Admittedly for managers and leaders, there has been a lot to think about in the past three months. Shifting to home working, locking down, unlocking, risk assessments, reallocating budgets, planning ahead, supporting wellbeing, making changes. All important stuff of course. However, no matter how clear your strategy is, or how well thought through your operational plans are, culture can undermine you at every step.
Culture is an invisible force. Culture dictates right from wrong, how people work, how people communicate, and what is valued or important within an organisation. Culture is the link between what you are setting out to achieve, and the behaviours, structures and controls that enable you to achieve – or not.
For example, let’s imagine your organisation has an ambitious strategy for next few years, whereby you want to completely change the lives of your beneficiaries. You are going to need an ambitious fundraising strategy to match, an on-point marketing strategy, some matrix or multi-disciplinary teamwork to create new ways of working, innovation and clear goals at every level, delegated authority and brilliant project governance. Your corresponding culture is going to need to encourage working across hierarchical structures, reward and recognise people in ways that help them to feel excited and engaged. You’ll need to have a set of values and competencies that honour risk and embrace failed experiments. There will need to be plenty of collaboration and shared power. Otherwise you will not do it. If your culture to date has been one based on playing it safe, punishing failures, management control where everything has to be signed off at the highest level, low levels of trust and silos working away on their own thing – your ambition will not be met.
Right now, charities and not-for-profit organisations are feeling the pressure. In recent years there have been stories about toxic work cultures undermining great work. We’re not going to name names – they’ve all been shamed enough. Since the pandemic started there have been plenty of stories about the need to be innovative, to do things differently as the new normal sets in. There is also mounting pressure on our sector to do better when it comes to inclusion – on gender, on race, and on mental health.
So how exactly do you go about building a better, more inclusive, more forward-focussed culture? To get you started, think about your area of control: you and your team. Use the following questions to map and improve your culture:
These steps alone are not going to change your culture overnight. But they will point you in the right direction. Building culture takes time, and if you don’t like the one you have it also takes plenty of unpicking. Writing an ‘our culture’ presentation and emailing it to everyone isn’t going to cut it. It takes hard work. Organisations are systems, and within those systems are micro-cultures. Pull on one string and another will unravel. But if you can understand how culture in your patch is working and what you need to do differently, you can start to make a plan.
If you have found this interesting and want to talk to us about supporting your team culture to be more inclusive, visit our Learning & Development page, contact us online or call us on 020 7978 1516.
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Yvette Gyles, Director