What Makes a Healthy Corporate Culture?

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

August 29, 2012

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.