Performance Practice Introduction: Learning Culture

Introduction: Learning Culture

Performance Practice Learning Module

Does your organizational culture value failing, learning, and always striving for better results?

Nurture a culture where data, curiosity, reflection, and pushing each others’ thinking drive your organization forward.

This learning module is one of seven Performance Practice modules that help you and your team reflect on how your organization’s behaviors and practices align with the principles of high performance. Review the questions below—and share them with your colleagues—for an introduction to the principles and practices of a culture that values learning.

What can you learn about a learning culture by discussing these topics?

Do your board, management, and staff understand the organization’s mission and desired results and review them periodically to ensure that they are still relevant?

  • Do your organization’s leaders revisit your mission every three to five years to determine whether it needs revision?

Do your board, management, and staff continually seek to do even better for the people or causes you serve?

  • Do your organization’s leaders create frequent opportunities for people at all levels to reflect on your results and processes and how you can continually improve them? Examples include soliciting staff feedback, reflecting on successes and failures in staff meetings, and reviewing progress on organizational and individual goals.
  • Can your organization point to recent examples in which you made major changes to a program, service, and/or process after you learned that you weren’t as effective as you had hoped?
  • Does your organization set “stretch” goals to push you out of your comfort zone and keep improving your people, processes, and results?

Do people in all parts of your organization have high expectations of themselves and their peers?

  • Can your organization cite recruitment and staff-development practices that nurture a culture in which individuals at all levels are motivated to do high-quality work and keep improving over time?
  • Does your organization use staff meetings, orientation sessions, or other opportunities to showcase and celebrate exemplary staff performance?
  • Does your organization promote excellence as the norm? Do you aim to constantly raise the bar and improve in every aspect of your work by training and motivating your people, reviewing and iterating your practices, and learning and documenting how to deliver better results?

Do your board, management, and staff take on the challenge of collecting and using information, not because it’s a good marketing tool, and not because a funder said they have to? Do they believe it is integral to ensuring material, measurable, and sustainable good for the people or causes they serve?

  • Does your organization collect and use data to determine if you’re on course to achieve your desired results and help you learn and improve? Do you also collect and use data to demonstrate to your stakeholders that your organization is worthy of support?

Do the board, management, and staff look for opportunities to benchmark your organization against, and learn from, peer organizations that are at the top of your field?

  • Does your organization study research, case studies, and news articles to help you learn from other organizations? Are you interested in gleaning insights not only for improving your programs but also for strengthening any of the Performance Imperative’s seven organizational pillars?
  • Does your organization’s board regularly engage in discussions with peer organizations to share lessons learned and experiences? Do you also participate in relevant professional associations and learning networks that help you compare your processes and results with similar organizations?
  • Do your organization’s management and staff regularly engage in discussions with peer organizations to share lessons learned and experiences? Do you also participate in relevant professional associations and learning networks that help you compare your processes and results with similar organizations?
  • What specific examples can you cite when you have studied other organizations and then incorporated what you have learned to develop people, refine processes, and improve performance?

Does senior management lead by example and encourage people throughout the organization to be curious, ask questions, and push each other’s thinking by being appropriately and respectfully challenging? High-performance cultures are innovative cultures, mindful that every program and process eventually becomes dated, even obsolete.

  • Are your organization’s leaders open to—and don’t punish or ignore—respectful pushback?
  • Does your organization allocate time in key meetings for questioning and encourage staff to challenge the status quo?
  • What specific examples can you site of learning and/or changes in practice that stemmed from staff input?

Does senior management create the conditions for staff members to feel safe acknowledging when there are problems? Do they use what others might deem “failures” as an opportunity for learning?

  • Do your organization’s leaders model self-reflection and humility by acknowledging their own shortcomings and use “failures” as opportunities for learning?
  • Do your organization’s staff bring problems to the attention of leaders and managers? When they do, do leaders and managers take the concerns seriously and seek solutions?
  • Can you cite an example of a “failure” that sparked reflection, analysis, and improvement—not recrimination?

Do even your busiest leaders, managers, and staff members carve out time to step back, take stock, and reflect?

  • Do your organization’s leaders, managers, and staff members periodically set aside uninterrupted time on their calendars to read and think, even though the urgent often squeezes out the important? Do they use this time to reflect on their own performance and on your people, processes, culture, and results?
  • Does your organization periodically afford staff an opportunity to step outside the daily demands of email and meetings (e.g., through retreats, professional development sessions, or even on a nature walk)?
  • Do your organization’s senior leaders have an open, honest conversation at least once a year about the level of effort that will be required as individuals and as a leadership team to hit your goals? Does each leader do a “gut check” to ensure that he or she is on board and committed to the organization’s success?
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