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Does Your Organization Need Cultural Rehab?

Lori Halley 13 July 2011 2 comments

A while back I read a great NTEN blog post by Jessica Lawrence about the importance of organizational culture. She noted that “companies with great organizational culture have become the new business rockstars …fueled by enough energy, passion, and awesome people to make spending days in a small, windowless office with little sleep …feel like the best job ever.”

It got me thinking back to my early days at a number of associations and non-profits. I remember that each time I started in a new job with an organization, I was full of energy, excitement and altruistic zeal. But it didn’t take long before my enthusiasm was deflated by staff or volunteers telling me why my ideas wouldn’t work or giving me the “we always do things this way” speech. After a while, I felt like I was swimming against a tide of complacency and bureaucracy – it was exhausting!

In her post, Jessica Lawrence explains that when she took on the role of CEO of Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council, she realized that change was necessary and long overdue.   She believed that the “culture change needed to come in the form of a revolution, not an evolution. I needed some defibrillator paddles to jolt the organization into a different way of working and existing, and fast." In her blog post “Rebel in a Polyester Sash: A Recipe for Cultural Revolution,” Jessica shares the key ingredients in her “recipe for revolution:

  • Identify and deal with “sacred cows;”
  • Trust;
  • WWAFYOD *(*What would a five year old do?);
  • Decide Who You Are & Then Hire for It.

Tips for Developing a Quality Culture

I recently read another article on CharityVillage.com that offered Ten Tips to Build a Quality Culture at Your Nonprofit.”  The author, Don Knapp of www.innovative-nonprofits.com, suggests that “the quality and nature of the organization's culture dictates the quality and nature of its performance.” Anyone who’s worked as either a staff member or long-term volunteer in an association, charity, club or any non-profit office knows this to be true.

Since, as Knapp notes “an organization's culture is the sum of its integrated values, policies and practices,” he offers tips on:

  • organizational strategies and tactics to deal with changing conditions;
  • eliciting board and member participation and discouraging discussion domination;
  • staff flexibility;
  • recognizing that innovation can come from anyone;
  • allowing stakeholder critique;
  • keeping sustainability top of mind and much more.

What about your organization?

So - does your organizational culture inspire passion, collaboration and innovation? Or is it stuck in a rut or worse - is it  stifling staff creativity and threatening the goodwill of volunteers or members too? If this is the case, have a look at these two posts and let us know how you tackle your cultural rehab in the comments below.

Read More:

Wild Apricot blog post:

Photo source: Tom Taylor

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 13 July 2011 at 9:00 AM


  • Anon said:

    Wednesday, 13 July 2011 at 10:42 AM

    The culture at the organization I work for definitely doesn't inspire passion, collaboration, and innovation, and that's probably (no, definitely) why I am already looking for a new job after 1.5 years.  Many of the problems are not difficult to see (and can be addressed with the tactics in the articles you mentioned).  BUT, these issues also, in my opinion, have to be tackled from the top down (or at least those at the top have to recognize that they need to be tackled).  So if that is where the culture challenges are coming from, you're likely to be stuck in a rut.  

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Wednesday, 13 July 2011 at 11:02 AM

    Anon - thanks for your comment and your honesty.  I agree, change needs to be embraced by all, but initiated and supported by your organization's leaders - both staff and/or volunteers.

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