How to Build a Nimble Culture

Written by Jamie Notter on March 17, 2016

One of the biggest strategic challenges that associations face today is being nimble. Because let’s face it, agility has not historically been one of our community’s strong suits.

We’ve been good at traditions. We’ve been good at “We Have Always Done It That Way.” We’ve been good at consistency. We’ve been good at “not on my watch.” I remember seeing one association feel like it was keeping up with the times because they finally allowed women who worked at their member companies to be eligible for their association’s “Lady of the Year” award, rather than only giving it to the supportive wife of a member (sigh).

A big piece of shifting this is going to be your culture. We have known about this lack of agility for some time, and many in our community have been actively calling for more nimble organizations, but when you hear the rallying cry—yet don’t see the results—then culture is probably at play. Here are some tips for strengthening the capacity to be nimble within your culture.

Make strategy everyone’s job. The stark separation of strategy and implementation is a problem in most cultures. Nimble organizations recognize that the line is actually pretty blurry, which means they expect people at all levels of the organization to be making decisions that have strategic implications. That means everyone needs to know (deeply) the strategy.

Design your organization around the needs of the employees. Here’s the harsh truth managers: being nimble requires you to give up control, which means “the people” in your organization need to have the resources and authority to get things done. When Maddie and I wrote about “digital” organizations in When Millennials Take Over, we profiled the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, and their digital mindset I think has helped them to be nimble.

Shape your cultural building blocks that are related to agility. Your culture is rooted in what Maddie and I are calling your unique Workplace Genome. There are specific components of that genome that connect to agility—things like how you assign responsibility, how you do problem solving, and even your approach to quality. You need to know how your culture handles these things if you want to move the needle on being nimble.