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Refreshing the culture in an established organisation

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

Te Ora Hou (TOH) Whanganui is a Maori and faith-based organisation that helps youth reach their full potential. It’s been around for a good long time, and Judy Kumeroa has been working there for a good long time as well. She started out as a volunteer in 1992, and now she runs the place.

More recently, Judy has been focussing on the organisation’s culture. She wanted to develop more of a coaching culture within TOH, but was having a hard time getting the changes she wanted off the ground. So she reached out to The Mentoring Foundation via Thrive Whanganui to pair her with someone who could help her develop the skills she needed to shift TOH’s culture.

The Mentoring Foundation paired her with Melita Farley. Melita runs a couple of businesses in Whanganui, and has done a significant amount of consulting around workplace training, e-learning and a number of other related disciplines. This made her the ideal mentor to help Judy affect culture change in TOH.

It’s about relationships

Melita and Judy quickly agreed that in order to change culture, Judy needed to work on strengthening relationships – particularly at a governance and senior leadership level. This is key, because culture change comes from the top and is only effective when people buy into it. People need to actively choose to follow a new culture – they can’t be forced into it, no matter who tells them to do so.

So Judy worked closely with Melita to help develop strategies and behaviours to strengthen these relationships. They’d meet once a month or so, and talk through any meetings and interactions that Judy had had, and any coming up.

This outside perspective was invaluable – Judy said it helped her figure out which battles were worth picking for the good of the organisation, and which battles were worth leaving aside for the sake of the relationship. This is a delicate balance, and Melita helped Judy navigate it.

Judy said that one of the main things Melita brought to the table was actually pretty simple: a pair of fresh eyes! “Melita isn’t in my world, so the outside perspective was really valuable,” Judy said.

The mentor connection

But success in this project isn’t just about relationships that Judy has with her stakeholders. It’s also about the relationship between her and Melita. In order to develop stronger stakeholder relationships, she had to be willing to really talk things through with Melita. And in order to do that, she had to develop a relationship of trust with Metlita.

Judy says they developed this relationship really quickly. She felt like she “had permission” to reflect back on why she did things, how she could do things differently, and what she was feeling in a given moment. Her and Melita had a near-instant trust and rapport with one another, so, together, they were able to really probe Judy’s way of thinking.

Melita’s approach was key to this. Judy said “I never felt judged, no matter what I shared. I never regretted participating in a conversation with her. “

And this goes both ways. To make Judy feel comfortable sharing sometimes-challenging things about herself, Melita was also open. This made them connect quickly, and get a lot of value out of their discussions by being open and honest with one another.

The results

Since engaging with Melita through the Mentoring Foundation, Judy has rolled out a peer coaching programme at TOH. As well as the relationship strengthening mentioned above, Melita also helped with the practicalities of rolling this programme out – namely, choosing who the pairs are for peer coaching.

Judy also says that the mentoring has helped her get “unstuck” from some thought patterns, by reframing her thinking. This has had an ongoing positive effect on her ability to work with and influence other people in and around the organisation.

Finally, there was a small, but meaningful benefit. Judy, like everyone, can be her own worst critic. Working with Melita, who was open about her own quirks and idiosyncrasies, helped Judy realise that she was much more “normal” than she thought she was. This helped to boost her confidence, and in turn further helped her to strengthen relationships and influence TOH’s organisational culture.

What’s next?

While some mentoring relationships have a fixed end date, Melita and Judy are still working together. Melita says she sees the relationship as an equal relationship, where they both have lots of experience, but in different areas – this helps both of them get a lot of value out of the mentoring. As for Judy, she intends on passing on the torch, and becoming a mentor herself someday!

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