As COTS’ CEO, each month I take a moment to consider what I want our community to know about our organization and our progress in serving Sonoma County’s homeless. I look forward to sharing these thoughts with you in this Virtual Cup of Coffee – my monthly communique about the business and mission moments of COTS (Committee On The Shelterless).

My best,

Being Intentional About Culture

We often read about the culture of businesses – what good cultures look like, and unfortunately and more often, about toxic cultures. What is culture and why am I writing about it when it appears that culture has nothing to do with solving homelessness?

Culture is the collection of values, customs and norms, behaviors, actions, and expectations that guides how a business operates. It can include a written policy or procedure, be spoken and unspoken, or assumed. It’s not negotiated, and not formed by a press release, annual report, framed on a wall, or a glossy brochure highlighting accomplishments. Culture is about consistent and authentic behaviors. It’s what a team member sees and feels every day – through the good and bad times. Like a computer, culture is an organization’s operating system.

If you want to see the real culture, then observe how a CEO responds to problems or a crisis, how decisions are made, how problems are solved between team members, or what happens when mistakes are made.

One main reason people leave organizations or stay, is culture. Qualities of a great culture include alignment with the mission and vision; everyone rowing in the same direction; consistent appreciation and recognition of team members for a job well done; trust with each other; resilience and how problems are solved; how organizations transform with the times; integrity and doing the right thing; and psychological safety – being in a safe and supportive environment where people can do what they do best, and feel comfortable contributing to the mission.

Companies cannot “luck” their way into building a great culture. It has to be intentional, sustainable, and a core business strategy. Early in my career, I often heard the phrase, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” For a while, I believed that. But as I got more experience in business, leading people, and helping transform organizations to health, I realized that statement was incorrect. Strategy and culture should never be bifurcated or operate in silos. Instead, creating a healthy culture should always be a main focus and part of one’s strategy. Building a healthy culture must be intentional and “built by design.”

So why am I sharing all this. Because last month, COTS received two pieces of great news. We were awarded “One of the Best Places to Work in Sonoma County” by the North Bay Business Journal (NBBJ). And for the 3rd year in a row, our July 2022 Employee Engagement Survey received an overwhelming satisfaction score by our team members. In both cases, our team completed the anonymous surveys. We have no way of knowing who participated in the survey or what a specific team member said. Seventy percent of the COTS team participated in both surveys. The NBBJ awards ceremony will be on September 14 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.

And for the July 2022 Employee Engagement Survey, we had a ninety five percent Satisfaction Rating. Some of the 17 questions in the survey were: I know what is expected of me in my position; I have the materials and information I need to perform my job; I have the opportunity to do what I do best almost every day; my supervisor is respectful and encouraging; my opinions are heard and addressed; my co-workers are committed to performing quality work; I would recommend working at COTS; I believe COTS lives it values of Integrity, Respect, Collaboration, Celebration, and Outcomes, and more.

So what does this have to do with addressing homelessness? Lots! Our team is responsible to help our clients find housing; to address the issues that led to their homelessness; to be their advocate and believe in them when no one else will; help them take the next steps in their addiction or medical and mental health issues; and to help them live their best lives. Our work is difficult, not very glamorous, and has a high burn out rate. It takes a special person to do this work. So having a strong, safe, professional, and fun culture filled with amazing and talented people makes it easier to attract and retain talent. It also decreases turnover, though not all turnover is bad. More people are fully engaged. They trust each other and jump in when help is needed. It increases performance and productivity. It results in a strong brand identity – people want to work for you because of your culture. To be our best, and to provide the best care for those experiencing homelessness, we have to have the best people to do this difficult work. And having a great culture makes all that happen.

So often, we hear businesses being measured by revenue, market share, or products sold. While that is good, perhaps just as important are metrics like quality of leadership, culture, and staff satisfaction. Afterall, it’s the people and culture that ultimately drive the numbers and results.

I remember during one interview, the candidate asked our team, “so what’s the vibe like at COTS?” Well…the vibe is really cool, healthy, fun, and only getting better. At COTS, we just really like each other.

CEO Search

COTS has selected a new CEO and we are extremely excited. We found the perfect candidate to lead COTS for the next bunches (I think that’s a word) of years. We will make the official announcement in mid to late September and share more exciting information about this candidate.

Until next month,

Chuck Fernandez