5 Ways to Build a Positive Culture at Your Organisation

From 101fundraising, a free resource by fundraisers, for fundraisers.

I’m often asked how I created our culture at Blakely. I should probably take it as a compliment (since it’s usually a positive reference!), but I actually find it a perplexing question. I certainly didn’t do it alone, and every team member old and new helps to protect it and evolve it each and every day. But I also recognize that as president of the company, I own it and I can single-handedly f&*k it up.

Culture is set by leadership. More specifically, culture is set by the leader. If you have a crap culture and you are the leader, then own up: The problem is you. It could be due to a lack of transparency, or it could be toxicity in the workplace, an unclear vision, old-school policies, treating employees like they owe you something… I could go on.

But to me, it’s pretty simple. And I don’t mean pizza lunches and social events. That’s all great, but that’s the superficial stuff.

Here are – in my humble opinion – five of the most critical elements of creating a positive culture.

Work toward a vision together
For some people, a job is a job. But I think that’s also the case when you haven’t set a clear vision and brought your team along on the journey with you. Whether that’s inviting employees to help set the vision, or input on the vision, your team members understanding their role in making great things happen (their personal role as Susan the human being, not their role as Susan the accountant) is so important. If they see themselves as critical and feel their efforts are valued (which they are – organisations don’t generally do well without good people) then they will work their butts off and love every minute of it. Except maybe Friday at 4; they’re human after all!

Don’t be a know-it-all
Be honest if you don’t have a clue, or you yourself are trying to figure stuff out. You’d be amazed what you get in return when your team knows that you know you aren’t a know-it-all. (Newsflash: They already know.) People value honesty and authenticity more than they value you knowing everything. It puts them on a more level playing field with you and gives you an opportunity to connect and build together. Plus, if you were smart in the first place, you’ve already surrounded yourself with people who are WAY SMARTER than you anyways.

Show genuine appreciation for a job well done
I was struck by a new team member’s reaction to me thanking them for going the extra mile in sorting out some process issues we were having. She had come from a larger agency and when asked for her thoughts, she immediately dived into helping to solve the problem. I would expect that from any team member, but the shocking part was her reaction to my gratitude. She was gracious and made sure to name all of the other people who were part of it and then went on to say that she couldn’t believe how nice everyone was and that where she came from no one ever got a thank-you for a job well done. Ummm… isn’t that just being a decent human?

Oh, and the flip side? Don’t mince words when people mess up – just tell them, help them, and move on. It doesn’t do anybody any favours to walk on eggshells.

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