Consider the importance of creating a culture focused on continuous improvement within both service and manufacturing organizations. This is important because the culture either supports or hinders any initiative started within an organization. If the culture does not support continuous quality improvement, then either the CQI process will fail or the culture must be shifted.
I’m always on the look out for useful and thought provoking resources on how nonprofits can use data to make better decisions that lead to greater impact. So, when Mary K Winkler, one of the nonprofit data nerds I follow on Twitter and Senior Research Associate at Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits & Philanthropy specializing in performance management told me via Twitter she had just published a new guide on this topic, I had to check it out.
Moving Beyond a Culture of Compliance to a Culture of Continuous Improvement is a resource guide to help leadership, management, supervisory, and data-focused staff in Head Start and Early Head Start programs (1) understand how data, including data they already collect, can help them achieve their program goals; (2) learn techniques for fostering a culture of learning in their organization; and (3) increase their ability to identify and address gaps and continuously improve their programs. It was designed to complement existing technical assistance resources through tip sheets, examples, and links to multiple resources.
I was most interested in Part 2 (pages 17-21) because I think the advice is applicable to organizations beyond those managing head start programs. This section of the report covers new ways of thinking about organizational culture based in continuous improvement based on feedback. It speaks to establishing culture norms among staff of curiosity, reflection, and trust. It outlines the practices and skills needed to create a learning culture. Here’s what I learned:
The term means learning culture. The term “continuous” that the organization has create a virtuous cycle of feedback that repeatedly inspires staff to reflect on what is working and what can be done differently to get better results. This process of reflection is embedded in the organization’s working style, not a random moment of inspiration after a program evaluation is completed. Everyone on staff understands that the questions are the best teachers and in an effort to sustain learning articulate questions and seek answers to those questions.
Organizations that have this type of culture do not play the blame game if something needs to be improved. They have a created a safe space for staff and program participants and other stakeholders to give feedback, reflect, ask questions, and think creatively about solutions. Senior leaders model the skill that Edgar H. Schein calls “Humble Inquiry” – the art of asking questions based on curiosity and building trust.
The report describes the indicators below as hallmarks of a culture of continuous improvement.
The report points out that Head Start Programs often have to balance compliance with creating a culture of continuous improvement, not an easy task. Not only do organizations need data collection systems, but also systems for observation, learning, reflection, and action or as the report describes “systems that help us identify and solve problems proactively instead of always reacting.” The report offers up the metaphor of “how shift from fighting fires to innovation.”
The report also talks about an organization’s cultural readiness to switch to a culture of continuous improvement, using a blog post I wrote about being data-informed for inspiration. It maps out stages of change, but also recognizes that organizations may be in different stages at the same time:
The report also includes a reference to this excellent tool for evaluating an organization’s capacity to do evaluation activities. The report identifies these criteria:
For people who are in the data for good space, technical work and “janitorial” work are only a part of their jobs. Understanding organizational data culture or creating a culture of continuous improvement based on data is a hot topic. It’s on the agenda at Do Good Data Conference later this month (I’m co-facilitating the ending plenary). It’s also on the Data on Purpose Conference at Stanford in June. For some organizations, it is more zen – it’s about beginning it and continuing it as Laura Quinn from Idealware points out in her latest Markets For Good blog.
Does your nonprofit have a culture of continuous improvement based on data? What does it look it? How did it get started?
Source: Beth Kanter, https://digitalimpact.io/creating-a-culture-of-continuous-improvement-based-on-data/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License.