Turning Around a Toxic Environment Causing
Union Activity & a Failed Audit

PROBLEM: Culture of Bullying Resulted in Failing of Accreditation Audit

At an organization whose mission was to help people with disabilities thrive in the community, the workplace bullying had become rampant. The former CEO had apparently been a real bully himself; his leadership and personality style had dripped downward into the organization, and a culture of bullying and negativity ensued.

During an annual audit by the industry’s accrediting body the negative culture came to light – the organization failed miserably and was given two years to turn things around in a major way. Staff, providers of services, families and the community were devastated. Morale was low and union activity began.

The board of directors asked the CEO to step down, and they replaced him with a new CEO who was charged with ensuring the audit would be passed, and that the organization could be restored to its original glory. The CEO listened to her managers when they asked for help, tools and ideas for resolving the problem of bullying, and she knew culture change was the ultimate solution.

SOLUTION: A Five-Step Plan for Change

The accrediting body’s timeframe for change was a lot of pressure for the CEO, and she decided it was in the best interests of the organization to bring in an expert to help her. She called upon Civility Partners, and together, they devised a five step plan:

  1. Train the leaders, managers and supervisors in driving culture change
  2. Create a culture committee made up of people from all levels of the organization
  3. Create a social vision that would drive the new culture
  4. Update the core values so that they resonated with the employees
  5. Develop a strategic plan around the new values
 ideas for resolving the problem of workplace bullying

After a four-hour training on culture change, a committee was indeed created by asking for volunteers as well as assigning some key organizational champions. Using input gained through various exercises with employees, the social vision, “Enhancing Lives” was eventually created, and the old core values were replaced with new ones: Integrity, Communication, Accountability, Respect, Collaboration, Professionalism.

The CEO knew that culture change couldn’t stop there, so with coaching from Civility Partners in the background, she worked with her departments to develop action items around these new values. Ultimately a strategic plan was created so that the organization would stay on track for culture change.

 Audit with a Better Workplace

RESULTS: Passing Audit with a Better Workplace

Results of these initiatives included:


  1. Passing the audit with flying colors
  2. Union activity ceased
  3. Create a social vision that would drive the new culture
  4. The two worst “bullies” quit six months into the initiative, meaning the worst of the resistance to change was out of the way
  5. A new positive work environment could be felt throughout the organization

“Inland Regional Center was experiencing a very hostile and volatile work environment to the point that employees, good friends who had shared an office for over three years, were no longer able to work side by side. Behavior that would be seen on the playground with young teenagers was being replayed for some staff.

Civility Partners was recruited to spend the day with IRC Managers and Directors. This training gave the managers the tools to create change; moving from negative behavior to more positive attitudes towards each other in the work units. Some of the negative walls came down and allowed the positive to creep in and at the same time a way to build trust among one another.

Because the discussion was done in a safe environment with Catherine Mattice it allowed for our minds to open to ideas and methods to allow ourselves to get beyond the negativity of the past; to move toward new ways to create the needed path for change.

Today, people are smiling and looking at one another. Laughter is heard in the halls. People are able to problem solve and reach a good resolution. It has taken over a year and IRC is becoming, once again, a good place to work.”

– Carol Fitzgibbons, Executive Director, Inland Regional Center