Tag Archives: organizational change

Generations, transparency, social approaches…organizational culture change is coming

curves ahead sign

A recent post from Debra Askanse at Community Organizer 2.0 highlights a new nonprofit organization, emphasizing the ways in which organizational structures created by those who have been steeped in ‘social culture’ and a more transparent approach to organizational functioning are, inherently, distinct from more traditional and hierarchical ways of working.

And that has me thinking about our nonprofit organizations, who’s running them today, and how they may change–taking our sector along with them–as new leadership steers organizations in different directions.

It’s not just that younger leaders have a different ‘style’. In fact, I think that viewing leadership among different generations that way is sort of trivializing the ways in which people are impacted by the cultural milieu in which we are raised. Because what we’re really facing is a different default–a new ‘normal’–and different kinds of ‘why?’ and ‘why not?’ questions, framed by those who are not necessarily going to be wedded to doing things the way they’ve been done before.

Debra’s example raises those issues, and, multiplied by many thousands as new organizations are started or new leadership takes the helm of existing ones, it could start to look like a movement.

I see it with my students. Course evaluations are less and less relevant, because students are more and more accustomed to expecting–and demanding–real-time access to me, to address their concerns and get the information they need. They expect a certain level of transparency and accessibility that students even 10 years ago did not, and instructors who cannot get comfortable with those expectations struggle.

I see it in my own children. Just this week, my oldest son was listening to someone talk about their transitional living program for those leaving homelessness at church, and he turned to me and said, “That sounds really strict. If it’s supposed to be people’s home, shouldn’t they get to help decide what the rules are?”

I see it in my consulting practice, where there are often tensions between those within an organization (not necessarily the younger ones, because comfort with social upending of more rigid hierarchy doesn’t necessarily conform along clear generational lines) who see increased transparency as a way to authentically connect to the constituency, and those who resist anything that might erode their perception of confidentiality and ‘appropriate’ communications.

I see it in online discussions about transparency, and what real transparency would mean; some organizations still fear social media because they won’t be able to control the conversation there, while others embrace open dialogue about their work and their cause, because they know that momentum and a sense of grassroots ownership translates into passionate support.

And I see it in colleagues, including those who leave organizations where they don’t feel that their contributions are really valued, unless they make it into upper management, and those who stay in organizations that can’t afford to pay them what they deserve, because they feel so completely a part of the cause.

What do you see, when you look at the nonprofit sector today? What do you see coming? Where do you think we’re positioned to succeed in new ways of operating, and where are we headed for trouble? What will be good–empowering and authentic–about more transparent organizational structures? What concerns you, and what should we be sure to hold onto, from the ‘old way’ of working?