Trailblazers 40 Below: CU Vice President Leads a Culture Revolution
Matt Monge, vice president of people and development at Fort Campbell Federal Credit Union, has launched a culture revolution, and he’d like every credit union to join.
Building relationships, developing people and tackling tough issues to build a healthy culture within not just his credit union but the industry as a whole is what gets him going every morning. That passion about helping credit unions bridge the internal culture gap is what prompted Monge to launch The Mojo Co.
According to Monge, one of the biggest competitive advantages comes from a healthy organizational culture because ultimately it unleashes the potential within people.
“It’s simple. People want to love where they live and work every day, so the environment is critical,” said Monge. “There aren’t a lot of companies out there filled with stupid people, and companies in general are pretty smart as far as marketing, technology, finance etc. Rarely does an organization blow its competition out of the water because they're significantly smarter than others in their space.”
He added that’s where culture, as an accelerator of talent and liberator of innovation, tips the scale. Monge defined a healthy culture as one marked by high morale, high productivity, minimal confusion and politics, and low turnover.
“Everyone talks about being an employer of choice but so few are. There’s a disconnect in what we think we are and what we are actually in the community,” said Monge. “We’ve got to be honest with what it means and make credit unions places where people are banging down the doors because they want to be part of that culture–whatever it may be. More than just employees, you’ll have loyal members of a tribe. And when you’ve got people passionate about what they do and what they’re doing it for, turnover drops.”
The challenge many face has been confusing mission statement and core value buzzwords for actual change or identity. And in an industry based on numbers culture has been hard to quantify. According to Monge, he hasn’t met one executive who disagreed with the concept that people matter, but they ultimately wonder “what’s the ROI?”
“I usually steal the line and ask, 'What’s the ROI on your mother or your neighborhood or church?'” said Monge. “The point is, that some things you know matter in your gut. Culture is what unlocks innovation, passion, drive and excellence. Stop thinking of culture as a nice to have. Instead, [it’s] a huge competitive advantage.”
“If you really want to change your culture, first you’ve got to look in the mirror and honestly answer some serious questions starting with: Who are we? What makes us tick? How are we different? Why is the world and marketplace better for our being here? How are we helping people? Remember, it’s not about what you hope to be true. It's about what's actually true because those answers are what you’ll use to plant a stake in the ground and align everything based on who we are, why it matters, how to conduct ourselves. And from there communicate the heck out of it.”
Since he joined the Clarksville, Tenn.-based credit union a little over a year ago, Monge has held those difficult conversations and has led the efforts to shape, build and cultivate a healthy culture. For example, in an effort to help change the mindset, he began offering training classes based on books ranging from the Culture of Accountability and People Styles at Work to The Three Signs of a Miserable Job and Linchpin. In addition, he and his team recently developed a library of similar books that employees can check out for self-development. He’s also played an integral role on the recent development of Fort Campbell FCU’s company values. Two of those new core values, “positive awesomeness” and “beware the box” were created in partnership with executives and managers from across the organization.
“I was tired of the clichés. Let’s face it honesty, integrity, those are basic values all businesses should have. It’s lost its meaning and it’s not anything that gets people excited,” said Monge. “We want our credit union to be a place where there’s this pervasive, positive, fun-loving, carefree attitude. And we’re getting there. So the term positive awesomeness is one way to demonstrate that, and it’s been a great conversation starter with new hires." To Monge, culture being largely a human endeavor can’t be flawless and there will be failure. Expectations within the core values have to allow for off days and the goal is to look for overarching themes and trends.
“Failing is critical to the whole movement now,” said Monge. “We’ve got to be out there trying and messing up rather than waiting. Anyone who has done amazing work has messed up more than you know. Why not celebrate well-intentioned mess ups and give kudos for those who step up and try?”
According to Monge, the biggest mistake has to be waiting for a beautiful, well-defined plan before engaging employees or changing culture.
“I get asked all the time, ‘How do you know if the employees are engaged?’ And the simple answer is ask them,” said Monge. “Walk out the door, find someone and say ‘I’m curious if you’re passionate about what you do and what can I do, we do, to make this a better place?’ It’s a basic, inexpensive start. Just initiating that conversation is huge because the best change is organic like building a snowball as people pile on.”
That said, Monge found that human resource and training and development departments also need to cultivate their own radical stripe and should continue to evolve as everything else does. Too often training is separate but initiatives have to be tied to actual organizational goals and strategies.
“I’ll borrow a quote from my friend Andy Janning, ‘Knowledge isn’t power, performance is.’ It can’t be about pats on the back about your training because it’s irrelevant if it’s not being applied and happening in the real world,” said Monge. “It’s funny because in general, and I’ll include myself in this, HR doesn’t feel comfortable playing chances, we do what we’re supposed to do. We need to be more leading edge and say,'Here is what you can be and let’s get there together by doing ABC.”
For Monge, technology has leveled the playing field. Rather than focus on that as a differentiator credit unions should go back to putting processes, policies and human systems in place so the key ingredients of a healthy organizational culture, employee engagement, authentic leadership and real teamwork are engrained within the organization.
“That’s usually where I lose executives because it seems counterintuitive,” Monge chuckled. “The reality is if you don't think those key ingredients have a huge impact on your bottom line, you're kidding yourself. Whatever defines your credit union, if that idea is truly to be embraced and felt by the employees, everything must be structured with that idea in mind. Everything–from marketing to interview questions to benefits to atmosphere–must reinforce a given core value. It takes a sustained, intentional effort to construct a culture where the core values are authentic and felt.”
Monge’s Must Read Blogs
Monge’s Book List
Linchpin by Seth Godin. A must read for anyone wanting to make a difference in with their work and life.
The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Awesome, accessible books on organizational culture and team building.
Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson and Poke the Box by Seth Godin. These two books encourage you to stop talking and start working. Do things. Start things. Ship things.