What Makes a Healthy Corporate Culture?

A healthy culture creates a sustainable advantage, ‘chief culture officer’ says.

August 29, 2012
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A healthy organizational culture unlocks the potential within people, says Matt Monge, chief culture officer for $452 million asset Mazuma Credit Union, Kansas City, Mo.

Monge tells Credit Union Magazine how a healthy culture can provide a sustainable competitive advantage.

Credit Union Magazine: Why is “culture” something that Mazuma wants to focus on and what are the benefits for the credit union?

Monge: In my mind, culture drives everything. It really does.

We can think about it this way: By and large, organizations are filled with smart, capable people.

We have technology to thank for this, at least in part. Everyone has access to the same information, the same technology.

Some get in on things sooner than others, which provides a temporary competitive advantage. But sooner or later, folks catch up.

That’s why a healthy organizational culture is not only a good thing to do from the perspective of treating people well. It also provides a sustainable competitive advantage. Healthy culture unlocks the potential within people.

You can almost think of it as an accelerator of talent; a liberator of innovation. Stated differently, if employees are trapped working a job they’re not in love with for a company they don’t feel treats them well, chances are they’re not going to really tap into their potential to as great a degree.

A healthy culture—one marked by high morale, high productivity, organizational clarity, and minimal politics—is one that people want to be a part of. They want to invest themselves in the success of the organization because it’s obvious the organization is reciprocating.

They want to grow and improve because they want to be a part of the organization’s success.

So, many organizations miss this potentially game-changing competitive advantage because their default strategy when something isn’t going well is to look at things like marketing, technology, finance, etc. But the problem doesn’t always lie in those areas, or at least not entirely.

Often, organizations try to address culture from a strictly structural or operational perspective, and it just doesn’t have any lasting impact. As a result, many groups are eventually just left scratching their collective heads and going back to business as usual.

Credit Union Magazine: Any war stories yet? Have there been memorable successes or failures in the new chief culture officer role so far?

Monge: I think, right now, the coolest moments are the little ones.

It’s the time when an executive admits a goof. It’s the moment where two teammates learn to relate to each other as humans instead of just co-workers.

It’s people starting to talk through a workplace grudge they’ve held for too long. It’s a team rallying around a goal together and investing mental and emotional energy to make something happen.

It’s those sorts of organic, human moments that can spark lasting, meaningful, larger-scale change.

It’s up to us—all of us—to create an environment that encourages those things.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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