Helios Education Foundation: Strengthening organizational culture to achieve greater results

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Helios Education Foundation: Strengthening organizational culture to achieve greater results


Heal the pain points associated with a growing organization, an evolving strategy, and new ways of working


A stronger organizational culture that helps teams work better together and leads to desired results


In 2016, Helios Education Foundation was experiencing growing pains. The staff was expanding from 15 people to 30, and they were trying to work in new ways, moving from focusing primarily on grantmaking to engaging in education policy and bringing evaluation expertise onto the team. Suddenly, there was an old way and a new way of doing things, and the change was not easy.

This began two years of culture work with Community Wealth Partners to bring the organization together around a set of behaviors that would ensure the foundation was well positioned to achieve its vision that every individual in Arizona and Florida can attend and succeed in postsecondary education.

We led the staff in revisiting its organizational values with a focus on identifying specific behaviors and actions that would reinforce those values and help the team achieve results. For example, staff identified collaboration as a central value, and behaviors to support that value included greater shared ownership and delegation of projects, open two-way communication, and sharing credit with colleagues and partners. Identifying these behaviors was only the first step toward shifting the foundation’s culture. With our support, the foundation established an internal culture working group—a cross-functional staff team dedicated to building culture—that identified and prioritized changes the foundation should make in order to enable organizational behaviors that would lead to the results they want to see. Changes included redesigning grantmaking processes and reorganizing staff to break down silos, enable stronger collaboration, and achieve greater impact.

Alongside this work with Helios’ staff, we also worked closely with the foundation’s senior leadership team because they play a critical role in shaping culture and serving as champions of important organizational changes. Through direct team coaching, this group of leaders became more intentional around how decisions are made, clarified the purpose of the senior leadership team and management philosophy, and improved meeting protocols. Senior leaders also received coaching to better equip them to lead their teams through significant organizational change as well as training in how to have difficult conversations and build trust. These changes are helping senior leaders more fully live their values, empower staff to adopt behaviors to live the foundation’s values, enhanced collaboration among staff and with external stakeholders. All of these changes are enabling the senior leadership team to more effectively lead the foundation toward its desired results.

Suddenly, there was an old way

and a new way of doing things


The culture work led to changes across the organization, and we continue to provide support and partnership throughout those changes. “Today, we are a different organization than we were two years ago,” said Paul J. Luna, president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation. “Our expectations of each other are clearer, and we each know how to drive results. We have tools for building trust and communication that we use when we encounter challenges. As a result, we are better positioned to attract and retain talent. The culture work has had a positive impact on our external relationships as well. Partners have noted a change in how the foundation engages with the community, and we feel we can be stronger partners in the community as a result of our focus on culture. There is always room for improvement and tending to our culture will be an ongoing effort, but I am confident it is strengthening our organization and allowing us to have greater impact than we had before.”

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