What Are Your Nonprofit’s Keystone Habits?

Photo Credit: takomabibelot via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: takomabibelot via Compfight cc

Organizations have habits

If you looked around your nonprofit, you’d find that people do things a certain way. If you’ve worked for other organizations, you’d be able to compare and contrast the various organizational habits that drive the culture, work, and relationships.

Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit talks about how the aluminum giant Alcoa transformed itself with a very simple (perhaps not easy) plan.

When new CEO Paul O’Neill took to the stage at his first shareholders’ meeting in 1987, he failed to impress the profit-hungry attendees with his singular vision:

“I want to talk to you about worker safety,” he said. “Every year, numerous Alcoa workers are injured so badly that they miss a day of work.

“I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America. I intend to go for zero injuries.”

As simple and as naive as that plan and goal sounds, it resulted in record high profits within a year.

While the safety thing helped, it wasn’t solely that a focus on safety brought in buckets of money. It was the fact that the commitment to safety protocol set off a chain reaction of other habits and practices that improved communication and excellence throughout the organization.

Keystone habits reverberate through an organization

Keystone habits can be good or bad, but they have a domino effect through an organization.

No doubt you’ve seen how a habit of gossip in an organization can lead to distrust which can lead to politicking which can lead to poor work coupled by chest-beating and buck-passing. Gossip is a horrible habit that can lead to pockets of whispers and fractured focus.

Alternately, a corporate habit that encourages direct discussion with the individual who can either solve the problem or with whom there is some sort of disagreement gives way to open communication and trust and collaboration.

What are your nonprofit’s keystone habits?

Observe the way your employees and/or volunteers work. Try to identify the key habits that affect the overall corporate culture.

  • Do individuals accept responsibility?
  • Are new ideas encouraged from the lower end of the org chart all the way up to your executive director and department leaders?
  • Can employees or volunteers make things better or challenge the status quo with a measure of freedom?
  • Is there gossip?
  • Is there a culture of care and concern?
  • Are the days filled with small actions that support the larger vision?

Consider taking some time with your team to identify the cultural habits of your nonprofit. This would be a good time to start the habit of open discussion by allowing your team to identify both functional and dysfunctional habits.

After that, identify the habits you think would create positive repercussions through your organization.

Can you develop a plan to tie those habits to the overall mission enough to start reshaping things or making them even better than they already are?


Leave a comment below: What corporate habits are vital to a nonprofit organization? 


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