Closed office doors, break room gossip and a CEO who gives Tony Soprano a run for the money—culture gone wrong is easy to spot. Where work moves forward and employees treat each other civilly, culture may be the caboose on a long train of priorities. Hiding somewhere in the cloud’s dark recesses is a values statement, but no one has actually read it.
Culture may be invisible, but it should never be illusive. That’s why I was excited to have Nancy MacRae, CEO of the Emergency Nurses Association, as a speaker at the Innovation Summit, .orgCommunity’s recent signature event. Nancy has made the deliberate choice to put culture front and center at ENA. This is not an easy proposition, especially for an association with 100 plus employees, two offices and 43,000 members. Giving more than lip service to values like integrity, compassion, life-long learning and excellence starts at the top and requires a conscientious effort at every level of the organization.
Why is it important to dedicate precious resources and time to activities that don’t generate revenue or directly benefit members? As a consultant, I’m hired to work on projects that are highly visible. Where culture is left to invent itself, a witch’s brew of insidious problems can create roadblocks and even sabotage critical initiatives. Employees who feud like the Hatfields and McCoys, departments as isolated as walled cities and teams who couldn’t win the sack race at a grade school field day are a project manager’s nightmare. So yes, culture can make or break the bottom line. If you think it’s not a game changer, consider this:
- Culture reflects people
- People create the brand
- Can you have a quality brand without people who are eager and motivated to deliver top performance?
Bring Values to Life
Culture was at the heart of Nancy’s decision to take the helm at ENA. She was impressed by the membership’s passion and energy and the board’s desire to grow those qualities along with the organization. ENA’s leaders were looking for a partner who would work with them, and Nancy was ready to make the commitment. Partnership and collaboration are integral to her leadership style. She builds staff teams around those values. “Everyone at ENA has a piece in our success. Nothing is just one person’s responsibility,” she says. “We rally people around the goals.”
To bring their values to life, the ENA team sought outside guidance. Workforce technology and analytics consultants helped them to identify key cultural markers. These were used as a baseline to discover patterns for growth and develop strategies for improvement. It was not a surprise that passion was one of the strongest traits. Working in teams is a way of life in the nursing community. ENA’s vibrant culture reflects this tight-knit camaraderie and the commitment that emergency nurses feel to their patients and their profession.
For Nancy and her team, it was affirming to see the quality that drives their organization ranked so highly in the analytics. Continuous testing of their cultural markers demonstrates that the enthusiasm is still growing. The organization takes pride in this strong connection between ENA’s founding values and the present.
Build a Strategy for Change
In keeping with the themes of partnership and collaboration, Nancy wanted the entire staff to participate in building ENA’s cultural identity. She organized a broad-based team to analyze the data and discuss its impact. They broke the results down into “sprints,” focusing on one specific area like enhancing communication, for limited periods of time. Small groups did their research, analyzed the results to determine what could be improved, and shared the findings throughout the organization. Culture saturates everything the ENA employees do, from meeting agendas to team goals. Employees intentionally search for ways to keep it top of mind.
If your association has yet to put culture first. Take some inspiration from expert Ann Rhoades, president of People Ink, and consider the ideas below:
- Evaluate your mission, vision and values statements against reality to ensure that what you are reflects who you want to be.
- Identify the qualities that your organization values and incorporate them into hiring criteria, interviews and job descriptions.
- Model, reward and recognize values-based performance.
- Create incentives for openness, partnership and collaboration and discourage cliques and divisive behavior.
- Communicate goals broadly to give every employee, from the most junior coordinator to the leadership team, a stake in the organization’s success.
Make Culture Visible
ENA’s August 2018 move to a renovated facility was an opportunity to give the association’s values visual representation. The new office, with its spacious, open concept design, invites innovation and teamwork. Walking in the door, you are surrounded by visuals that make ENA’s heritage and mission exciting and tangible. A 20-foot display showcases significant events on the organization’s timeline. Another wall celebrates ENA’s founders and over 200 photographs of members in action remind employees and visitors of the critical role emergency nurses and their association play in society.
The floor plan is configured to facilitate collaboration. Another goal is to acknowledge diverse work styles and needs. There are 26 different meeting rooms and open areas that can be used in a variety of ways. Whiteboards invite brainstorming and innovation. Private spaces are juxtaposed with seating areas that look more like a hotel lobby than an office. Employees who need quiet time can use individual work pods complete with state-of-the-art technology. There’s even a treadmill workstation in case you’re too busy to make it to the gym.
A staff café featuring natural wood, warm lighting and contemporary fixtures puts the idea of eating ramen at your desk into the realm of the ridiculous; especially when you could choose to sit in a landscaped patio complete with firepit.
Of all these amenities and creature comforts, the most striking element is the light. ENA’s old home was dark and cramped. A haphazard design made it difficult to locate people and encouraged isolation. This bright, spacious office is a metaphor for ENA’s positive approach to its culture, vision and values. Members and staff who spend time here not only feel the passion that ENA inspires, they see it all around them.
- Tour the ENA office by clicking on Nancy’s name at the top of the article and watching the video.
- See Nancy MacRae’s profile in our book Association 4.0—Positioning for Success in an Era of Disruption.