By Darrin Wasniewski, State Main Street Coordinator and Organization/Promotion Specialist
“The fact is, culture eats strategy for lunch. You can have a good strategy in place, but if you don’t have the culture and the enabling systems that allow you to successfully implement that strategy, the culture of the organization will defeat the strategy.”- Richard Clark, former chairman, Merck
When Wisconsin Main Street brought Marc Smiley to Wisconsin to educate us on board development and creating an internal culture of philanthropy, he began his workshops with this diagram, the Four Dimensions of Sustainable Impact. It suggests that every organization needs intentional focus on strategy, brand, leadership and culture. Strategy and brand represent the “what” of the organization, leadership its “who,” and culture is “how” it all comes together. Each of these elements is worth exploring I more detail.
Strategy communicates what the organization plans to accomplish in its quest to create impact. Along with fiscal responsibility, resource development and leadership development, it is among the four key responsibilities of nonprofit boards, and is the most commonly used “muscle,” according to Smiley.
Moving on to the other “what,” brand is where your organization is positioned in your community’s ecosystem. This is, and should be, different from your district’s brand, discussed in this previous post. It denotes the value you bring to the community and how your organization is positioned among all the other organizations. During a recent presentation I was asked how an organization can understand its brand. The simplest way is to ask others. Through social media, ask your followers how they would describe you in one word. When speaking to stakeholders, ask them the same question. Speaking with potential organization leaders? Ask them their impression. This will give you a good idea of your brand in the minds of the people. Your goal is to be the pinnacle board that people are willing to leave other boards for, and your brand is key in this perception.
Leadership relates to who is leading your organization and how you are developing your leaders. Remember that your end goal should be sustained impact over a long period of time—it is not a sprint but a marathon. Are you developing strong leaders who will carry the organization well into the future? How are you feeding their needs and desires to be the best leaders they can be? Investing in the growth of leaders helps them make informed decisions. For instance, one of our Wisconsin Main Street programs will face some change in the next few years when their long-time director retires. The board began looking at all options and spent months deliberating and asking really tough questions: Is our work done? What value do we provide to the community? Can our programs be parceled out to other organizations and do they have the capacity to take them on? After careful exploration, the board is more convinced now of its relevance and value to the community and is committed to hiring a new director that will carry the organization strongly into the future.
Culture. Oftentimes people roll their eyes when they hear this word. They may dismiss it as “touchy-feely” and not getting at the core of what an organization should be doing. But as noted in the Richard Clark quote above, if the right culture does not exist, the other four points of sustainable impact are gravely affected. Businessdictionary.com defines organizational culture as “The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization…” These values and behaviors affect how people interact with each other internally as well as externally. For example, at Smiley’s Solid Ground Consulting firm, they have a culture of appreciation, learning and accountability. They intentionally live these values out in their interactions. He shared that at staff meetings, they take a few minutes for people to express their appreciation for something some else has done. Not everyone has to participate, but if it becomes a regular part of the agenda, this company value becomes embedded in daily interactions as people begin to note what others have done.
You can probably see why accountability would have big impact on leadership development, brand and strategy. Volunteers carry out the yeoman’s work of our organizations, and we know that people volunteer to do something with the best of intentions. But have you ever considered the effect not following through has on your organization—the impact on leadership development, brand, strategy? Accountability is conveyed not through shaming, but rather through tactful reinforcement of the value of everyone’s contributions and by emphasizing that missed deadlines delay the completion of others’ work. Does your organization value accountability? How do you express it?
Do you have a defined organizational culture? If not, you can take some time at your next board meeting to discuss where you think you are and where you wish to be. Through consensus, determine ways to help reinforce your organizational culture.