Culture is Crucial to Your Success

By John Spence

John Spence

Highly engaged employees are the primary driver of customer satisfaction and loyalty, which leads to organizational profitability and long-term success. This fact has been proven by hundreds of studies across thousands of companies and millions of employees. Fostering a positive organizational culture can drive financial benefits ranging from 104 to 320% higher profits. Taking good care of your employees is not just the right thing to do; it’s a brilliant business decision. That’s why this message has long been one of my favorite phrases: “The customer’s experience will never exceed the employee’s experience.”

So, what exactly creates highly engaged employees? It all comes down to culture. Corporate culture encompasses the written and unwritten rules of behavior, teamwork, values, ethics and priorities ingrained in an organization. Culture cannot be mandated or controlled but can be nurtured, supported, encouraged and guided. It’s evident when you walk into an organization with a great culture: there’s a positive energy flow, excitement at every level and people are happy. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie, esprit de corps and evident pride in the products and services they deliver.

In organizations with negative cultures, you will see turf-guarding, finger-pointing, politicking and rumormongering. Dysfunctional cultures make it difficult to retain the best and brightest employees and that makes sense—who would want to work in an environment like that?

Based on my extensive research and experience working with leading organizations, here are the key things you must focus on to build a culture that attracts and motivates top talent:

  • Meaning: Talented people want to feel that their work makes a positive difference in the world. Being “number one,” opening five new branches, or doubling profitability are not key motivators for them. They want to be in an organization where they can be proud of the challenging and essential work they produce. Fortunately, credit unions play a pivotal role in securing the financial security of their members. Every employee of a credit union contributes to a noble purpose.
  • Respect: Respect is a minimum, non-negotiable standard. They want to be respected for their work and treated fairly. A large part of showing respect is creating a high level of psychological safety within the credit union. People need to know they can voice their opinions, throw out ideas and politely disagree without fear of retribution or humiliation.
  • Empowerment: An outstanding culture gives clear direction through a vivid, compelling vision and focused strategies. The senior leaders set high standards for performance and support people with the training, mentoring, coaching, resources and authority needed to succeed. Micromanaging is a big no-no. Decisions are delegated quickly to increase the speed and efficiency of the organization.
  • Transparency: Some people seem to think that hoarding information gives them power. It is precisely the opposite. High open, honest, robust communication levels are the hallmark of any great corporate culture. It’s pretty simple: people without access to information do not have to take accountability for their actions. A team member must have all the information and data necessary to do their work effectively to succeed.
  • Fun: In a great corporate culture, people enjoy their work and those they work with. They share a genuine connection and care for each other and consider many of the people they work with their friends, possibly even their best friends. It is this sort of family atmosphere that binds people together and creates a special place to work.
  • Praise: One of the strongest human motivators is feeling appreciated. People need to know that they are doing a good job. They want to feel like they are part of the team, and that people are glad they are in the organization. The best leaders in the world create a culture of catching people doing things right. They establish an environment where teammates recognize each other’s good work and give one another genuine praise for a job well done. This sort of atmosphere is a complete game changer for any organization.

A winning culture is critical for the success of your credit union. It doesn’t happen by chance, fate or good luck. A solid organizational culture must be designed, managed and intentionally “lived” by all senior leaders in the credit union. In the credit union industry, employees are inspired by their ability to make a difference in members’ lives. In this way, culture plays a vital role in attracting, retaining and growing top talent for your organization. Which, I said at the beginning of the article, is the single most potent driver of happy, loyal and engaged members. 

John Spence is widely recognized as one of the top business and leadership experts in the world. He has been working in the credit union industry for more than 20 years and serves as one of the lead instructors for NAFCU’s Management and Leadership Institute. To find out more about John, go to