Equitable Leadership Transition Indicators: Organizational Culture

Part II – Equitable Leadership Transition Indicators: Organizational Culture

By Ashley Walden Davis

Edited by Joseph Thomas

For most of our organizations, not taking advantage of more time to prepare for a leadership transition is indicative of the culture of the organization.

As a reminder for folks who may not have read the blog introduction, I have been interviewing, engaging in field panels, and having private social conversations regarding next generation leadership, intergenerational leadership, and looking into how transitions in the field have happened, getting the scoop on how they actually went down for the people who participated, which, as you know, might not be the story that was shared publicly.

organizational culture noun

1.the customs, rituals, and values shared by the members of an organization that have to be accepted by new members

Photo by Ashley Walden Davis

Organizational culture has had a huge impact of myself, and many fellow millennials, in our decision to work for a specific organizations.” As mentioned in the intro blog, the ethos of an organization is a major deciding factor when choosing an organization to work for, since pensions and retirements are just urban legends to us. Also, you see in the commercial technology industry that CEOs and executive leadership trends in the late 20s and 30s, and they have developed organizational culture to be a selling point and recruitment tool for our generation.

When we turn our attention to the arts, what kind of organizational culture emerges? Well we know that we cannot really answer this question because it can vary from the larger 10+ million dollar, majority senior white male lead institutions, to very small, digitally connected staffs that are diverse in multiple ways.

That being said, below were the cultural indicators that came up from the field no matter what size of organization. I will note, however, that smaller, nimbler, and more narrow mission driven organizations were able to offer a culture that was more conducive to a leadership change, even though it may be technically more difficult to pull off.

Culture encompassed and included the following items:

  • Whether an organization had practiced values or a value statement
  • Transparency among the staff, board and executive leadership
  • Morale and cohesion of the current staff
  • Rate of turnover
  • Relationship of the staff to the executive leadership
  • Relationship between the board of directors and staff
  • Distribution of power
  • Decision making processes
  • Whether the organization had one dominant leader personality/central decision making body or if decision making was shared throughout the organizational structure
  • Nurtured talent from within
  • Provided coaching and co-mentorship
  • Saw growing talent as good, and a healthy amount of turnover for growing field talent was important
  • Relationship of current staff and leadership to past employees
  • Attitude of employees towards the organization once they were no longer employed

I found that:

  • When stable, small organizations, who had very clear and specific missions, took on leadership transition process, the processes were focused and transparent throughout the organization.
  • Organizations who practiced transparency tended to have a high morale of the staff and board which then translated into more support for a leadership transition process.
  • When power is more evenly dispersed throughout an organization, the ability to have a less tenuous leadership transition was possible because there was less anxiety about one person changing the identity and programming of an entire organization.
  • Organizations that value nurturing talent, mentoring, and coaching. set themselves up to have a healthy transition rate, but were able to maintain connected with former staff and encouraged future engagement potentially through ¬†programming, on a board, or future staff and leadership roles. Furthermore, when mentoring and coaching is part of the culture, building in that thoughtful time as part of the leadership transition with the exiting and entering leader is essential, and supports the entire organization to be in a better place.
Photo by Ashley Walden Davis

In summary, organizations with a culture infused with values of transparency, shared power, and co-mentorship are more apt to have an equitable leadership transition process because changing leadership is something that they are continually preparing for. That one decision, while major, is not where all the power in the organization lives, and all members of the organization are empowered to continue the work and the progression of the mission throughout the transition process.