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How to Nurture Great Organizational Culture

Blog Post #136

This is a story of organizational culture. Of a very special non-profit organization that I had the privilege to work with earlier this year. Their mission: to build enthusiasm for school attendance. This is a story of a strong committed woman who started a community project because she saw a need and knew she could fill it, knew she could make something happen in her own backyard. It worked. She recruited her friends, they got support from the city and every year it grew. Soon it was too big to be contained in a small, volunteer only organization. She created a 501(c)3, hired her friends and it grew. They got corporate support and expanded their reach and impact. Three employees, 5 employees, 7 and then 10. But things weren’t working as smoothly as they did when they were three, the staff wasn’t all growing with the organization. Several people left and it was clearly time to re-group. That’s when I came into the picture. This neighborhood organization looked great from the outside. They were casual, committed, laid-back and caring and things weren’t getting done the way they wanted. “We know we have a lot to offer, we are doing amazing things in our community. We have a great reputation. How do we hold on to that which is precious to our culture, bring in new professionals who can contribute significantly and grow in a way that maximizes our impact”?

These are the recommendations that came out of my work with them. They are universal, nothing unique here. They apply to your workplace and mine. Have a read and see what sounds familiar to you:

Use the love that you have created as you grow. Lean on it and trust it. Trust that new staff want this. Be clear when hiring and interviewing that this is an organizational attribute that is valued. Continue to listen and be there for each other. Continue to value the beautiful physical space that you have created and don’t be tempted to give it up in the future. Your caring for your staff has created an environment where they care for the mission and the organization. Value this highly as it will bring the best of each individual to the forefront and give them access to the best in themselves when contributing to creating your future. Also, recognize the necessity of flexibility in caring for each staff person’s personal life. For one it might be children, for another a parent and for another a personal health challenge. Caring about the personal life challenges of your staff will continue to result in employees who care for the organization.

Keep your mission at the forefront and keep it clear. Be careful of mission drift. Also be mindful of the stress levels of your staff. A stressed staff will have trouble seeing the mission clearly.

Define your projects and then stay the course. This does not mean that changes cannot be made, however, I recommend that they be made in a climate of negotiation. The staff’s ability to execute and stay on track is just as important to the deliverable to the community. Balance quality improvement with ease of execution to lower stress levels and maintain commitment and support.

You have an opportunity to increase the level of structure in your approach to project management. Each employee should have a clear list of their projects and weekly meetings should review the status of each. Changes to projects can be collaborative. Check in with the project manager before making changes to ensure that timelines can handle the change. If not, defer changes to the next cycle. Managers should be assigned and available on a weekly/individual basis for project updates and assistance. Be available and responsive as a manager, this is a top priority. Take notes at team meetings so that everyone stays on the same page. Schedule your annual projects on an annual calendar so that the work is spread out through the year.

Answer your emails within 24 hours. Respond to questions within 48 hours. Start meetings on time. Do not reschedule meetings. Make sure you are modeling the behaviors you want from your staff. Say what you are going to do and do what you say. This means not taking on more than you can handle and saying no to projects and requests. Adhering to this level of professionalism will provide a level of security to the staff and ultimately increase everyone’s performance. Several staff suggested the need for more layers of management so that projects can be managed more directly. This may or may not be helpful. Ultimately, I think they just need to know that a manager is available to negotiate solutions to challenges and answer questions as they arise.

Don’t lose the caring attitude. Remember that leaders exist to support their team not direct their team. Set clear expectations and hold to them. When changes need to be made on a project be sure to have full input from those charged with executing the project. Meetings must have an agenda, even if is a loose agenda. Agenda’s should be both top down and bottom up. Everyone should have an opportunity to add agenda items. Meetings should be project focused and focused on providing assistance and support. When a project is changed, input from the project leader is necessary to ensure that changes can be executed reasonably. Remember, changes can always be made in the next cycle rather than the current cycle.

Ask the staff what they would like in terms of professional development and learning opportunities and then work together to implement the plan. Make sure you have a point person who is in charge of making this happen. It will be important that everyone experience professional development together and especially and most importantly that your CEO and Senior Staff attend every training. Culture happens from the top down and organizational training that is not modeled and reinforced by the Senior Management is a waste of time and money. Staff will model their leaders before they will model anything that they learn in a training.

Develop a staff created policy guide to handling absenteeism, the dress code and conduct. Discuss what is acceptable and where the line will be drawn. Put it in writing and share it with new employees. When you find points of disagreement, don’t compromise. Discuss until a complete solution is found that all agree on.

Most staff are loyal and care about the organizations mission. Take the time to determine what type of management culture you want to foster and model that for your staff. Work as a team to identify areas for improvement and trust the collective wisdom of the team. Structure your weekly meetings to further foster a team approach to management and project execution where each member is fully valued. Make sure that each person on staff has a manager who is fully available to support them. Set the parameters as a group and then hold each other accountable for the follow through. Chances are, you are already good. You have the opportunity to be great.

And if you need help, reach out.

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