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Measuring Your Workplace Culture is the Key to Building True Capacity

Maddie Grant

As part of our rollout of Neon One, we will be hearing from industry celebrated experts in a wide variety of fields and expertise. Today’s educational spotlight comes from Maddie Grant, whose expertise is Workplace Culture Analysis.


There is growing evidence that workplace culture matters more than it ever has. For nonprofits, focusing on culture may not be top of mind – but culture that is aligned with mission and success drivers (what you might call the nonprofit’s “superpowers”) can build capacity and support sustainability in ways that will exponentially move the needle on mission.

For nonprofits, culture tends to take a back seat because they are so (understandably) focused on mission delivery. But culture is actually integrally connected to delivery. Culture impacts the kind of talent you can attract (and how long they stay). Culture creates the internal expectations that drive everyday behavior. And culture has a particularly big impact any time you need to make a significant shift to meet one of your mission delivery needs (because existing culture will bring people back to the way you used to do things by default). Once nonprofits realize this, they turn and face their culture with a sense of almost embarrassed urgency. They can’t believe they were just letting that mediocre culture sit there without doing anything for all these years, but that’s going to change. Quick, get a culture assessment, run an employee engagement survey—someone tell us what we need to do to make our culture better!

But here’s the thing. Most of the surveys out there tell you one of two things: (a) how “good” your culture is, based on whatever criteria the consultants think will impress you; or (b) how happy your employees are with the way you run things. Those data can be useful, but they will never tell you what makes your culture strong and aligned with your context, your mission, your specific circumstances.

To get that, you need to start with WHAT IS. What is it REALLY like to work there, based on criteria that your employees will intuitively understand and connect to as human beings. That’s what is measured in the Workplace Genome. How people truly experience the workplace in the 21st century.

For example, take the ever-popular topic of innovation. A lot of organizations (nonprofit and for-profit alike) are realizing that in today’s fast-paced environment, innovation is a critical capacity. “We have always done it that way” just isn’t cutting it. So that means you should have a “culture of innovation,” right? Well, it’s not that simple. Our assessment gives you data on 8 different building blocks related to innovation, including experimentation, permission to hack, creativity, and risk taking.

Your employees know your culture. They know if this is a place where you can really take risks or not. They know if creativity is truly valued. They know if hacking something for a new purpose is the kind of thing that gets you in trouble or not. And you can put “innovation” on posters on your wall until you’re blue in the face, but you’re not going to get the innovation you need, unless (a) you figure out how to support the right behaviors, down to this building-block level, to make innovation happen, and (b) you understand how much innovation you actually need.

And that’s the sound of the second shoe dropping.

Maybe you don’t need as much innovation as you thought you did. Or maybe you need more. The point is, you don’t really know until you start to see the patterns that emerge from these data, including how different demographics experience these culture markers differently. Boomer vs Millennials, male/female, different departments, different levels of the hierarchy, people who have been there less than two years vs people who have been there a long time. Those patterns will frame the conversations you need to have about what truly drives your success. Your superpowers, what you’re truly known for, your origin story, the things worth preserving and protecting.

Aligning your culture with your superpowers makes it strong – and having a strong culture builds capacity to actually achieve your mission.

So stop trying to pick the perfect measurements ahead of time. Measure the right things, find out “WHAT IS”… and then figure out if that’s what you need to be. The Workplace Genome helps you do just that.

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