What makes AMI work?

Ella Amir has been AMI’s Executive Director for over 30 years. Her tireless work and attention have been key to growing AMI into the well-respected organization it is today. A critical part of this has been her approach to staff and the atmosphere of our workplace. Unlike many workplaces, at AMI employees are treated like people, not as disposable, anonymous workers, and the dedication and longevity of staff reflects this. Here are some of Ella’s thoughts on workplace culture. 

Throughout my tenure at AMI-Quebec, I have viewed staff as the most important asset of the organization. While it sounds like common sense, many workplaces fail to recognize that, and the outcome is often unhappy employees, who often stay because of convenience or fear of change rather than because their interests and values are congruent with those of their organization; such employees often fail to be engaged or accomplished.

I believe that most employees, if given the opportunity, like to be engaged and participate in the organizational process. Employees become disengaged if they do not feel their contribution is essential or their opinions valued. Engaged employees are more likely to feel ownership of the organization, which translates into forward and creative thinking, and proactive engagement in problem solving.

A culture of openness, transparency and respect is critical, where employees feel safe to share their views, even if they may not be congruent with mainstream views. The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group suggests that when we feel judged, we act small and contribute less. But when we feel joined, we can be big and contribute more. ‘Joining behaviours’ about work include acceptance, exploration, curiosity, problem solving, engagement, and open thinking. On the other hand, ‘judging behaviours’ are characterized by defensiveness, problem finding, ‘telling’, and closed thinking. Clearly, unlike judging behaviours that withhold trust, joining behaviours extend trust.

The ability of an organization to face a crisis in an effective way (i.e. continue to operate with little interruption) can be predicted, at least in part, by the ‘state of affairs’ before a crisis has occurred. Warning signs are often apparent, if only one would be willing to see. Conflicts, employee absenteeism and disengagement, and dissatisfaction of service users with the quality of services are just some red flags that may signal the need to pay attention. Without concerted efforts to rectify such challenges, one can predict that in a crisis situation the organization is likely to experience serious challenges to its operation and service delivery.

AMI’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example of this. Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges for all workplaces. We entered the pandemic with a solid team. While each member had their own tasks and responsibilities, there was (and is!) a healthy fluidity and collaboration. The transition to working from home and offering all programs and services remotely required important adjustments, both technologically and mentally. Team members spared no efforts to ensure that delivery of programs was not interrupted and the community was not compromised. It was a remarkable achievement in a very trying time. All this is, in my view, a manifestation of a healthy organization, where employees feel ownership and commitment and are motivated to invest in the wellbeing of the organization. Like many things in life, good outcomes are often associated with reciprocal relationships: giving and receiving go hand in hand, where the organization and its employees both give and receive.

From Share & Care Fall 2022

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