Why your organisational culture has to reflect your charity values
Sarah Carter, Director of Wisdom Fish, talks about the importance of developing an organisational culture that supports, nourishes and engages the people in it.
You know your charity mission and vision back to front. Your charity might be brilliant at engaging supporters with the cause, but does its organisational culture really reflect the same value set and succeed in engaging and inspiring its people?
There is sometimes an assumption that because as a sector the causes we’re supporting are good, that the way we nurture our cultures and lead our teams is also good. We assume that we look after and develop our people; that the values of the causes we support are the same as the values of our organisation’s and are automatically embedded into our culture. We assume that staff’s passion for the cause they are working towards is enough to keep them positive and engaged, productive and present.
Not always so it seems. Certainly not from some of the people I’ve spoken to and the issues we’ve seen emerge in the sector over the last few years. We hear regular calls for leaders to commit to creating stronger, more positive cultures. Cultures that are more accountable, take more ownership, have more buy in across the board. Cultures that really bring out the best in our people.
To be clear from the outset, a culture – whether it’s an organisation or a community – is about a system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, symbols and stories which are communicated from generation to generation through relationships, learning and modelling.
So how can we ensure we have a positive working culture?
Here’s a few ideas:
- Recognise that everything starts with us as an individual – an organisational culture isn’t some abstract or esoteric concept. Understand the importance of individual responsibility in creating that culture – and that means recognising what we bring or don’t bring to that culture; what we need to work on and change as individuals; what we need to do more of or less of as individuals and owning that.
- Be inclusive – make sure your culture is something that people can feel part of and identify with; a culture where individuals have a clear place and role to play in the narrative. This means listening to people, building relationships with them, encouraging genuine ownership and giving people the creative space, trust and freedom to influence the culture and environment they work in.
- Don’t recruit to some kind of corporate norm. Recognise what each individual brings to the party and don’t try to change or mould them to what you think a good leader should look like.
- Understand where as a leader you can impact quickly on your culture. For example, look at your rituals and initiations. Don’t consider them merely as concepts. Understand what the story behind them is; what is it that you are trying to share with people? What are you wanting them to buy into? How are people first introduced to the organisation? How do they first hear about you? How are they welcomed in?
- Feedback what already exists in the culture – even if it’s not the ideal. Storytelling is crucial. We shouldn’t dictate the story or try to control it as leaders. Feedback the creativity, the humanity, the relationships, the foibles in an honest and real way. Give others the space to be honest and real; so they don’t feel controlled or edited – let people be themselves, the best version of themselves.
There is a tendency to forget that our people and organisational cultures need just as much passion and energy as the sector’s charitable work with beneficiaries.
A truly inspired and valued workforce will be more engaged, positive, focused and productive."
Leadership requires a myriad of skills, but the lynchpin has to be building a strong and identifiable value set and organisational culture that will help all within the organisation develop and achieve their potential.
Sarah Carter, Co-founder, Wisdom Fish
Sarah is Co-Founder of Wisdom Fish, a consultancy aimed at transforming individuals and organisational cultures. Sarah spoke at our Face to Face Fundraising conference where discussed embedding charity values with a panel of expert speakers.