Extraordinary governance and a culture of integrity: Part One

The culture demonstrated by the board has a tremendous impact on the culture of the organization, and accountability, transparency and integrity are crucial elements of the culture of a successful organization.

Boards of nonprofits and governments typically don’t build physical products or personally provide services. They oversee those efforts by staff, and give direction to those efforts through securing resources, creating structure, developing the mission, and adapting the organization’s direction to changing environments. It sounds straightforward enough, but there are some underlying characteristics of an organization that are critical to accomplishing those things.                                            

Those characteristics can make or break the success of the organization. Sometimes, the people in the organization, both the board and staff, get busy with the obvious business of running the organization and ignore the culture. What is the culture of an organization, and why is it important? 

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines culture as a “…way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization”. A way of thinking can either contribute to success, or it can reduce the chances of success. One of the results of building this culture of accountability, transparency and integrity will be a higher level of trust. We talked in several earlier articles in this extraordinary governance series about the importance of trust to the success of an organization. 

Stephen M.R. Covey, talks in his book, “The Speed of Trust”, about the value of trust, and identifies thirteen behaviors that build trust. This gives us clear direction that the culture of an organization, the way the organization and the people in it think, behave, and work, impacts the level of trust the organization earns from stakeholders, employees and the society at large, and thus, impacts the success that is either achieved or not.

One of our ten Components of Extraordinary Governance is a “culture of accountability, transparency, and integrity.” These three words, while not as detailed and specific as Covey’s thirteen behaviors, pretty well sum up the thirteen behaviors. 

Covey talks about two dimensions of accountability. The first is to hold yourself accountable, and the second is to hold others accountable. Accountable to what, you might ask. For members of a board, it’s not about how many widgets you made, or sales you closed. It is about making meaningful contributions to the success of the board and the organization. That includes being prepared for meetings, working as part of the team, and following through on commitments. 

Be sure to read part two of this Michigan State University Extension article series on one of the Components of Extraordinary Governance to learn more about transparency, integrity and creating a culture that fosters trust.

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