Case study: Producing a Culture Change in a Government Agency
Ivan Rosenberg
Ivan Rosenberg

The Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino


The Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino (HACSB) is an independent government agency that provides housing to at-need families and individuals in San Bernardino County, CA, the geographically largest counties in the US.

The Agency served about 32,000 residents and had been innovative in finding ways to provide housing, including developing low-cost housing on its own. Nevertheless, there was an 8-year waiting list for housing.

Exacerbating efforts to improve performance were inhibited by a very low employee morale, in large part fueled by a feeling of being overworked and a consequent lack of cooperation both within the Agency and with other social services.

For the Agency to be able to serve more residents under a anticipated decreasing allocation from the federal government, the Executive Director believed the following goals needed to be achieved:

- Have the entire workforce own and become engaged in the long-term goal of improving performance, rather than believe “We are doing the best we can with the available resources.”
- Increase cooperation and collaboration across department boundaries.
- Increase cooperation and collaboration between the Agency and other government and non-government organizations serving the residents.
- Increase workforce creativity in developing ways to meet the demand for housing.


The Agency needed an organizational transformation, also referred to as a “culture change”. People’s behavior is governed by the context in which they act. The biggest context most of the workforce had was “We provide housing and, while we would like to do more, we can’t because of limited resources.” This needed to be altered to a commitment to provide far more housing and an openness to new possibilities, including a new context of “Nothing will stop us.”

We recommended that the Agency engage in FAI’s Organizational Transformation Program, which has two components:
- FAI’s Strategic Planning Workshop to design the future of the Agency
- FAI’s Effective Leader Program

The Strategic Planning Workshop started with creating the source of passion for the workforce, and then working backwards to the present to create a fulfillment plan. The Mission Statement created was “HACSB empowers all individuals and families in need to achieve an enriched quality of life by providing housing opportunities and resources throughout San Bernardino County.” Standing in their passion, they created a set of Strategic Goals, one of which was “No eligible family waits longer than 10 days for housing” — a considerable reduction from the then current eight years.

All Agency managers participated in FAI’s Effective Leader Program. In addition to the new insights into communication, management, and leadership provided by this program, the managers saw that many of the problems their organizational units faced were symptoms of Agency-wide issues that needed to be addressed in a collaborative manner.


Essentially all the goals for the first year of the Strategic Plan, many of which required breakthroughs, were accomplished.

The Executive Director Dan Nackerman observed, "We have accomplished all four of the Interim Goals of the engagement with Frontier Associates. As an organization we went from thinking small to thinking big in about two months time. There is now automatic excitement and drive behind each staff member effort that is a joy to observe— and of course much easier to guide, coach and manage…."

Carlene Friesen, the Director of Human Resources, said, “Because of the wide participation in developing the strategic plan, it had ownership by all stakeholders, including the Board and the workforce. Employee ownership has benefited us significantly in the areas of employee/manager relations, productivity, performance, morale, enthusiasm...and on and on.”

As of this writing, seven years, the passion and Strategic Plan still guide the organization as it focuses on enriching the quality of life of San Bernardino residents (see For example, the only Annual Reports shown on the Agency's website are those produced since the Strategic Plan was created.