Today we wrap up our quarterly blog series on the topic of organization development and culture. We’ve covered culture and change, culture and performance, and most recently, culture and learning. To start at the very beginning, go here.

Peeling the culture layers

As you well know, the concept of culture is abstract. To make it easier for one to identify and transform organizational culture, American management professor Edgar Schein divided it into three levels:

  • Artifacts and symbols: the visible elements in an organization such as logos, architecture, structure, processes, and corporate clothing
  • Espoused values: standards and rules of conduct
  • Assumptions: deeply embedded and experienced as self-evident and unconscious behavior

Schein’s organizational culture model is also known as the onion model. It illustrates how the surface layers in an organization (artifacts and symbols) are easier to peel, while the deeper layers (assumptions) are more difficult to adapt.

So how does a nonprofit leader who wants to drive deep and lasting culture change get to the root of the onion? Culture transformation is like any political or social revolution: You must put the power in the hands of your people.

As a leader committed to learning, you are modeling strong communication, authenticity, and mentorship. Therefore employees already see learning as a hallmark of your culture. The more frequently you champion learning, the more deeply it is embedded within the layers of the organization. The next step is to make training and development highly accessible to employees and consistently customized to staff and organization development needs. You can do this by:

  • providing a few focused learning opportunities instead of too many irrelevant ones
  • matching the appropriate learning experiences to skills or knowledge needed (for example, on-the-job training versus classroom training)
  • building an environment of learning at all levels of the organization.

Creating a learning culture

Below are some practical ways you can encourage employee learning for culture change.

  • Talent attraction:

    Before you hire employees, tailor your recruitment efforts for individuals who value learning. Use behavior interviewing techniques to ensure candidates clearly convey whether or not they prioritize professional development.

  • Onboarding:

    As early as day one of employment, align employee training with agency goals. Explain to new hires how their ongoing learning and development will affect organization outcomes.

  • Performance management:

    Identify employee learning goals, outline development pathways, and measure progress frequently. Hold employees accountable to learning by building the achievement of new knowledge and skills into individual scorecard metrics.

  • Coaching and mentoring:

    Provide connections for employees to learn from others. Whether through a more formal coaching relationship focused on behavior change or an informal, mutually beneficial mentorship, encourage all individuals to incorporate one-on-one learning within their development plans.

  • Rewards and recognition:

    Uphold employee learning as an achievement for which staff are tangibly rewarded. Celebrate staff’s knowledge and skills gains with agency-wide recognition programs. Incentivizing development reinforces that learning is both a value and symbol of your organization’s culture.

Take some time to assess your agency’s learning culture health. To what extent are you attracting talent who are primed for development? How well are you onboarding and managing performance to maximize learning? Are you providing coaching and mentoring opportunities? And do you reward and recognize individuals who prioritize personal development? As with most organizational change and development initiatives, it makes sense to start things off with the metrics provided by a statistically reliable and valid survey. Check out The Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI), the most widely-used and thoroughly-researched tool for measuring organizational culture in the world, available through Brighter Strategies.

When it comes to employee learning, you will always realize a return on your investment. If you need guidance from an organizational development consultant on any of your organization development initiatives, Brighter Strategies is here to help. Check out this podcast on culture from President and CEO Elizabeth Scott. And contact us today to learn how to get started.