Improving Organisation Culture in Social Sector Organisations

An organisation’s culture is its core personality, the essence of how its people do things in the course of work and often one among the most significant tools that leaders have at their disposal in driving their organization towards success.

Organisations across the globe have recognized the importance of nurturing a positive and supportive culture. According to CEB (now Gartner), for the first time ever, in 2017, Changing Organisation Culture emerged among top-five priorities for HR Heads across the globe. In the NGO & non-profit sector, it was among the top three priority areas. That’s news in the right direction, right ?, Yes, but before we get all excited and gear up to work towards creating a new environment, Let’s have a look at this vexing data: The same research report shows that 78% of the 305 organisations surveyed have undertaken some form of change initiatives in the past three years, however only 34% were clear success and for others the desired outcome was still elusive.

And what we understand is that “Competing Priorities” often emerge as a biggest barrier on working towards the desired Organisation Culture. In the development sector, addressing culture takes a backseat primarily due to the leadership’s focus on some central matters like fund raising, resource mobilisation, program and stakeholder management. Adding to the complexity, it is not an easy task too. But think about it! The dependence of Social Sector organisations on Highly purpose-driven Individuals to take its mission forward is all the more reason for creating an environment where employees are engaged and inspired. Culture helps orient its employees to “reality” in ways that provide a basis for alignment of purpose and shared action.

“Organisation culture is best developed intentionally and collectively as against accidentally and independently, states Kalyani –Head HR, DRF.

An Approach to Changing Organisation Culture: There is no dearth of research on how aligning organisation culture with strategic objectives of the organisation can be a definite enabler of success. Culture guides organisations activities through a shared set of beliefs and group norms; hence it is crucial for an organisation to express goals by developing a culture aligned to organisations values. Establishing the desired organisation culture involves translating strategic objectives into simple and specific behaviors that everyone across the organisation can practice. It may sound complicated but it is quite simple. For example, an organisation focused on the strategy of “innovation” may want its employees to “see failure as a learning experience” or An organisation that looks forward to reap the advantages of a “diverse workforce” may want its employees and itself to “source ideas and perspectives from all relevant stakeholders”

Every organization hence has its own distinct culture that is fundamental to the identity and image of the organization. Bringing about a change in the culture may become necessary when an organisation is undergoing significant changes. It may also become necessary when the organisation is trying to address a critical matter that may require different behaviors from those exhibited in the past. Changing the culture present today is not easy. We are talking about influencing the behaviors of hundreds of people! and forcing a specific type of culture may actually lead to risking a backlash.

The key to a successful cultural change and institutionalization of desired behaviors lies in the involvement of employees in co-defining and building the culture.

Here is a Four-step process to institutionalize the desired organisation culture:

Step 1: Co-defining the Culture: Engaging a