Communication in Cultures
Patients arriving for an advice appointment at a local charity located in a large NHS building are turned away. The NHS reception staff haven’t heard of the charity, even though the charity has been in the building for 18 months. Is this just a lack of knowledge, communication or a difference in culture?
The culture only hears what the culture recognises. The NHS is a large scale organisation set up in a hierarchy and departments. The charity is a small stand- alone organisation supporting residents in the local community. It would be unusual for a patient to enter the NHS saying they were asking for advice, the phrase which the NHS reception staff might not have understood. They would be more familiar hearing a visit to the GP, or the name of a department.
NHS communications are run through meetings of departments which have a treatment link: there is no natural link for a charity giving advice in an NHS situation, so the charity remains invisible in meetings and communications.
The issue of culture between the public sector and the voluntary sector remains.
This idea can be expanded to different cultures within cultures. The voluntary sector runs charities with Boards of Trustees. These are volunteers who give their time to what the Voluntary Sector calls Governance. Governance is strategic not operational. The Board gives leadership to the organisation through mission statements, aims and objectives, and governs the finances. The Board and the CEO steer the charity in a constantly changing financial and political environment.
There is an obvious tension between the CEO and the Board which can be exasperated with a difference in culture. Some trustees will have skills that are not linked to the business of the charity. They might be business people, in Advertising, Finance, HR, or law. They are there to give back something to their local community by offering these skills which would be unaffordable to many small charities.
If the charity provides support services to students in schools, then there can be a tension in cultures between what the charity is doing compared with the trustee lawyer who is trying to focus on finance. Questions on finance might not be understood by the CEO or staff because their focus is on service delivery.
The issue of power is also present: in that the trustees are volunteers who effectively employ the salaried CEO. It is not an equal relationship so the both sides have to facilitate a professional common ground.
CEOs understandably do not want trustees meddling in operational issues, and trustees want to use their different skills to forward the aims of the Charity. For either side to say that they do not understand, or do not have the skills takes courage, skill, and confidence. The key to this is the relationship between the Chair of Trustees in giving a clear consolidated view of what the Board needs, and the CEO and senior staff explaining what abilities and resources they have to provide this.
This is easier said than done!
Communication in Cultures
Copyright Adrian Scott North London Counsellor Blog 2012
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Disclaimer: This weblog is the view of the writer and for general information only.
This article is designed to provoke argument and critique.