Why Curate Your Corporate Culture?

By Marty Parker

Curating culture is all about looking ahead to where you want to go as an organization – it’s your future planning, but built around culture.  Once you understand who you want to be as an organization (versus who you are today), you can start to effectively develop a plan for transforming your culture and achieving your vision.

I recently sat down with Stéphane Giguère, president and CEO at Ottawa Community Housing, to talk about that organization’s experience with culture transformation – one that started with a culture curation process that engaged their team and stakeholders.

The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the full conversation here.

Marty Parker:
Ottawa Community Housing is a great example of how assessing and curating culture can help drive success. Talk a bit about what drove you and your team to undertake a review of your culture just a few years ago.

Stéphane Giguère:
For us, part of the conversation around the culture was, how can we be purposeful to reflect on the diversity that we are serving? We are serving tenants in 28 different languages. So when you start thinking about that, how can you make sure that your culture journey also reflects on where you want to be?

We started having the dialog internally about, what are we tolerating and not tolerating from a management standpoint? And this is kind of a demarcation point because you tend to let things go on their own over the years. And all of a sudden you start realizing that the direction is going this way and we should steer the other way around. And one of the goals was really, how can we realign the organization to make sure that management, the staff, the partners, the contractors are all aligning in the same direction.

And again, connecting the dots between the higher level strategies that you elaborate in the boardroom to, again, being in the field and serving the tenants or your clients. That was really one of the missing links that we saw early on that we thought let’s be intentional and let’s change it. And we decided to undertake that journey with that mindset of being there and making sure that the culture would be the reflection of our DNA as an organization.

Marty Parker:
What did the kind of cultural assessment and that cultural curation process look like for you at Ottawa Community Housing as you kind of went through that process and were very intentional about connecting those dots?

Stéphane Giguère:
It started with a conversation. Conversation with the entire staff. I mean by that, that we went out and met with each and every one of the staff of the organization having a dialog about, what do you feel about the culture of OCH? What it is, that culture, what it could be. And we asked those questions and we were also ready to be uncomfortable in some of the answers and be ready to adapt and change. And the goal, again, was in the back of our mind and the back of the mind of the staff to really better serve our clients. So having always in mind that we’re doing this not for ourselves, for the clients.

And we started extending beyond the staff to look at contractors… But we went beyond that. We said, “We need to also engage governance.” So our governing model includes 38 different individuals, volunteer or community members or elected members. And for us, it was also important to get their views about the culture. What is the culture? And just as an anecdote that I had, I remember talking to one of the key stakeholders and they were wondering, “Why are you talking about the culture? Why is it so important?” And I said, “This is exactly why we’re doing it, because you’re asking that exact same question. It’s because we need to understand what fascinates the day-to-day of OCH and makes OCH that leader in our space, in our field.” And once we were in the position to better understand that from our staff, from the stakeholders, now we were able to summarize it.

What we realized in the summary process though, that it would be a journey. It won’t be the start point and an end game. The end game will be on and on and on and on. There’s an element that we realized also that you can operationalize culture but there’s an element where you cannot operationalize culture. It’s more about the willingness, the intention back to that point of being intentional. And as leaders also, we set the tone and we provide the proper tone to the staff and to the industry as well to become the leader that we are now at OCH.

Marty Parker:
Now you ended up to this process with a culture roadmap. Describe what that is and how it’s being used at Ottawa Community Housing today.

Stéphane Giguère:
The roadmap is really the alignment, is our user guide, like in your car you have your user guide, you do your checkpoints and everything. A little bit of that was to, how we can make it accessible to everyone, and I want say all of us working at OCH that there’s a reference. But also that you understand that there’s a commitment as well. It’s like when you go to the garage and you know that you did your oil change, but you know that you have to redo it in the next 10,000 kilometers, right? But that’s the same checkpoint that we do in our journey, is to commit everyone to say, you know what, in maybe six months, in a year, we’ll be back asking you questions or getting your feedback. And in the meantime, we’re collecting also information…

The road map, it’s not a static document. It’s very dynamic. It’s going to our corporate performance committees at the governance level and it’s presented at the board once a year as a refresh and update and with some commitments toward some goals that are important, not only for our HR groups, but also for the entire organizations. And part of the roadmap, one commitment that we made was to evolve the HR function. You may have noticed that our executive at the title is People Culture and Communication. So if you look at the element of the role, there’s a loop around that is important because the way that we communicate… And with Zoom we learn a lot that we have to communicate a lot and even more than before. Where a town hall once a year was enough, now you go maybe every second week or every month and you engage with your staff or maybe every day you engage with your staff. And that’s the new norm because people expect that we will deliver more and we have to deliver to their homes as well. I mean, the staff working from home as well as the field workers that they are connecting with us on their cell phone and devices while they are deployed.

So again, for me, those are the elements of the roadmap and that journey. So it’s the element of communication, the element of technology also behind it, but also the notion of culture being more than a statement. It’s a commitment, really.

Marty Parker:
So I’m curious, how has this culture transformation really helped drive performance at Ottawa Community Housing?

Stéphane Giguère:
So it’s important, again, to understand that for us, the notion of the performance was to be able to establish some baseline in terms of performance, baseline around KPIs that we all collectively agree. And also evolve languages around quality assurance. The sense of belonging also was creating that extension that our communities, our buildings, our properties are the extension of your workplace. And now, we can make sure that everyone has at the heart to make sure that we deliver the best possible services in our communities.

In the last three or four years that we’ve been in that journey, what we’ve seen are those results… But what we’ve seen also is the level of responsiveness of leadership that we are seeing from the staff, contractors, partners, volunteers, that they are coming over, all with the same goal of making that difference in someone’s life.

Marty Parker:
What does the culture of leadership actually looked like at Ottawa Community Housing?

Stéphane Giguère:
It’s important for the executive team, for the directors, the managers and any supervisors and the staff to understand that you are not working in an environment where we expect you to show up early in the morning, punch in at 9:00 and leave 4:00. It’s more about the accountability. You have work to do. And nowadays with working from anywhere and not only from home but anywhere, the staff work from a restaurant or a Starbucks or wherever and they deliver on the services that they have to. You know what, I’m just amazed when I see that, because for me, this is accountability. You have a work to deliver on and that’s what people are expecting all of us as an organization.

And the other aspect around also accountability for me, is making sure that the executive team communicate well as well. So it’s not only to the CEO, it’s making sure that all along the way, the messages are clear, they’re crisp, the targets are understood and also the involvement of the staff is there. But this is also a dialog it’s not just a one way communication. And this is where, when we started that journey, we asked staff, “What do you think about the culture at OCH?” And I remember some executive around the industry, they were telling me, “You may not want to know that.” And I was like, “No, I really want to know that. And I want to be pushed, I want to be challenged. And that we will be able to really improve from where we are.”

And where we were was not bad. But I knew that, instinctively, that this organization has a lot to offer, amazing staff, amazing clients and all. We can really stand for them and raise the bar as much as we can here.

And where we were was not bad. But I knew that, instinctively, that this organization has a lot to offer, amazing staff, amazing clients and all. We can really stand for them and raise the bar as much as we can here.