Onuka Ibe // October 30, 2019 09:00
I enjoy talking with people about the issues with which their organizations are wrestling as a way of taking the pulse of the vast nonprofit sector. More and more, a particular challenge is at the center of these conversations: employees are increasingly challenging management to change long-standing organizational structure and culture elements.
The tension often includes staff expectations of:
• Increased access to senior managers and board members
• Flatter and more democratic decision-making structures
• More rapid advancement opportunities
• Greater autonomy and schedule flexibility
While the list above would probably look familiar to the very first people who worked together in a hierarchical relationship, what is increasingly catching managers off balance is the degree to which staff are willing to advocate for these expectations, rather than passive-aggressively grumbling about their discontent at the water cooler as their managers did before them.
While this changing dynamic is often attributed to younger employees ("these Millennials..."), it is not always a generational issue. Traditional expectations of the workplace have been shifting for some time, with the internet and social media helping to spread new thinking and help like-minded staff find each other faster than ever before. Many researchers have attempted to study changing workplace expectations, and there is no single factor -- nor a single solution -- on which to focus, hence the frustration of so many managers.
At La Piana Consulting, we work with our clients to better understand what is driving such trends in their organization and how they can adapt to ensure they can effectively achieve their mission while establishing an environment in which staff feel they belong and can be their full, best selves. Investing in a healthy organizational culture may include examining norms and policies in the following areas, each of which ideally includes careful attention to building equitable practices and systems:
• Organizational structure
• Change management
• Role clarity
• Decision-making and prioritization
• Access to information
• Staff engagement
• Performance feedback and management
• Advancement paths
• Conflict management
But where to start? While every situation has important nuance, a good starting point may be to invite those staff looking for change to be part of a cross-functional design team -- with senior management sponsorship -- to craft a process to engage employees in surfacing and prioritizing issues and working with senior leaders to co-create solutions. Such a team can help management better understand staff concerns and think creatively, provide staff with clarity on constraints that need to be factored into recommendations, and demonstrate for all staff that leadership values their contributions to making the organization a great place to work.
Whether addressing evolving expectations is part of updating your strategy, implementing a new business plan, or integrating organizational cultures, improving the workplace experience can only increase the potential to successfully advance your mission.
We would love to hear from you. How have you found success in bridging the changing expectations of staff at your organization?