Role of Leadership in Defining a Non-Profit Organisation Culture
“The culture of an organisation reflects the values and beliefs of the current leaders, and the institutional legacy of the values and beliefs of past leaders that have been institutionalised into the organisation’s structures, policies and procedures. Therefore, if you want to transform your culture you must change your leaders, or your leaders must change. You must also review the organisation’s structure, policies, procedures and incentives to ensure that they fully reflect the values you want your organisation to espouse.” Richard Barrett, Chairman and Founder, Barrett Values Centre.
There seems to be much hype lately regarding the need to focus on culture building and creating that culture of excellence. Building a culture that goes beyond compliance and standards of governance to voluntarily compliance and principles-based governance. It always excites me to wonder how complex it is to determine the culture of an organisation, or the means to measure it.
The question is why the need to determine and thus measure culture, as well as the roles of leadership in defining that culture? Armed with the belief that building that culture of excellence begins with the personal transformation of the leaders, hence leaders must step up to take lead in this. In the words of Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School, “Leaders must be institution-builders who instil the organisation with meaning that inspires today and endures tomorrow.”
I recalled receiving an email from a non-profit organisation requesting a board assessment checklist to meet a clause in the Code of Governance for Charities and IPC. I was thrilled to learn that the non-profit organisation was serious in determining its Board’s performance and effectiveness. When I probed further, I realised the Chairperson of that non-profit organisation was in fact not in favour of a board self-evaluation and had intended the activity to be a mere desktop paper-ticking exercise to ensure compliance. Dumbfounded, I immediately stressed that the practice was not advisable. This was a classic example of bad culture flowing from the top!
"Let me stress that growing the right culture is the responsibility of everyone – from the top leadership down to the workers." said Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a Parliament session in November 2017. He further added, "when we speak of 'culture', we mean the culture of the whole organisation – the values and practices of management, as much as the values and practices of the workers".
There is a need to determine what exactly the Board wants to measure and the impetuses behind those measurements if the Board is genuinely concerned about its performance and effectiveness.
So how to create or build that culture? Simply, the culture of an organisation defines who you are and what you stand for. Richard Barrett further describes the culture of an organisation as a reflection of leadership consciousness. Cultures like these are not created overnight. It takes a great deal of effort to build. There is a shared vision, aligned values and a good culture towards excellence.
What are values? Values reflect what is important to us. They are a shorthanded way of describing our individual motivations. Understanding our values helps us understand why we may act or react the way we do. Living our values can keep us in balance. In contrast, going against our values may make us feel as though we are not being true to ourselves.
There is no doubt that Leaders, including the Board, do define the non-profit organisation’s culture. The culture must be good from the top to cultivate goodness and excellence. Transformation takes place only when the Leaders fully reflect the values you want your organisation to espouse.
*Article was previously published [Apr’18] online by the Shared Services for Charity
Kitson Leonard Lee is currently the Vice-Chairman for the Singapore Quality Institute and Board Member of the Asian Network for Quality. He is also Director of SQI International Pte Ltd; and Head, Centre for Non-Profit Leadership, NVPC. He is the past Secretary-General of the Asian Network for Quality (2013-2016) and Coordinating Secretary of the World Alliance for Quality (2013/14).