The Importance of Culture

February 14, 2013 // Culture

Article Written By: Robert Kaminski | President & Chief Operating Officer | Mercantile Bank of Michigan

What is culture? When asked this question, many people pause and think, and perhaps struggle with putting their thoughts into words. Culture is one of those things that may not readily be seen or heard by some, but over time it becomes apparent. Webster’s defines culture as “the set of values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution or organization”. Cultural characteristics define an organization from the standpoint of its staff members, management, customers, vendors and anyone who comes in contact with the organization.

Each year around this country businesses come and businesses go. There are many reasons why businesses do not succeed.  While some of these reasons may be beyond the control of the organization, many others can be traced to an undefined or poor culture. Culture provides the means by which a business conducts its affairs. It sets expectations for communication within and outside of the organization, for delivery of products and services, understanding and commitment to the organizational mission, the desire to be the best organization possible, and the need to approach every facet of corporate responsibility with a sense of urgency while striving for excellence. An appropriate organizational culture provides a roadmap for which the trail to success can be engineered. A bad culture can do just the opposite, and pose a hindrance that prevents the organization from reaching its goals.

One measurement that I take in trying to understand a company’s culture happens when I walk through its doors. Have you ever entered a business and quickly had the feeling that your presence was the most important thing to those employees on that day? Conversely, have you had the misfortune to enter an establishment and it seems that you are totally invisible? What about calling in on the phone and trying to get an issue resolved and being transferred multiple times, having to tell your story again and again? I know how you have felt in each of these situations because I, like you have experienced them all. These are the kinds of situations, both positive and negative, are often reflective of an organization’s culture.

Competition is extremely fierce in most areas of our economy and businesses continually seek an advantage. This environment is also present in our industry as community banking remains a very competitive arena. One of our main challenges is that many financial institutions have resorted to acquiring customers mainly on price. This is a rather precarious position because leading with price does not often facilitate the building of customer loyalty, nor does it provide a solid foundation for developing deeply rooted customer relationships. Mercantile takes a different approach to community banking. While we always present a competitively priced package to our clients and prospective clients, we are interested in acquiring clients who want to have a relationship where they view their bankers as trusted advisors. We strive to be a banker that can fulfill all of our customers’ needs and exceed their expectations. This approach to banking is reflective of our culture.

At Mercantile Bank, we are very protective and proud of our culture. It is something that was a critical fiber in the fabric of our company when it was formed over 15 years ago. Mercantile Bank’s culture starts with integrity and ethics; this is a non negotiable in our organization. Anyone who does not embrace and demonstrate these qualities will not be associated with our company. After these values, there are other characteristics that are important for Mercantile employees to possess that provide strong ties to and help define our culture. Some key words/phrases that provide a glimpse into the Mercantile culture are multifaceted, initiative, optimistic, problem solvers, adaptable, and embracing change. When our employees demonstrate these behaviors, clients quickly get feeling that Mercantile is an organization that they can count on. They know that Mercantile will not only offer industry leading products but they will also provide a staff that will be there for the customer, to understand their banking needs, provide assistance and add value.

A successful and appropriate culture can provide the environment that, when combined with a well conceived business plan and an excellent team of employees will allow an organization the opportunity to reach its corporate goals and objectives.