The River Running Through Us

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 20:15

Asking people what makes a good workplace culture can sometimes prove a slippery proposition. The word “culture” exists at such a high level of abstraction that people often feel the need to come up with grand, sophisticated-sounding descriptions. It’s akin to words like “sustainability” or “capacity” that lose meaning in the gray muddle of constant repetition. 

Ever intrepid and optimistic, we set out to understand what aspects of Community Partners’ culture our board members and staff found most worthy. Our survey emphasized top-of-mind responses, meaning no one had more than just a few minutes or so to render their thoughts. Responses covered a waterfront of evocative, even gratifying terms like ‘welcoming,’ ‘smart,’ ‘collegial,’ ‘competent,’ ‘caring,’ ‘collaborative’ and ‘connected.’ What stands out about those words is that they are value-laden. They express distinctive qualities that, in the aggregate, describe a productively nurturing environment. One gets the impression that people thrive in such a place. I agree.

Imagine if people had led their comments with descriptors like ‘hard-driving,’ ‘highly efficient,’ or ‘very competitive.’ I know of several business CEO’s who would be proud to have their organizational culture described that way. Even though I see variants of those qualities exhibited every day by the Community Partners program and finance team members – and certainly by leaders of sponsored projects – it’s an environment infused with values, with quality, caring relationships, that comes to mind first for our people. 

That this is the case doesn’t surprise me. We screen in our hiring and project leader selection for people drawn beyond their private concerns and ambitions into the greater realm of the public interest, the commonwealth; people more focused on the we than the me. 

Community Partners’ organizational culture, then, can be summed up simply as “a workplace where care and concern for others drives everything we do.” I like that formulation not because it describes some high-flown mission or ambition in grand and glowing terms or makes audacious claims. Rather, I think it gets to the true heart of who we are. Of course, we run by solid management principles, but we’re not driven by capturing market share in the manner of commercial ventures. We have a competitive streak that drives us to be the best at what we do, but we don’t waste time on figuring out how to crush the competition. We desire the greater impact and effectiveness that comes of garnering more operating resources, yet we know the ways that steady, gradual growth and conservative fiscal habits have made us a sustainable venture.

Taken to the level of generalities, then, the notion of organizational culture need not be murky or gray at all. We think culture consists of:

  • A shared set of values and assumptions 
  • How people are treated, and how they treat one another
  • What drives decision-making
  • How priorities are determined and addressed
  • The nature of the work

Our commitment to our people and the reciprocal commitment they make to our mission is the through-line that connects everything, like a steady-flowing stream assuring pride, plenty and prosperity in the surrounding land. Culture for us is the landscape that emerges as people act in caring concert for shared good. We like living in that place. It feels rich and full of possibility.



Mountain Stream by rklopfer