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Connecting Cultures of Learning and Accountability

August 18, 2023 | 
2 minute read

We took a short break from the newsletter last month to move, explore the wilderness, and have some summer fun. But we’ve been working (and learning), too. One of the things we have been thinking a lot about lately is this seeming tension between cultures of learning and cultures of accountability. Without the room to learn, which means trying, failing, and trying again, we do not grow. But without accountability for results, we don’t see organizational growth either, right? 

The reality is that these things go hand-in-hand. As a Bridgespan report found, nonprofit organizations trying to move from an ‘instinct-based’ approach to a ‘data-based’ approach do these three things.

  • They set and communicate goals–without goals, we simply do not know what we are working towards.
  • They create incentives for learning–frame failures as opportunities by auditing what happened and identifying ways to address challenges in the future, and recognizing folks who are doing the work to continually learn.
  • They have processes–this includes making learning easy, establishing rhythms for learning, like quarterly learning days, and not trying to do it all at once. 

In our recent wanderings, we’ve found that the key ingredient to learning and accountability that’s lacking most, and which often makes the other two irrelevant, is incentives, particularly reframing failures and learning opportunities.

In one of our podcasts this summer, we talked with nonprofit CEO Jason Janz, who speculated that the most critical work of organizations may actually be the work they do inside of their walls. How we show up for each other matters. Accountability isn’t about ‘being on the hook for mistakes’ anymore. It is about “operating from a place of psychological safety where you and your people can approach challenges creatively and ask: What can I do to achieve the desired results?” It is about learning.

At least, that’s the form of accountability we’re learning into here at THRIVE IMPACT. 

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