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We are always building culture

This is the twenty-seventh in a series of posts that will examine ten insights Community Wealth Partners has uncovered through our research of and experience with initiatives that have created transformational social change.

In our last post, our CEO, Amy Celep shared a lesson we’ve learned from clients leading transformational change efforts across the country: “Everything in [your organization’s] space must reflect the ethos that drives the organization.”

We know that for organizations and groups working to effect sustainable and transformational social change, the cultures of those groups will greatly impact their ability to achieve their goals and realize their visions. In our last post we asked you how you have intentionally built culture. In this post, I’d like to challenge you to think about the ways your leadership team has built culture unintentionally. What daily messages are we sending to our colleagues that directly or indirectly shape the culture of our organization and partnerships?

Everything we do within our organization impacts our culture, whether we’re explicitly praising and discouraging certain behaviors or implicitly leading by example. Below are some of the values many of us in the social sector want to foster within our organizations and questions we can consider to help us do so.

Continuous Learning

Many of us say we want our employees to engage in continuous learning, but are we all making time in employees’ work schedules so they can take advantage of professional development opportunities? At Community Wealth Partners one way we engage in continuous learning is by inviting our team to share highlights from any trainings/events they attend. We regularly pass around emails sharing lessons learned and insightful articles we know others on our team might value.

How about you–In what ways does your organization encourage, support, and reward learning?

Innovation and Creativity

For those of us who value innovation and creativity, do we provide space and time where everyone can contribute and where supposedly “crazy” ideas are encouraged? Some organizations set aside space on a white board or time during a monthly meeting for “crazy” ideas to be considered. And then what do we do when employees express new ideas that we know will not work?

I recently met an executive director of a community development corporation who said many times when his employees come to him with a proposed solution he knows isn’t going to work, he supports their pursuit of their idea anyway. He shared,

“Sometimes the best way to learn is to be the one who comes up with the idea and tries to implement it. When my employees see that it hasn’t worked, they understand more clearly the many factors at play. At the same time, they also feel my support and understand the process of problem solving in a new way. The next time they have an idea, they’re more thoughtful about whether or not it can be implemented and what might result. But, more importantly, they stay engaged in problem solving, knowing that they’ll have leadership’s support.”

In this organization, the leadership team knows they’re not the only ones trying to improve the organization. The burden does not rest solely on their shoulders. They’ve got employees working with them, constantly looking for ways to do something more effectively.

How about you—Does your organization reward behaviors that have been done before or behaviors that shake things up a bit and keep the organization on its toes?

Diversity

Many organizations value the wisdom and insight which can only occur when you compose teams of individuals who don’t all think in the same way. But, what happens after new hires are recruited, while they’re learning their new team’s way of working, the organization’s processes and standards? Are we encouraging diverse opinions even while new employees are striving to learn our organization’s “way”?

At Community Wealth Partners, when our consulting teams meet we know inviting alternative perspectives will make our solutions stronger. At some point during any meeting, someone’s bound to ask, “what’s another way of looking at this that we haven’t considered yet?” “What might we be missing?” or “If we were to play devil’s advocate…”

How about you—In what ways does your organization support and leverage diverse perspectives? When someone comes from another industry, has a cultural or racial background not yet represented at your organization, or when a new employee has work experience with a different population, do you make a point to ask them if there’s another way to understand and approach the problem at hand?

In the end, everything we do shapes our culture, whether we’ve chosen to do so intentionally or just happen to find ourselves doing things in a particular way. We may lead every meeting, or we pass the baton over to staff to teach the group. We may keep our door closed most of the time, or take walks around the office to just check-in informally with our team members. Culture consists of both spoken andunspoken norms, values, and behaviors. I encourage you to take a look at your organization’s behaviors and ask yourself, “What messages might we be sending? And are those the messages that will inspire our team to achieve our organizational goals?”

About Becky Emet

As a consultant, Becky Emet leads client engagements, advises and coaches leaders, and spearheads internal teams to develop solutions and deliverables through research and analysis. Becky has helped leaders focused on healthcare, education, and hunger develop new goals and strategies to scale their impact. See Becky's full bio

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