Extraordinary governance and a culture of integrity: Part Two

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.

Part one of this Michigan State University Extension article series on creating an organizational culture of accountability, transparency and integrity talked about the value of creating a trust building culture by holding yourself and others in your organization accountable.

Transparency is another element that is critically important to building trust and creating a successful organizational culture. This is an especially hot topic in the government arena, since we know that elected government board members are doing the peoples’ business, providing services to people, which generally speaking, are services that are not well-suited to provision in an open marketplace. The importance of doing the peoples’ business in the open, where the people can observe and participate is essential to maintaining the peoples’ trust. 

Nonprofit organizations also serve the public trust. They, too, provide services that don’t fit a pay-for-service business model. As such, they depend on donations from the public. We also give them tax breaks as recognition of the unique service provision challenges they face, and their role in serving the public. This characteristic of nonprofits make transparency as important for them as it is for government boards.

The third element of this Component of Extraordinary Governance is integrity. Do I talk straight? Do I do what I say I will do? Our national culture seems, in many ways, to have abandoned integrity. Boards and their members cannot afford to give up on integrity. Honesty and straight talk are crucial ingredients for building and maintaining trust, and as Covey has demonstrated, and we have all observed, trust is essential to the accomplishment of the organizational missions of both government and nonprofit organizations. 

How does an organization create such a culture? There are three key steps. First, it requires a commitment by the board to work to achieve a high level of accountability, transparency and integrity. Second, the board must create the necessary policies and procedures to encourage, and to the extent possible, to ensure compliance with those procedures. Finally, and most importantly, each board member must strive to improve their own behavior in the thirteen ways identified by Covey.

Creating a culture of accountability, transparency and integrity is ultimately about engaging in behaviors, both individually and as a board, that build trust. And higher levels of trust contribute to higher levels of organizational success, which should be our primary motivation for serving on boards.

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