Building the culture you want at your nonprofit

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Your organizational culture is the sum total of your shared beliefs, values, and practices – in short, the unique environment of your organization, or what makes your organization stand out! Culture is a hot topic in people management and building a positive culture is top of mind for leaders everywhere. Non-profit organizations in particular are often known for emphasizing a people-first approach to management, and as a consequence, nonprofit leaders dream of establishing, nurturing, and enjoying a positive, productive, and strong organizational culture. After all, your culture is the foundation on which everything else rests – it can make or break your organization’s reputation and has an enormous influence over success.

But creating and sustaining the culture you want isn’t just about throwing around some buzzwords and organizing a few team-building activities. Before you dive into a culture revamp, there are a few important activities to keep in mind.

Check in with your core values

Culture is more than an empty buzzword – your culture needs to be embedded in everything you do, and in how you do it. Effective culture building is about articulating, communicating, and consistently building on the core values of what your organization stands for. Chances are, the mission, vision, and values of your organization are already defined, but before you embark on a culture-building crusade, it’s worth revisiting whether they still effectively answer the questions: What does your organization stand for? Who are you and what do you do? And most importantly, how do you want to do it?

Once you’ve defined your values and what the culture you want to achieve looks like, the next step is to develop language to communicate where you’re headed that reflects those values. Build excitement around culture changes and seek input from employees at all levels of the organization to get buy-in. Consistent messaging is key here – if you haven’t defined what you’re working towards, odds are you won’t get there.

Promote the behaviour you want to see

Creating the culture you want takes time, and consistently promoting a positive, well-defined company cultures doesn’t just happen – it requires the conscious effort of your whole team pulling together in the same direction. For that to happen, management needs to take the lead! Encouraging the actions you want to see is most effective when it starts at the top. This means your leaders need to be the strongest representations of your organization’s values and model the culture you aim to promote.

Where to start? Work with your strengths! Focus on the positive aspects of your culture that you want to promote, identify the specific actions and attitudes you want to see more of, and build on those aspects to enjoy cumulative effects. To keep momentum consistently high, it can be helpful to assign culture development to a “culture champion”. While culture promotion shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of one individual, designating accountability improves the chance you’ll stay on track.

Discourage stagnation

Cultural patterns can be hard to change, and entrenched company cultures aren’t always healthy. Though you may have a strong culture, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the one you want! Negative patterns and actions can cause stagnation, and bog organizations down in old, entrenched ways of operating while obstructing positive change. Remain open to getting rid of cultural “dead weight” by identifying and discouraging patterns, attitudes and behaviours that aren’t in line with the culture and values you’re working to promote.

Hire for fit

Recruitment activities and culture-building go hand-in-hand and hiring for culture fit is an important component of your overall culture-building strategy. Hiring for fit doesn’t mean everyone in your organization needs to fit a certain cookie-cutter ideal – especially for non-profit organizations where promoting diversity can be a huge strategic advantage. Hiring for fit means that you actively look for new hires who exhibit the behaviours and values that align with the culture you want to nurture, and whose attitude and prior performance are consistent with the behaviour you want to see more of on your team. Actively promote your employer brand and build your pipeline to attract candidates whose values are in sync with yours and communicate your culture throughout the recruitment process so that candidates who aren’t on board can self-select out.

The Takeaway? Building the kind of culture you want takes focus, clarity, and the buy-in of your entire team. While it sounds like a lot of work, the return on investment is high – so, if you haven’t done a culture check-in lately, now’s the perfect time!

Engaged HR transforms workplaces by providing essential human resource management services and expertise to non-profit organizations and small to medium-sized business. Whether you are building your start-up HR program, facing people-management challenges, or growing your business, Engaged HR will help you create a great place to work.

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