Peter Morelli is an organizational psychologist at Deutser, an award-winning management consulting firm in Houston and Los Angeles that drives performance for organizations through a unique focus on culture. Their high-profile nonprofit clients include The Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation, Points of Light, Texas Heart Institute, Holocaust Museum Houston, Young Presidents’ Organization, and many others. We are thrilled to share this interview with Peter this week.
How important is culture to nonprofits vs. for-profit companies?
Culture is just as important for nonprofits. Establishing and actively managing the fundamental elements of it — vision, values and behaviors — helps to ensure that the organization will be aligned and able to reach its full potential. With today’s pace of change, economic and political uncertainty, and significant cultural and behavioral differences in the new generation of talent, addressing this is more important today than ever.
In many cases, culture can actually prove to be more important for nonprofits. Because transparency is a requirement, there is more pressure to hire people who not only possess the right skills, but who also share the same passion and dedication to service and the greater good. If even one of your employees is perceived (internally or externally) as someone who is not 100% committed to your mission, it can damage employee engagement and the organization’s credibility.
What are the risks of failing to prioritize and address an organization’s culture?
Misalignment is the greatest risk. Meaning, who you believe you are and how you act to the outside world does not match who the organization really is or how it operates internally. It is fairly common for nonprofit leaders to have an inaccurate assessment of their own brand. This is because your brand is not what you think it is, but rather what your stakeholders believe it to be.
We believe an organization’s brand identity should be the outward manifestation of its culture. When this is out of alignment, performance will begin to suffer. Additionally, this can lead to bad new hires, a lack of teamwork and collaboration, the establishment of subcultures, employee disengagement, and more.
Without ongoing, healthy communication with your employees that provides a clear sense of where the organization is going, a roadmap of how to get there, and a social contract that articulates the values and behaviors for how they work with each other, your culture will end up driving you — instead of you driving it.
Many nonprofit leaders believe their culture is strong (even if they’re not sure). How do you know if an organization has a strong culture?
We understand how most leaders would want to believe their culture is strong. They link their organization’s culture directly to leadership and even directly to themselves. While it is true that leadership is ground zero for building and sustaining a strong and positive culture, it’s nearly impossible for leaders to do it alone.
By helping leaders understand the heart and soul of their organization, we are able to diagnose performance gaps that could be negatively impacting the culture. To remedy these symptoms, we have identified key performance indicators, or “levers,” that work to ensure a sustainable, positive culture. These include coaching and mentoring, purposeful development and growth, organizational learning, and health and well-being, to name a few. When this is intentional and systemic within the organization, you’ll see stronger internal engagement, an increase in productivity, and improved overall performance.
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