I’ve been thinking a lot about the need to address culture change at the process level.
While leaders often try to kick-start culture change with broad, company-wide initiatives, the reality of culture is in the processes and procedures of the day to day. Individuals draw conclusions about what an organization values by observing work processes, evaluation systems and resource allocation decisions. So as a leader, you have a much better chance of making meaningful change by focusing your attention on those things.
What does this have to do with the antiquated computers, piecemeal reporting systems and hand-me-down phone systems that are found in many non-profits? I believe the lack of proper tools illustrates the culture of scarcity that pervades those organizations and can also be a first step in mitigating it.
As a former non-profit administrator, I am well aware that scarcity is a reality. There are rarely enough funds to meet the community need, leaders are under pressure from funders to keep administrative costs unrealistically low, and the funds that are available are rightly prioritized for direct service. I get all that. But I also think that the scarcity mentality leads to complacency and the acceptance of a lower standard.
Team members need the proper tools and resources to do their jobs. Ignoring this leads to a culture that undervalues employees while simultaneously expecting them to perform miracles. Mission-driven organizations depend on the passion of committed employees and volunteers. But passion only goes so far. Hit too many roadblocks in your daily work and eventually passion will burn out.
If you want to change your culture of scarcity, start at the most basic level. Consider what tools would help your team do their job better and focus your attention there. Is top-of-the-line hardware realistic, or even necessary? Probably not. But demonstrating to employees, even in small ways, that you care about making their jobs easier goes a long way.
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Are you meeting your team’s needs?
You’ve just been assigned a new team and they’re all under 25. What’s your first response?
a) “Ugh. Get me outta here…fast.”
b) “Yes! Now we can finally get something done.”
c) “Meh. What else is new?”
Your gut reaction to this scenario may have a lot to do with your own generation. Boomer, Gen X, Millennial…each has different expectations of life and work. While it’s best to get to know your team as individuals, it doesn’t hurt to also understand what makes them tick as a generation.
Here are some links to get you started:
Charter School Leadership: Elements for School Success by Cameron Curry
I’ve been meaning to recommend this book and Modern Mrs. Darcy has given me the perfect motivation with “The Best Books You’ve Never Heard Of” series.
Charter School Leadership is built around inspiring team members through a focus on mission, culture and values. In taking an organization from ordinary to extraordinary, Curry focuses on the need for leaders to stay mission-minded and to use the mission as a filter to align priorities. He emphasizes that leaders should create a culture that is definable, manageable and meaningful. Curry offers examples of how to translate culture into tangible actions and how culture can then become part of the feedback and assessment process. He also explains that leaders need to be specific and strategic in their communications and emphasizes working from a plan, in everything from assessing performance to sending emails.
If you’re not a charter school leader, you’ve likely overlooked this book. And yes, there are elements that are specific to the school environment (managing teachers, parents, etc.). However, Curry’s extensive business background informs his charter school leadership and in this book, he offers a brief, readable guide that is applicable for all organizations.
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Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
– Lao Tzu
As busy managers, we may overlook the important role we play in creating our workplace culture. The mindset we bring to our jobs can impact the destiny of the whole organization.
Imagine an average day at your organization. A consultant visits the office to observe and interact with the staff. How would this consultant describe your organization’s culture?
This is one of my favorite prompts to use when doing an organizational culture assessment. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recently shared this post which sheds light on why this type of question is so effective. In short, people are more likely to give their true opinion when speaking for others. By taking the spotlight off the individual, we often get a more honest response.
You can find other prompts in the Culture Assessment – Short Form on the Toolkit page.
Organizational culture: The system of shared values, symbols, beliefs and norms that exist within the organization; the features of everyday existence that give the organization its character and set it apart from other organizations.
As an anthropologist, I think of culture as the way we create solutions to shared problems. Consider how human groups have evolved over the millennia. Bands of individuals are repeatedly faced with common problems – how to communicate, how to divide labor, how to show respect for one another. Each group chooses to solve these problems in its own way. These unique combinations of beliefs and behaviors are what define human cultures.
At the organizational level, we can view culture in a similar way. Organizational culture evolves as its members find solutions to everyday problems. How do we interact with one another? How do we best serve our customers? How do we prioritize our time?
Your organization has a culture. Your people have been asking and answering these kinds of questions since day one, and in doing so, have established what is expected and accepted within your organization. The big question, then, is how is this culture driving behavior that serves your mission? Is it making your organization more effective or is it dragging you down?
Imagine your organization has received a prestigious industry award for excellence. You’ve been asked to represent your organization at the award ceremony. Who do you thank in your acceptance speech?
Write down your answers.
Now, what can you do to strengthen your relationships with the individuals/organizations on your list?