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To Win the Marketplace, Win the Workplace First

21 May 2015 at 10:44 am
Lina Caneva
Inspiring NFP workers to strive for results whilst instilling in them a sense of purpose and meaning is essential if management is to foster a culture of growth, writes digital marketing expert Richenda Vermeulen.

Lina Caneva | 21 May 2015 at 10:44 am


To Win the Marketplace, Win the Workplace First
21 May 2015 at 10:44 am

Inspiring NFP workers to strive for results whilst instilling in them a sense of purpose and meaning is essential if management is to foster a culture of growth, writes digital marketing expert Richenda Vermeulen.  

Everyone’s talking about the benefits of the digital revolution: that business success should be getting easier. But you might find yourself politely laughing along in these conversations whilst hiding your own frustration. If your Not for Profit is feeling stagnant, it’s time to look at the heart of your organisation: team culture.

You might have suspicions that something’s not quite right. You might be thinking, “why aren’t my employees doing their job properly?” whilst staying up at night wondering what’s gone awry. All the while, your employees don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, pre-empting their day’s imprisonment in an environment that doesn’t allow them to do their job properly.  

The real problem is that everyone’s frustrated. The solution: building a growth culture.

Growth culture, despite being a bit of a buzzword, is when an organisation cultivates creative environments for their staff that are conducive to innovation and results. It’s not business as usual: leaders give their teams freedom and flexibility to test new ideas, but they also give their teams the opportunity to fail and learn. The results? A more productive and healthy team and organisation.

To achieve your organisation’s goals – whether that’s driving more donations, making sales, or inspiring political change – you need to create a growth culture where your employees are both high performers and love working for you.

Take a look at our signs that you’re not creating this environment. If they sound familiar, it’s time to change things up.


1. Bureaucracy is endemic

Do you schedule a meeting to make every team decision? Are there levels upon levels upon levels of approvals to go through before any action is made? This stalls the creative process and dissuades your team from delivering results. With too much red tape, ideas are suffocated, innovation can’t thrive; but the biggest problem is that staff become frustrated and demotivated.

2. Money spent in the wrong places

Budget needs to be allocated according to business value. Organisations that don’t prioritise growth spend money on things without knowing the true ROI (financial or otherwise). Your budget needs to have room to move: you can’t guarantee success for everything you do, but to make improvements you need to be willing to experiment. Sometimes this requires a discretionary test and lean budget, which is often missing.

3. Failure is frowned upon

When you don’t have a healthy definition of failure, employees are afraid to innovate for fear they might make mistakes. If every decision needs to be justified and defended, you can end up spending more time explaining things than actually doing things (case in point: the endless email chain with 20 people CC’d).

If you don’t give your staff the freedom to be a team of “doers”, you will always have to be pushing them or asking them to deliver (and frustrated when the doing doesn’t get done). Growth culture means not being afraid of mistakes, but it also means trying a lot of new things that may not work. As the old saying goes, if you aren’t making any mistakes, chances are you aren’t trying anything new. And sometimes, not trying new things is the biggest risk.

Growth culture

1. Creativity is a valued commodity

The antidote to red tape and fear of failure is a culture that celebrates creativity and output. When people are given permission to be creative, ideas are allowed to breathe. This can result in innovative ways to address business pain points and problems. Leaders set expectations for their team to be creating new things at all times. Encourage them to try new approaches, and give them free reign when they do. Inspire them to act with an entrepreneurial spirit and own their work with autonomy and accountability.

2. Everyone works towards clear goals – with flexibility in place

In growth cultures, staff are empowered to work towards their personal and business goals in a way that works best for them. Managers need to clearly define each team member’s responsibilities and targets, and ensure they have accountability over them. However you need to give staff the flexibility and creativity to figure out how to reach them.

Many successful companies like Microsoft Australia, IBM, Basecamp and Google allow their staff to work remotely. The biggest concern for employers here is whether they can trust their staff to still get things done. The interesting truth is that flexibility doesn’t actually mean less productivity. Research shows that working remotely can improve productivity by up to 13 per cent. Trusting your employees with freedom reaps far better results than chaining them to their desks.

If you can’t commit to remote working policies, start small and scale up. Think about scheduling your meetings around your team’s "golden hour" when people are most productive (for some this is early morning, for others it can be late afternoon; find your consensus). Try off-site days for departments, or let workers work elsewhere for a half-day each week. When their goals and results are clear – and flexibility is given – it’s easier to make decisions, more innovation happens, and money is ultimately spent better.

3. Learning is incentivised, and mentorship is prioritised

You want your team to be learning, so you need to foster a culture where employees want to learn themselves. By investing in their personal development, you show that you are supporting their potential for growth. They will be able to ask questions, innovate, and provide better outcomes without getting stuck.

This doesn’t have to be difficult (or expensive). Start by ensuring that you are constantly learning – show respect for your staff by continually having valuable knowledge and insights for them. If you aren’t pushing yourself to learn, you cannot push your staff.

Developing a personal development plan for your employees that is linked to their overall goals and performance, but also focuses on bolstering their critical and creative thinking skills. This is not just about upskilling people to move on to the next job. It’s about helping people become world-class employees – the best in the industry – who can in turn become managers who cultivate growth culture themselves.

Growth culture is about inspiring team members to constantly drive outstanding results whilst instilling them with a sense of purpose and meaning. When management creates this environment, that’s when business gets easier.

Want to know more about growth marketing for Not for Profits? Read our articles on how the growth mindset can be used to raise more donations to help rebuild Nepal: part 1 and part 2.  

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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