In 2018 I read something along the lines of “organizations that don’t change become irrelevant, and won’t have the impact they desire.” This saying got to the heart of a question I’d had since becoming a manager in 2017 which is, “how can I empower the people I support to do their very best every day.”
This question has followed me for a long time. It led us to create OC’s “Organizational Culture Values” Mandate and has influenced my own personal development — seeking experiences to better understand what makes organizations particularly effective and what leads people to loving the organizations they work for. While I still haven’t 100% figured that out, I have a decent idea of some of the key components that lead to folks showing up and leaving their best on the playing field each day and at the very heart of it is change management as a key part of organizational culture.
Organizations are not meant to do the same thing from year to year because people are not meant to do the same thing year to year.
- When Oregon Senate Republicans walked out of the legislature in 2020, we didn’t say “well, let’s keep pushing the policy even though they aren’t here to vote on it.” Our coalition in Oregon said, “well — time to roll up our sleeves and pass this another way without them.” We changed our approach and we won. While this is an oversimplification of the politics and conversations that went into this one, it’s also almost that simple. We have to be flexible, if we’re going to be impactful. Another example of this is through Our Climate’s updated climate policy principles. You may be familiar with Our Climate as a “carbon pricing advocacy organization.” We received a clear mandate in 2019 from our youth leaders that OC needed to expand its policy principles to be center climate justice and we did just that. One will now find that we’ve included mandates for precisely vetted and enforced renewable energy targets and environmental justice legislation that provides specific protections and resources for environmental justice communities, in addition to our history of supporting strong, specific corporate polluter fees to equitably fund a just transition.
- Speaking of flexibility: in addition to being flexible in our strategic approaches, organizations that support their teams to do their best work will also support their teams to be their best self outside of work — which sometimes means supporting teammates to take time away from work. I’m not talking about the gimmick of “unlimited paid time off!” (we know that doesn’t actually lead people to using PTO) but rather 1) modeling as organizational leaders healthy work boundaries and 2) proactively supporting your team to use their sick and PTO time. Telling the folks you manage that it is “ok to text you anytime,” isn’t nice, it’s a poor communication of boundaries and implies to your teammates that you expect them to text you out of work and that you will do the same. Organizations that support their employees to be their best selves communicate outside of work hours as a very last resort once in a blue moon and give generous paid time off and sick time, and actually encourage people to use it. At the bare minimum.
- And finally, organizations have to be responsive to the moment they’re in. In June 2020, many witnessed organizations wade into Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the first time as a response to the uprisings across the United States in support of racial justice and holding the institution of policing accountable for centuries of racism. Many in our movement noticed those who stood up, whether for the first or the hundredth time, and those who did not stand up in condemnation of the actions that have led to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and countless others. But this is about more than social media activism. Since June, organizations have employed JEDI consultants at increasing rates to begin to understand the extent of which racism is baked into the very structures that make up their every day policies and procedures. Organizations that haven’t begun that work in earnest will lose the respect of their employees and future talent. I get the feeling that Executive-level positions think you have to do it all at once perfectly or it isn’t worthwhile and it has to be sexy, effortless, and marketable. If no one knows how you’ve become a SJW (social justice warrior) — what is even the point? The point is that you will create new systems of operating that better enable your team mates to show up and do their job a little bit less shackled by centuries of systemic oppression and racism. Casual achievement, right?
This is all to say: we must work hard to do our little perfectly and embrace change. Move slow enough to do a good job, get the right people at the table, and get the feedback you need — but not too slow that your team can’t see the tangible impacts of organizational change happening throughout the org. Your first steps will be imperfect. In 2019, Our Climate adopted a set of commitments in its 2019- 2020 DEI Action Plan that really met the needs of our organization where it was at but as we enter into its evaluation stage nearly 18 months later, it’s really clear to us that we have work to continue — namely around disability justice and making our organization more accessible and inclusive.
As Our Climate continues to manage change throughout 2021, we are eager to continue our legacy of learning, adapting, and centering collaboration. It’s been a pleasure to support Our Climate’ change management and organizational culture work and I am excited for the path ahead. If you have any questions about supporting your organization through change and your employees to do their very best every day — don’t hesitate to begin a conversation with our team.
Cassidy Jones is Our Climate’s Deputy Director. Cassidy develops internal resources, structures and systems to improve Our Climate’s work and build an equitable organization while managing Our Climate field program staff and national programs. Cassidy is a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow, a Donor Organizer with Social Justice Fund Northwest, and coaches organizers working on candidate campaigns. A 2016 graduate of Knox College, she holds degrees in Environmental Studies and International Relations. Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com.