Posted March 15, 2006

Does Your Organization's Practices Reflect Its Own Mission?

It is a nonprofit organization you have heard of many times, and its name would probably bring to mind images of fighting the status quo, direct confrontation, and lots and lots of action. You would think of it as an organization that doesn't recognize any tradition or rule as absolute, that embraces energy and innovation in all that it does, and works in a flexible, pro-active manner, putting its mission goals before bureaucratic ones.

So imagine my astonishment when talking with this organization to receive such a hostile reaction to the idea of employee telecommuting / cloud commuting. The human resources manager sounded as though she couldn't breathe at the thought of such a radical idea, and once she did find her words, said that this organization's HR policy absolutely forbids any such practice. When I suggested that it would be a good idea to modernize that policy, another staffer jumped in, reminding me that doing something so "substantial" as changing a policy takes "a lot of time" and "much reflection."


Here's an organization that prides itself on not playing by the rules, and even sometimes asks its volunteers to violate the law in pursuit of its goals. But revise its human resources policies to allow employee telecommuting/cloud commuting? Why, that's crazy talk!

Can you imagine what this organization's reaction would be to a similar statement from a corporation or government against which it was protesting? "We may not change this practice you are protesting because it's in our official policies, and it takes a lot of time and much reflection before we can change our official policies." The organization would never stand for such a "defense."

There's another organization you probably would not have heard of, but you would be familiar with its work: trying to address conditions and practices that lead to global climate change. But while this organization is writing guidelines, holding conferences and lobbying corporations and governments, the overwhelming majority of its staff, even those who live less than half a mile from the organization, are driving to work, despite the outstanding mass transit system available in its city. The organization has no policies regarding recycling its own office waste, and there's no emphasis on any energy-saving practices within its offices.

Can you imagine if the press, or a group working counter to this organization, identified these practices and detailed them publicly, and the enormous public relations fallout that would occur?

These are real-life examples of organizations promoting an image that isn't actually reflected in their practices, of organizations not truly "walking their talk." And they aren't alone: there are organizations that encourage corporations to allow their employees to volunteer on company time, while not allowing their own employees to do so; companies holding seminars on innovation and management who have antiquated computer systems that cannot be networked together; and initiatives that tout the importance of local control of local activities, but ignore the feedback of front line staff and impose office practices with no discussion.

Being successful in today's business climate means reflecting in practice the values you promote publicly. Take a look at your organization and ask yourself, "Is what we promote to others being practiced by ourselves?" Survey your staff and volunteers, allowing them to anonymously provide feedback on where they see disconnect in the organization's mission and the organization's own internal practices. Not only will you avoid a public relations nightmare, your own practices will become marketing tools for your organization's mission.

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