If your people are the heart of your NFP, your culture is the blood – invisible from the outside, but the primary mode of nourishment, support and growth. It’s the mission, values, beliefs and behaviours that guide the entire organisation, determining how it functions internally, as well as the satisfaction and productivity of your workforce.
And, like blood, if your culture is unhealthy, it filters down through the entire organisation and poisons everything in its path.
A new publication from US-based culture thinktank Culture Labx aims to help organisations consciously work towards developing a strong culture.
Culture Labx calls itself a “global community of founders, designers, and practitioners who curate conversations, connect communities and experiment with the future of work.”
Their simple but powerful ‘field guide’ breaks down culture to its most basic essence, providing actionable steps and a handy checklist to guide evaluation.
With that in mind, here are Culture Labx’s six key pillars of workplace culture and how to put each one into action:
Purpose is what connects a staff member’s daily work to their organisation’s overarching vision. It’s what gives people the sense they’re contributing to the bigger picture – and not that they’re just a dispensable cog in the wheel.
Action: Consider: Why do you do what you do? What function does your organisation fulfil? With these considerations in mind, develop a brief but compelling story about the function and goals of both your team and organisation as a whole. Once it’s written, you can distribute it among your staff or put it on your intranet or website as a reminder of your overarching goals.
Values are the broad beliefs and preferences about what’s important in your organisation – and what’s not. They determine priorities, shape an organisational culture and guide staff behaviours. Examples of common values might include those related to you mission – like compassion, justice, or courage – and those related to your internal work culture – like integrity, accountability, diligence or discipline. When these values are clear, decisions should be easier to make, and people should feel aligned to the organisation’s work.
Action: Working with your colleagues, outline what drives the choices behind how you get work done – and codify them. They should both reflect the best parts of your existing culture, and also values that you aspire to. Some useful questions to help direct the discussion include: What values already guide the best work we do? What are the most important principles that should guide our decisions? What do we stand for?
Behaviours are the outward manifestation of a person’s values. In an organisational context, they’re the collective actions of your staff – essentially, what people say and do.
Action: Establish and record the behaviours you’d like to see reinforced within your organisation, as well as those that aren’t acceptable. In determining this, ask whether the organisation’s actions reflect its values. Which behaviours are conducive to the achievement of the organisation’s goals? Are there times when your actions don’t align with what you say you’re going to do? Why? When it’s clear what behaviours are valued, staff should feel heard and engaged.
Recognition is a key building block of a healthy organisational culture, formally and informally celebrating those who uphold common values and ultimately contributing to a positive culture.
Showing genuine appreciation for staff members’ contributions can singlehandedly foster loyalty, satisfaction and productivity, among countless other benefits. In other words, you reap what you sow.
Action: Put together a formal recognition plan that’s tied explicitly to your organisation’s purpose and values. With the development of specific criteria in mind, consider the staff members who are performing well and working in line with organisational goals. Are you honouring those contributions? If not, why?
Once you’ve established the criteria for formal recognition, share it – this will improve the likelihood of staff engaging in the desired behaviour.
And don’t allow a formal recognition plan to limit ad hoc expressions of appreciation – it should serve as a supplement to the organic feedback you should already be giving.
In an organisational sense, rituals are your staff’s repeated behaviours at work. They form your workplace’s sense of community, tell the story of its culture and reinforce values.
What stories do you tell other people about your culture? What does that say about your identity as a group? Rituals affect how your staff relate to one another and the organisation, which can have a big impact on productivity and morale.
Action: Rituals can be created as well as born organically. Invest time and effort into creating meaningful shared activities – crucially, they impart staff with a sense of familiarity and belonging. This could be achieved by something as simple as a weekly team lunch, celebrating birthdays or arranging for staff to volunteer together.
Cues are a physical and visual expression of workplace culture. They’re reminders that connect staff with their purpose, ensuring no one loses sight of the big picture.
Action: Design your organisation’s working spaces to encourage the kind of interactions that will allow your team to accomplish its purpose. When you look around your workplace, do you see things that remind you why you’re there? Consider what other cues like staff diversity, respect for others’ time and even phone manners say about your organisation, and whether that reflects the kind of culture you’d like to see.
In short, if your organisation works to build a positive, supportive and encouraging environment for your staff, they’ll repay you with higher quality work, more efficient practices, loyalty and, ultimately, improved profitability.
So, how is your culture doing?
Do you recognise any changes your organisation needs to make to improve its culture? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.