Building an Awesome Non-Profit Culture, Part 2: Value, Welcome, Define, and Celebrate

(Originally posted on Sisarina as part of our February blog series.)

My last post for the Sisarina blog was about how to build an awesome culture through hiring. But once you’ve got the hires, how do you stay on the right track? As I’ve thought about the most important pieces of culture, these are the elements that come to mind:

Small Act team sticks

Small Act team sticks

  1. Value. There’s nothing more important to creating an awesome culture than knowing what you stand for and who you are. Your core values aren’t something you talked about once for an hour in a conference room, nor are they the same as your mission. Check out Zappos’ core values. Do they have anything to do with shoes? What about Southwest Airlines’ values? Do you see references to airplanes? Nope. Core values are who you are and why, not who you serve. If you’re serious about your values, and hire (and even fire) around them, you’ll have a culture that speaks of who you are and want to be.
  2. Welcome.When I went to work for a nonprofit for the first time, it was a harsh step away from my corporate roots. I arrived to the tiny one-room office shared with three other colleagues to discover I had no place to work – no desk, no computer. Don’t leave new hires in the lurch; dedicate at least a day of your full, dedicated time and attention, if not more, to making sure a new employee gets acclimated. Ahead of them getting there, make sure they have everything they’ll need to do their job – a computer, a desk, logins, etc. We even give our employees a budget to buy their own office supplies – why buy all yellow sticky notes if they want fluorescent pink star shaped ones?On the employee’s first day, introduce them to team members. Explain each employee’s role. Tell them whom to ask about what. Show them where the bathrooms are before they have to ask. Give them a tour of the local area. Take them to lunch. Details, even those as small as letting someone pick their sticky notes, and knowing how to get to the closest post office, make people feel cared for in the adjustment period in a new job, even a dreamy new job.
  3. Define.It’s a rare person who doesn’t value feeling good about their work. But it’s hard to feel good about your job if you don’t know what it entails. Where does that begin? A job description is a good starting point, but how many of you look back at those descriptions with regularity, after getting a job? A job description should be a living document, a benchmark, a conversation touch point with your teams, instead of a file hidden deep in your computer.Also, on my team, I do 90-day, six month and annual reviews. I want to know how they think they’re doing, both strengths and areas for growth, and want them to know how I think they’re doing (they’re almost always harder on themselves). Things we discuss in this meeting shouldn’t be a mystery to them; this is not the time for me to bring up the never-before-addressed issue that I think is standing in the way of their success. I hope reviews we do at Small Act serve to encourage and grow our employees, give them a clear time devoted just to their growth, and show a commitment to helping them.
  4. Celebrate.Having an amazing mission certainly inspires us, but even (and maybe especially!) the most selfless employee wants and should get celebrated for their contributions to your work.How do you thank and celebrate well? We have some Small Act traditions that are important to us. My favorite is Act-iversarys – the anniversary of each employee’s first day at Small Act. But we all have different ways at Small Act of celebrating each other. We hand out “SmActs” on email or in person – publicly thank team members who do a good job or help out on a big project. The most important part of celebrating and thanking is not how you do it, but that you do it. A culture of gratitude is an environment that employees will love.

What about you? What else do you do to create an awesome culture at your org?