Improving Culture and Performance Through Feedback

The Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District leadership team approached their ailing culture with a shared sense of urgency to develop a healthy environment for students and all stakeholders. Wisely, the team started by requesting, receiving, and responding to feedback to build trust with disillusioned employees. Through their partnership with Studer Education, leaders built their mindset and skill set to accept honest, actionable feedback and use it for improvement. 

Why Is Culture So Important to Success?

Culture acts as the “fuel” for strategy. That fuel generates lasting impact. Experienced leaders know a misaligned culture is costly. Rifts drive out high-performing staff members, erode trust and account for half of all system failures.

Strong culture creates greater discipline than disciplinary action does.

-Peter Drucker

The Chippewa Falls Story

Chippewa Falls School District has been a partner of Studer Education since 2014. Prior to being partners, the community had a superintendent who served for many years. After his retirement, three superintendents worked with the district for shorter terms, creating instability over 15 years. The impact of the leadership turnover was typical. Organizational culture and momentum took a hit through each transition. Student achievement ranked at the bottom compared with like districts. Student behavior problems became routine. Low employee trust resulted in high staff turnover. Staff perception spilled over, negatively impacting community perception of the school district.

In 2015, the superintendent again announced he was leaving. Staff were wounded with another loss. Dr. Heidi Eliopoulos, a middle school principal at the time, was selected as the next superintendent. The board president had faith in Heidi as a leader and valued her commitment to the community. Heidi accepted the role with a split 4-3 board decision. The same board president passed away three weeks after her selection. Heidi knew the board, staff and community deserved better outcomes. Building the foundation for a strong organizational culture became her highest priority. Employees were characterized by Heidi as “good people” working in survival mode. Meeting basic needs became their primary focus. It was difficult for staff to portray a strong sense of commitment to the organization through each leadership transition. Heidi and her team have worked hard to bring trust back to the system as the full system charts the course toward a stronger future.

In this case study…

  1. Building the Mindset and Skill Set for Feedback
  2. Owning the Challenge
  3. The Stakeholder Surveys
  4. The Survey Results Rollout Process
  5. Focused Organizational Excellence
  6. Where Are They Now?

Key Takeaways

  • Misaligned culture is costly.
  • Rifts in culture account for half of all system failures.
  • Trust is damaged when feedback is ignored.
  • Hard-wired leadership shifts culture and outcomes.