Nine signs your culture is unhealthy

Your culture always wins. A great strategy with excellent member benefits will produce mediocre results if your culture is out of sync. The changes that will transform your credit union into a resilient, dynamic force for member service and efficiency are destined to fail if your culture will not support it. A deteriorating culture is the catalyst for mistrust, apathy, and eventual decline.

Monitoring the health of your culture is challenging. Traditional indicators such as loan growth, return on assets, member retention, and delinquency ratios are easily tracked.

The culture is “squishier.” Regular surveys and culture audits help. On the other hand, the health of your culture is like the health of your heart—it can feel normal one day and be a severe problem the next.

It helps to know and vigilantly monitor the signs. Here are nine that show your culture might be in trouble.

  1. Higher than normal voluntary turnover: Are your best employees leaving to pursue other opportunities even though your compensation, benefits, and schedules are competitive? It is a seller’s market for talent. Even the team members who are not quite stars are getting offers. You cannot blame someone for wanting to better themselves. Leaving for lateral opportunities or similar (or less) money is a red flag. So is someone who says, “I felt it was time to move on” in their exit interview.
  2. Low morale and lack of ownership: Do bad days turn into bad weeks? Are your teams demoralized and lethargic as they perform their duties? Is blaming others for poor performance or not delivering results common? Are you hearing, “It’s not my job” pop up in conversations? These are all signs that the sense of ownership is lagging, and morale is becoming problematic.
  3. Lack of consistency: Cultures that are in trouble are surprised when things go as planned. Consistency is the mark of a culture of excellence. Southwest Airlines cleans, services, and loads its airplanes in twenty-five minutes. Wegman’s delivers excellent service every day. This happens because of disciplined consistency not luck.
  4. Lack of focus on the external environment: High performing cultures consistently focus on serving the member. Cultures in distress look internally at all the things that are going wrong. Statements begin with the words, “If only they…” and members are often viewed and treated with disdain.
  5. Short-term thinking: Constant attention to current results is no excuse for short-term thinking. Organizations that lurch from crisis to crisis soon find that they cannot function without the motivation of an imminent catastrophe. A culture that trades long-term vision for an exclusive focus on short-term crisis drains energy and limits your ability to grow.
  6. Rise of subcultures: Pride in one’s team is admirable. Allowing team pride to become organizational silos surrounded by motes is a sure sign of a fractured culture. Subcultures exist in many forms. Identification with the department, shift, or even individual supervisor to the exclusion of the organization are all examples of team identity crumbling into destructive subcultures.
  7. Undermining the success of others: Disagreements turn into vendettas. Information is purposely withheld. Blame is shifted to others rather than accepted. These are the symptoms of a culture where “TEAM” is considered a four-letter word and trust is a symbol of weakness.
  8. Increased cynicism: Positive cultures take a critical look at change and then pursue those that make your credit union better. Cultures that are in trouble look at all change—good or bad—through cynical eyes that assume the worst possible outcome.
  9. Lack of confidence and resilience: Is your team showing signs of burnout? Are they approaching the future with apprehension? Does uncertainty drain their motivation or energize them to positive action? Uncertainty and stress are everywhere. Eighty percent of employees report stress at work, and almost half say that they need help in managing it. A healthy culture is confident, resilient, and energized to meet the demands of the present and future.

What is next?

A single symptom is a cause for concern. Two or three should sound an alarm. If you see more than three of these signs, take immediate action. You are on borrowed time.

Your effort to reverse the impact of an unhealthy culture must address the following three factors:

  • Assumptions, beliefs, and values: Assumptions, beliefs, and values, both stated and unstated, drive every aspect of your culture. They define how members, employees, and vendors are treated. They guide decision-making and risk taking. Most important, they influence what is possible and permitted. Now is the time to:
    • Confirm what you stand for and is critical for success.
    • Identify gaps between your current and ideal state.
    • Realign, reconnect, and recommit to ensure that every person at every level is all-in to live up to your good intentions.
  • Language, legends, and symbols: Be intentional with the words used by leaders. Talk about what is possible. Paint a picture of a positive future. Tell stories and share examples of performance and behavior that demonstrates the culture you want. Most important, pay attention to symbolic decisions such as who is promoted, receives the best raises, and has developmental assignments.
  • Habits: Excellence is not an accident. It is a habit formed through intentional repetition. In organizations, habits are formed through processes and systems reinforced by education, training, metrics, and leadership attention. Tackle the behaviors and performance that will have the most visible impact first. Then continue to expand and refine your efforts. It is a never-ending process toward the moving target of excellence.

Habits, on an individual level, define our character. Habits on an organizational level define our culture. Heraclitus said that “Character is destiny.” Culture is destiny, too.

If your culture is unhealthy, your credit union is unhealthy. You can change it by creating and reinforcing habits that represent what you truly believe about people, performance, professionalism, and results.

Randy Pennington

Randy Pennington

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. He is author of the award-winning books Make ... Web: Details