Posts Tagged ‘Hinden’

Mergers and alliances: Check your culture at the door

So often, you find yourself asking why things transpire they way they do in your organization and 9 times out of ten, you can point to culture. No, we’re not discussing pop culture or arts and culture. This culture is the underlying and invisible fabric of how your nonprofit behaves, what the underlying assumptions are and what the organization values. Thankfully, we all are given a free pass on striving for a perfect culture because the truth is, there is no perfect culture. With perfectionism out the way, we can go about factoring organizational culture into one of the more important roles it has to play, which is in an alliance or merger.

With our Page to Practice feature of The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide this summer, we learned about the importance of organizational culture and how pervasive it is with everything you do as a nonprofit leader—from hiring decisions and board training to marketing and strategic planning, organizational culture, as the authors Teegarden, Hinden and Sturm say, “reveals hidden truths that impact performance.”

That’s why it comes as no surprise that our currently featured author, Tom McLaughlin, spends some time in his book, Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances, on the importance of taking a “culture check” as one of the preliminary steps for considering collaboration. “Culture is stronger than strategy, so it is crucial to understand and be comfortable with a potential partner’s organizational culture,” says McLaughlin.

He further adds that since people take action and demonstrate behavior every day using underlying values, blended cultures translates into blended value systems that don’t always complement one another. In fact, 75 percent of hospital mergers fail if cultural issues are not taken into consideration, according to McLaughlin.

Ultimately, “one of the most reliable rules of thumb for post merger implementation is that the tighter culture always prevails,” says Tom, and the larger organization doesn’t automatically dominate, nor will the loudest or flashiest. So, how do we go about identifying one another’s culture before engaging formally in an alliance? McLaughlin has provided a list of good places to look for evidence of nonprofit culture that we reviewed at the beginning of the month:

  • Composition of board and management team
  • Degree of centralization versus decentralization
  • Demographics of clients
  • Demographics of staff
  • Financial investment policies
  • Financial performance
  • Geographic location
  • Management compensation policies
  • Marketing materials
  • Number and type of management meetings
  • Number of board meetings per year
  • Philosophy regarding staff turnover
  • Process for recruiting and selecting new board members
  • Requirements of major funding sources
  • Size of board
  • Size of management team (especially versus comparable nonprofits)
  • Unwritten/unspoken hiring preferences

Not every item on the list will yield insight and some will produce contradicting impressions. However, if taken together, these areas can help you create a composite of your potential partner’s culture.

See also:

Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

The Necessary Revolution: Working Together to Create a Sustainable World

Leveraging Good Will: Strengthening Nonprofits by Leveraging Businesses

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Mergers and alliances: Are your cultures compatible?

We recently spent some time focusing on organizational culture in June with the Page to Practice feature of The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide: Revealing the Hidden Truths that Impact Performance by Teegarden, Hinden and Sturm. The value of knowing your organizational culture cannot be overstated when you realize the impact it has on everyday management decisions, as well as important benchmarks such as executive transitions, restructuring, organizational alignment and mergers.

By choosing to reveal your organization’s culture, the authors say you will be better able to orient new staff and board members, find better leadership matches, better understand and define your theory of change, develop more effective strategies, market and communicate more effectively and make successful choices about restructuring or mergers. In other words, cultural awareness increases your effectiveness in almost every leadership choice you make.

The importance of culture couldn’t be more evident when considering compatibility during a merger or alliance. “There are many good places to look for evidence of a nonprofit’s culture. The key is to look in as many as possible and to assemble what you find into a coherent portrait of the organization,” says Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances author Thomas McLaughlin. McLaughlin further says that not everything listed below will yield insight, and some will contradict others, but overall the list represents a usable roadmap to the nature of culture.

Where to see culture at work, according to McLaughlin:

•         Composition of board and management team

•         Degree of centralization versus decentralization

•         Demographics of clients

•         Demographics of staff

•         Financial investment policies

•         Financial performance

•         Geographic location

•         Management compensation policies

•         Marketing materials

•         Number and type of management meetings

•         Number of board meetings per year

•         Philosophy regarding staff turnover

•         Process for recruiting and selecting new board members

•         Requirements of major funding sources

•         Size of board

•         Size of management team (especially vs. comparable nonprofits)

•         Unwritten/unspoken hiring preferences

Our upcoming feature this month, the second edition of Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances by Thomas McLaughlin was completed when the nonprofit sector witnessed the largest and most spontaneous burst of collaboration interest in our social sector history, according to McLaughlin. This focus on collaboration is the result of the nonprofit sector’s typical two-year lag on economic downturns, pointing upstream to the recession in 2007 and the fall of the subprime mortgage market in 2008.

McLaughlin notes that the more specific reason collaborations are in the spotlight is that the recession was the means for revealing which nonprofits had a weak financial or programmatic structure. Systemic results of the economy coupled with the explosive growth of the number of nonprofits in the last decade have compelled nonprofit leaders to examine the benefits of collaborating. No longer will strategic planning sessions be focused on programs and services; rather mergers and alliances will be the strategic planning of the 21st century.

Email us at Mail@CausePlanet.org for a free article by author Thomas McLaughlin, “Merger Myths: 6 Reason the Package Really Is On the Truck”

For more information about Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances, visit www.JosseyBass.com or our Page to Practice™ book summary library.

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Perfect cultures and paired cultures

“There is no ‘perfect culture’ that all nonprofits should try to achieve. Each organization’s culture must be understood on its own terms, including its strengths and challenges. What is effective for each organization will be unique to its culture.”

This quote was pulled from our Page to Practice feature this month, The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide: Revealing Hidden Truths that Impact Performance by Paige Teegarden, Denice Hinden and Paul Sturm.

Here’s what the authors had to say when asked about “perfect cultures:”

CausePlanet: Most of us follow or model best practices when we want to improve something. If there is no “perfect culture,” how do managers go about improving it?

Authors: Every organization’s culture is unique, made from its own history and the groups of people who have been at the heart of the organization. Our research tells us this work is less about ‘improving’ culture than about honoring the culture that ‘is’ by revealing it, so that culture informs key decisions made by the organization’s leadership. Although there are likely to be elements of an organization’s culture that are unhealthy or unintentionally hinder the organization’s work, the culture in and of itself is not something that can be improved in the literal sense. However, understanding the unique elements of an organization’s culture – both positive and negative – can help leaders develop more effective strategies to improve systems, procedures, hiring practices, working environment, etc. in ways that enable the organization to more effectively make its intended difference.

When you consider that the U.S. nonprofit sector represents nearly two million organizations and employs nearly eleven million people, the social sector plays a critical role in America’s cultural fabric. Because nonprofits have such a large part to play in the economy, there has been a larger push from funders and community volunteers to better understand the impact nonprofits are making. Culture has become part of this sectorwide conversation.

Although culture is an ever-present term used throughout leadership and management literature and commonly identified as responsible for powerful outcomes, it’s rarely defined and specifically analyzed. The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide provides a simple process for gleaning organizational truths about culture that helps you define your culture and develop a summary statement with which you can guide all your important management decisions.

This week at CausePlanet, Vance Yoshida of La Piana Consulting wrote about why nonprofit should explore sharing administrative services, which in many cases can be the beginning of more formalized alliances or collaborations. Consequently, culture becomes a consideration. In our interview with the Culture Guide authors, we also asked:

CausePlanet: Talk to us about culture and merger considerations. How much are cultural differences a sticking point when examining two organizations as potential partners?

Authors: We think it’s critical for organizations to understand their unique cultures before consummating a merger. Remember AOL/Time Warner? Virtually every analysis written about the merger’s failure mentioned the merged organization’s inability to meld the two original organizational cultures. We believe this is no different for nonprofit organizations. Undertaking a merger is challenging under the best of circumstances. Attempting to merge two organizations with conscious knowledge of the different organizational cultures increases the potential for everyone involved to make better judgments about what will facilitate a successful merger and create a cohesive, integrated organization.

We also recommend that both organizations separately undertake the ROC process, and then come together to talk about areas where the cultures overlap or are complementary – as well as areas where there are likely to be problems. Then delve into areas of potential conflict, seeking to understand how deeply held these elements of culture are, and what aspects of organizational process and structure reinforce them. With this information, the merger team (representatives from both organizations) can have frank and open discussions about whether or not the two organizational cultures can be integrated over time or not. If the answer is ‘not,’ then depending on the circumstances and reason for merger discussions, one organization may simply agree to its programs being spun off, without it being a true merger.

Whether you are seeking “to perfect” your individual workplace culture or make two cultures compatible, the authors argue that defining it to begin with is a critical step in improving every aspect of your management decisions—be they hiring, board training, strategy development or alliances.

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Can you change your culture?

The value of knowing your organizational culture cannot be overstated when you realize the impact it has on everyday management decisions, as well as important benchmarks such as executive transitions, restructuring, organizational alignment and mergers. By choosing to reveal your organization’s culture, the authors of our current feature, The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide, say you will be better able to orient new staff and board members, find better leadership matches, better understand and define your theory of change, develop more effective strategies, market and communicate more effectively and make successful choices about restructuring or mergers. In other words, culture awareness increases your effectiveness in almost every leadership choice you make.

The following is an excerpt from our Page to Practice feature of The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide: Revealing the Hidden Truths that Impact Performance by Paige Hull Teegarden, Denice Rothman Hinden and Paul Sturm. In this excerpt, the authors explain how you can reveal hidden truths about your nonprofit by exploring its stories. These stories in return will shed important light on how your organization operates, what its norms are and how to mobilize change. We also asked about the biggest mistake nonprofits make when trying to change culture.

Learning through stories

Three kinds of stories are critical sources of information about organizational culture, according to the authors: the creation story, the survival stories and the heroic or successful staff stories. The authors report that these stories are usually filled with images, values and assumptions, and characters who acted on these values and assumptions. They found analyzing these stories to be the most powerful way to surface the “hidden truths” about organizational culture.

 

The “creation story” is a “thick” or richly described telling of who formed the organization and why, say the authors. The creation story includes information about what the founders hoped to accomplish, who founded it, how they founded it and information about the broader environment. The story reveals evidence of important solutions to problems and uncertainties, which becomes the core belief system and assumptions surrounding the organization.

Survival stories are also thick narratives that focus on life-threatening challenges that the organization has successfully conquered. These are not stories about securing a grant. When you hear a survival story, you should be able to identify the seriousness of the threat and what the organization did to navigate the threat. Because the story is about “life and death,” the story should endure.

Hero or heroine stories have magical and mythical qualities where the central figure becomes larger than life. In this case, you are looking for stories about an uber successful staff person that inspires retelling. Sometimes these stories are

portrayed in the setting of “the way things used to be,” which conveys norms about the organization. These are often internal stories.

CausePlanet: What is the biggest mistake that organizations make when trying to change their culture?

Authors: The mistake is believing that organizational culture can be changed in a wholesale way. Culture is an organization’s DNA. It’s always present – seen or unseen, spoken or silent, explicit or implicit. An organization’s culture can certainly evolve or shift as its internal or external environment shifts. However, attempting to ‘change’ organizational culture is less likely to succeed. This is why we stress the importance of revealing and understanding organizational culture so that it becomes an ally in structuring shifts that enhance organizational effectiveness. Swimming with the current is always easier.

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Workplace culture: Just breathe

Positive workplace culture is to success what oxygen is to breathing. You can’t see it but it’s vitally important, and though it’s hard to describe, it makes everything else you do easier. Authors, Paige Hull Teegarden, Denice Rothman Hinden and Paul Sturm, demystify the highly mentioned but rarely discussed notion of organizational culture in their new book, The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide.

The authors begin with a helpful synopsis of what is published about culture and build on this foundation with the many factors that influence our deep assumptions about the nonprofit workplace. Historical, economical, political and contemporary business practices are discussed and how they impact the cultures we form. The authors explain how revealing hidden truths through stories provide us with the critical information we need to characterize nonprofit culture. By undergoing this ROC (Revealing Organization Culture) process, managers can leverage their cultural awareness to improve every aspect of their decision making, from marketing to mergers.

We are pleased to feature this helpful guide during June after having read how much culture can affect a nonprofit leader’s role with their staff and board. We hope you enjoy the book as well. In the meantime, here is the first Q and A we shared with the authors in our Page to Practice summary:

CausePlanet: Why should nonprofit leaders care about understanding and improving their organizational culture?

Authors: The work of nonprofit organizations has never been more important than it is right now. Nonprofit organizations are the heart and soul of our society and impact the quality of human and community life in profound ways. Many nonprofit organizations have become the new safety net for countless numbers of individuals and families in communities throughout the United States.

Surfacing the deepest unique elements of their organizational cultures can help nonprofits strengthen themselves as they advance their missions. Once revealed, the elements of organizational culture provide new information for developing more effective organization capacity building and service delivery strategies. The potential for success increases when strategies are designed to take advantage of an organization’s strengths or respond to its limitations. From hiring key staff to recruiting board members to identifying new program partners, understanding organizational culture can help leaders make better strategic decisions and strengthen alignment among key stakeholders.

For more information about The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide visit http://www.revealorganizationalculture.com/ or follow us on Twitter and Facebook to learn more about this month’s book and future highlights.

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