Culture is King

By: John Ricco, CAE


Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past decade you’ve probably read about, heard about, and seen entirely too many PowerPoint presentations about organizational culture.  The articles, books and discussions focus on both corporate culture as well as the culture in not for profit (NFP) organizations.  One might argue that in the NFP community, culture plays an even more important role due to the passion and “all-in” commitment of those associated with promoting their chosen industry or cause.

Partners takes culture very seriously — both ours as “the Partners team” and the way that culture integrates with the cultures of the organizations we serve.  While each association has its own distinct values and beliefs, we like to think our organization’s culture infuses that of the associations we manage; much the way fresh herbs can make a meal taste better without detracting from the main flavor of the dish.

To be sure that we are on the same page, what is culture?  The simplest and most accurate description I’ve seen is management expert Mark Horstman’s definition: culture is the sum total of all the behaviors in an organization.  Every organization has a culture, intentionally or otherwise.  It’s up to the leaders of a group to decide if they like the culture they have and then modify it as needed.

So, the $1,000,000 question – how do you know if your organization’s culture is “good”?  One way is to just ask.

As a company, we gauge our corporate culture in part, by annual participation in our state’s Best Companies survey.  That process requires employees to answer an exhaustive questionnaire of roughly ninety questions on every facet of the workplace, fifteen of which are about culture. Employees are asked if there are sufficient levels of communication and financial transparency as well as if there is an emphasis placed upon quality, diversity, recognition and a variety of other topics.  The tool is anonymous and employees can comment on any topic they desire. We are proud and fortunate to have been consistently named a Best Company to Work For in Florida for the past seven years.

With regard to the associations we manage, while there a number of tools and assessments available online and elsewhere, asking simple questions of your volunteer leaders is a great place to start.  We’ll often ask our clients some of the following questions about the organization and its staff:

  • Is there an environment that fosters healthy relationships among members?
  • Does the board engage in constructive dialogue?

Those same questions are asked about the staff leadership’s relationships with volunteer leaders and members.  The end-game being an assurance that the culture Partners has as a company interlaces with those of the organizations we serve in helping them meet their mission and goals.

A perfect example of meshing of two cultures can be seen in comments we received from one of our newer clients just a couple of years into our partnership with the Architectural Precast Association (APA).  The APA is a national organization comprised of manufacturers of “architectural precast” which is concrete that contributes to the overall aesthetic and architectural value of building (e.g., wall panel facades and ornamental columns).  Many of the APA members are second, third and in some cases, fourth generation “precasters” so the culture of the group was very familial, close knit and caring.

As we began to work with the APA, we paid great attention in attempting to foster a family atmosphere in all aspects of our work for the APA.  So much so, that after a couple of years working with the APA a Past President commented, “Partners has been a perfect fit for the Architectural Precast Association, applying the resources and professionalism to keep our association headed in the right direction and maintaining an organizational culture that feels like family.”

If culture is king, it doesn’t get any better than that. So ask yourself this, what is your current organizational culture, what do you want it to be and what are you doing or not doing to move the needle in the right direction?


Award winning architectural precast in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame produced by Advanced Architectural Stone – Everman, Texas.



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