybody thought they were in charge. Nothing good was happening because there was a vacuum in leadership, and there were no clear expectations. I could not get the same answer from two people on what was expected of them.

I adored the way these ladies responded. So, what can we do? There was no defensive posture, no pushback. They knew they were crazy; they knew there was chaos, they knew it was dysfunctional, and they just hoped it didn’t look as bad on the outside as it felt on the inside. When they realized that it did, everybody was just completely committed to doing what needed to be done. We worked at it for about two and a half years.

It took two and a half years of just consistently coming back and revisiting topics, getting to know people, and finding out what their strengths were. We started asking good questions, and people began to relax their defenses a little and engage. They began owning their part of the culture and their part of the work environment.

Q: Angie, are you receiving pushback anymore? How do you keep the program going?

A: The pushback that we received was early on. We did have people that literally said, this is ridiculous, I’m not doing this, the assessments don’t work, they simply did not identify with the work, and they are no longer here. They realized that the culture we have and what we were creating was not a place they were not committed to.

The pushback we get now, on occasion they may question the assessments. We ask what their struggles are, and then we take it back to their strengths and how they could apply them.

For all managers, what we’re looking at is if they have a pipeline of leadership. We are trying to develop them in a way that they are comfortable implementing daily. We get their top ten strengths and then we talk about how they can work with their teams. We want people to understand that leadership development is not part of their jobs, it is their job. It is an expectation that they lead their teams in this way daily.

We did a transformational leadership program prior to the pandemic, and four cohorts went through it. The program was an opportunity for our employees to do professional development, personal development, team development, and organizational assessments.

We now have a biweekly lunch and learn every other Monday that all of the staff joins on Zoom. We discuss a topic, either a departmental topic, a leadership development topic, professional development, or whatever is going on at the moment.

We have learned to celebrate our failures because that is also when we learn. That has become just so much a part of our culture in every little thing we do. We don’t allow dysfunction to continue for very long. It is always there. It’s always going to be there, but we call it out.

Q: Angie, what does the transformational leader program look like? 

A: We started the transformational program before the pandemic, and we had one cohort that went through it during the pandemic. We found it was not as effective doing it virtually, so, we haven’t started that backup.

But prior to the pandemic, it was about a four to six months program. We met monthly; cohorts were ten or fewer people that were not in the same department. It would be staff members that had come on and had been with us for at least four to six months. The first session was all about strengths. It was really taking a deep dive into who they were as an individual.

The next time they came together, we talked about teamwork and how to work together as a team. Whether it was the team in front of them or the team they work with daily.

We gave them a list of problems. These were problems that we had, and we didn’t know how to solve them. We gave them a full day as a group to come up with what the solution would be. They presented that back to the director’s team. If the solution was something we could roll out, then they would be part of the implementation team.

Q: Angie, what else has the transformational leadership program had an impact on?

A: One of the biggest things that this has had an impact on is how we managed during the pandemic. We did not have to lay off any employees during that time. We were able to keep everyone employed and keep all of our programs moving. Honestly, I don’t know that I would still be here or that many of us would still be here had we not done that prior to the pandemic. The work we did with Kisha set us up and gave us a foundation to quickly “pivot.”

When things were starting to shut down, we were in a planning meeting. In two hours, we were able to make hard decisions about how we were going to function over the next two weeks and then how we would function over the next six months. There is no way that we would’ve been able to have that conversation prior to our work with Kisha because at that point, we knew what we needed to do, and there was no ego involved. 

To listen to the full episode for a deeper dive into the culture change at Girl Scouts of Kentucky’s Wilderness Road Council, click here. If you are interested in learning more about how TTA can help your organization successfully implement a cultural change, talk to us today.


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