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Minnetonka School District Builds on Excellence

Human Synergistics International provides tools for cultural change.

October 18, 2001
As a public school district, Minnetonka, Minnesota, has a reputation for excellence. With 950 employees and 7,700 students, this K-12 district in suburban Minneapolis was cosmopolitan enough to understand that it couldn't rest on its laurels if it was to continue to excel.

"We were concerned that maintaining the status quo wouldn't allow us to meet our potential or to meet the needs of the students of the future," explains Dr. Dan Jett, Minnetonka's district superintendent. Meeting those needs required planning and, according to Jett, "The best time to plan strategically is when you're doing well."

Human Synergistics helps identify cultural factors.
Jett enlisted the help of the Schiller Center in Alexandria, Virginia, to coordinate strategic planning for the school district. This action was done with the belief that someone outside the organization would bring fresh ideas and a broader range of skills to the process.

"It quickly became clear that their organizational culture was one of the (key) issues," adds Dr. Sherry Schiller, president of the Schiller Center. She recommended surveying the school district personnel using Human Synergistics International's Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI) and Organizational Effectiveness Inventory (OEI).

These two tools identify an organization's cultural style and the factors that are shaping that culture, as well as why the culture is either constructive or defensive, how effectiveness is affected and how the culture can be improved to increase efficiency. The OCI and OEI surveys are available in paper and Web-based formats. The results are then compiled to reflect organizational-level feedback and presented in a computer-generated report. "These are very usable, research-based tools that are effective in a variety of industries," says Schiller.

An objective perspective keeps goals in focus.
Human Synergistics' tools were helpful because they were objective. According to the inventory, "Our culture was traditional, with many perfectionists," says Jett. The culture also suffered from weak relationships.

Schiller presented the OCI and OEI results to all of the district employees and placed a copy of the results at each of the 11 sites for anyone to peruse. "Dr. Schiller was challenged on the interpretation of the data," Jett explains, "mainly because the data came from a business environment and people didn't believe it applied to schools, even though they could identify with the results."

A little cultural change takes a lot of time and effort.
After the Human Synergistics assessments, each school and the district itself developed blueprints for change that focused on building trust, meeting individual learning needs and creating a culture of continuous improvement.

The findings resulted in a lot of meetings, but "The meetings turned the tide," says Schiller. "Usually leaders say they want change but never give employees the time to create change." At the Minnetonka School District, "We closed school half a day on multiple occasions -- and took some criticism for it," Jett confesses. However, you can't create positive change in just a few minutes here or there.

As a result, the culture is shifting toward a more open, innovative and less bureaucratic climate. Metrics documenting the extent of the change will be available in 2000, after the first formal assessment. "People are using the language of those goals in a lot of things they do," Jett says. In the process of this cultural shift, they're building less adversarial, more cooperative relationships. He continues: "They're making a conscious effort to promote constructive behavior."