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Late last year, Tendable hosted a webinar to investigate the importance of culture within Supported Independent Living (SIL) environments, and how disability service providers can develop a culture that produces better quality of life outcomes for those who access SIL supports.
Over the hour, panelists discussed a broad range of topics, including:
- The basics of what culture is
- How an organisation’s culture impacts the lives of service users
- The systems and structures required to embed and monitor culture
- Shared learnings from their own practice and research
This first article, inspired by the webinar, starts at the beginning. What is culture?
What does good culture look like as a SIL service provider? And how can an organisation begin to build a culture that will deliver better quality of life outcomes for people who access SIL supports?
The definition of culture that I like to use is staff members shared values, beliefs, norms and patterns of behaviour; that influence how they think, feel and act.
What is ‘culture’?
Given culture is something regularly discussed but often misunderstood, the webinar started with Dr Lincoln Humphries, a lecturer and researcher at the Living with Disability Research Centre at La Trobe University, providing a practical definition of culture for organisations. Dr Humphreys pointed out that while there are many interpretations of culture, all versions contain a few key elements:
- Any culture, good or bad, is a shared set of beliefs, values, norms and patterns of behaviour
- These shared beliefs, values, norms and patterns of behaviour influence how staff think and act
- Culture can vary across the same organisation – for example, in the SIL sector, cultures can vary from home to home; and within a disability service provider by service type, team, department and at different organisation levels
- Culture can enable and restrain people in what they do with a direct impact on the quality of services they deliver
NOTE - culture is therefore important for an organisation, especially for a SIL provider.
I think what is most important is knowing the culture in the services has a direct impact on the quality of life of the people they support.
What does a culture look like that supports quality of life?
There was a clear consensus among panel members, that the culture of an organisation has a significant influence on the quality of life of the people being supported. They identified five features of good culture at an accommodation level, that ensure better outcomes for those being supported.
- Effective team leadership – front line leaders work to embed a culture across the team that focusses on quality-of-life outcomes. Team leaders explain and regularly communicate the shared values, beliefs, norms and behaviours that the organisation expects.
- Staff support the well-being and quality of life of people in accommodation- the priorities and activities of the team on a day-to-day basis focus on supporting the well-being and quality of life of residents
- Shared ways of working - there is a shared understanding of how to best support the well-being and quality of life of the people being supported. The organisation has a standard of how to best provide support. All team members know how to meet this expectation.
- Good relationships between senior managers and the staff- management and frontline leaders know what is happening in the service on a day-to-day basis. Staff feel comfortable to go to their manager to discuss issues, get help, and ask for advice.
- Alignment of values and a common focus – there is consistency across levels of the organisation so that everyone is working to support the well-being and quality of life of residents, regardless of their role within the organisation.
Good culture doesn't happen by accident. It's real, intentional.
How to develop good culture within your organisation
The panelists agreed that developing good culture within an organisation, involved commitment, hard work and time.
The group provided guidance for organisations to begin developing a culture that will provide improved quality of life outcomes for those who access SIL supports. The key steps in the process were:
Observe Visit sites to understand what is happening on the frontline. Watch support workers interact with residents and their families. By observing the team, leaders can identify the specific challenges faced by support workers, and the style and level of support provided to service users. Authenticate this with tools that provide real-time data and an objective measure of what is happening, especially when management cannot be present. An organisation must understand it’s starting point, before deciding what aspects of their culture they want to keep and those they want to change.
Make frontline team culture the priority It is the foundation of improved and positive outcomes for those being supported. SIL supports happen in someone’s home environment. This means the culture of an organisation can have significant and immediate impact on the life of those who access SIL services.
Have consistent standards Make it easy for support workers to understand what good quality support is and what is expected of them by the organisation. Use templates and check lists for the team to record how they provide support. Share and learn from the findings, especially around good practice.
Communicate & refine Communicate and discuss the culture regularly among the organisation, not just the frontline. Ensure everyone understands the role they play in improving the quality-of-life outcomes for those the organisation supports, from the board down. This engages the whole team in the quality agenda, regardless of their role. Refine expectations based on measurable outcomes and feedback.
Look to established models Draw inspiration from proven cultural leadership models, such as the Five Behaviours model, from Patrick Lencioni’s ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’. During the webinar, Daniel Carter discussed how the Allevia leadership team had used this model to develop a clear understanding of good culture for their organisation.
You know the job's never done and even when you get close that's when you need to go back and start again and have another look.
The organisational culture of a disability service provider has direct impact of the quality of life of those who access their services. It determines the style of support provided, the attitudes and actions of those within an organisation, including frontline support workers. This is especially important in SIL settings, as support workers operate in the homes of those they support. By embedding a culture that focuses on quality-of-life outcomes for those being supported, disability service organisations can have a positive impact on those they support.
If you would like to know more about Dr Lincoln Humphreys research, can be found here.
Tendable can help disability service providers understand, measure and improve the culture within their organisation. If you would like to know more, please contact us.
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