January 20, 2018

Build an Organizational Culture That Maximizes Resources

Ginny Trierweiler, PhD

Ginny Trierweiler, PhD

School administrators were having the same discussion again they had had many times– what to do about the endless back-stabbing behavior between the teachers?  Though the school was known for its wonderful honoring approach to children, the perfectionistic attitudes of teachers and others adults in the school resulted in unsupportive, disrespectful, and even hostile behaviors between adults in the school. This cultural tone caused myriad problems—it harmed the school’s reputation, contributed to staff turnover and, financially, it resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted each year.  Deciding that this problem must be met head-on, management settled on an approach to improving the culture.  As staff bought in to a new way of getting along with each other, they worked to embrace learning and to adopt a supportive and mutually respectful tone.

Organizational Culture Problems Managers must Address to Maximize their Organization’s Impact:
  • A culture of perfectionism and fault-finding.   A culture of learning or excellence or impact can be worthwhile, but a culture of perfectionism and fault-finding will squelch learning and innovation.  It will burn out your staff and make it difficult to attract and retain the best.  And it will squander your organization’s resources.  If you find this culture in your organization, it will be worth your time and energy to change it.
  • A culture of preferential treatment and unfairness. It is very easy for people to accuse you of unfairness, even when it is completely their own personal issue.  But take note if there exists a pervasive perception of unfairness, as this can divert energy from the organization’s mission.  It is more ethical and will produce better business results if you apply rules and standards in some way that makes objective sense.  Develop an awareness of how staff see rewards flowing.  What is valued? Longevity with the organization? Personal loyalty to a particular leader?  Talent?  Hard work?  Cooperation?  Take some time to determine what is most important to reward in order to maximize your organization’s impact and resources—and then demonstrate that value as consistently as you can.
  • A culture of unhealthy competition and undermining.  As the world becomes increasingly complex, the tendency of leaders to seek individual achievement, and of organizations to reward individual achievement, creates problems for organizational functioning.  Leaders of these mission-based organizations will better maximize resources when they shift toward valuing networked collaboration and coordination, while reducing the emphasis on the achievement of individuals or departments.

These kinds of organizational culture issues are major causes of wasted resources in an organization. That’s why it is a critically important responsibility of mission-based leaders to manage organizational culture.

Take these steps:

  1.  Identify cultural norms you intend to establish. Work with your leadership team to develop a description of the desired culture.  Consider issues like individual achievement vs. cooperation, excellence vs. perfection, tradition vs. innovation.  Also identify how you want people to treat each other.
  2. Operationalize it—what will it look like when our culture IS like that?
  3. Work at building it. When it is time to build a new culture, understand that it won’t happen overnight.  Also realize that, while you can hire consultants or coaches to guide and support you in achieving a marked shift in culture, you can’t outsource the work.  You must work assiduously each day to build the culture you seek to enjoy.   It’s important; it’s not easy.

Culture matters—a lot—in determining whether your organization maximizes or squanders resources.  Mission-based leaders and managers must make it a priority to create and sustain a healthy organizational culture in order to maximize resources to fulfill their mission.  What cultural norms do you want to model?  How do you do that?

Article by Ginny Trierweiler, PhD. Ginny teaches High Impact Management for Mission Based Organizations and Nonprofit Leadership Team Building. Browse her upcoming classes and dates.