Are You Paying Attention to Culture?

 
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By Molly Penn

The best laid plans can be facilitated or foiled by organizational culture - the (mostly) invisible force that guides how people in your organization interact with one another and with those you serve. So if culture is invisible, how do you pay attention to it? Ah, there’s the rub! Because it’s hard to see, culture escapes the attention of senior staff - the problem is, it forms, whether they pay attention to it or not. Here are some tools to help you be more proactive about building a culture where people want to work with you and do their best work when they’re there:

ASSESS WHERE YOU ARE:

It can be helpful to start by getting a read on your current culture. If you are not already in the habit of noticing your culture, you might need a jump start to understand what culture is currently in place. This can also help you think about what kind of culture you want to build.

START WITH VALUES:

Values are the backbone of culture. If you don’t take the time to proactively frame the values you want, they will emerge from the strongest personalities on your staff - positive or negative. Gather your staff together, either by departments (if you are a large organization) or as a whole and talk about:

WHAT VALUES ALREADY EXIST IN YOUR ORGANIZATION?

  • What beliefs, standards, expectations govern how people interact with each other, with clients, with outsiders?

  • What already exists as our values that we want to reaffirm or keep?

WHAT VALUES SHOULD WE CREATE TOGETHER?

  • What new values do we want to articulate (or what existing values do we want to modify)?

  • What is not okay to violate or compromise?

  • What is most important to us in terms of how we work - together or separately?

TAKE STOCK OF YOUR TOOLS:

Every organization has both formal and informal tools that can build or reinforce culture. Do you know your tools and have you thought about how to use them more proactively?

FORMAL TOOLS:

Examine the formal tools that likely already exist in your organization - how well do they represent or uphold the culture you want to build?

  • Vision & mission

  • Organizational values

  • Performance management process

  • Meeting structures and practices

  • Teamwork and collaboration guidelines

INFORMAL TOOLS:

Now for the hard part - what informal tools are at play that you can seek to influence to build or uphold the culture you want?

  • Company gossip

  • Water cooler / kitchen conversations

  • Birthday parties or other celebrations

  • Traditions or pastimes

WANT HELP WITH THESE?

All of these are procedures and practices that govern how work happens in your organization and how people feel when they are part of your system. If you want help thinking about how to be more proactive about building the culture you want, get in touch and we can help you rediscover the joy in coming to work!

Molly Penn is the President of PENN Creative Strategy, a consulting firm that partners with foundation and nonprofit leaders to build a thriving, just and relevant cultural & social sector.

Molly Penn