Reaping Real Rewards Through a Strong Culture

Every organization is more than it appears to be on the surface. Behind the products, the logos, the services, and the press releases are the vital internal ingredients which actually determine the results of that organization. The most essential of those ingredients is the heart and soul of the organization -“ its culture.

To those outside the organization, Byron Bank is a profitable, well-run and respected financial services company. To the people on our team, Byron Bank is a group of highly competent professionals who are also exceptional individuals who have a passion to provide a superior overall experience to our customers and to each other. This is our unique culture -“ and it is entirely deliberate.

Like many culture-centric organizations such as Disney and Southwest Airlines, we believe that organizational culture is a primary determinant (if not the primary determinant) that separates high performance organizations from average performing organizations. We also believe that it is impossible to overstate the importance of culture, since it is the very foundation that the present and future performance of an organization is built upon.

Believing that an organization can only go as far as its culture can take it naturally makes cultivating culture an extremely important strategic objective. After all, if culture is one of an organization’s most important assets -“ shouldn’t leaders make an intentional effort to protect, leverage, strengthen, and grow that asset?

The answer, of course, is yes, we should. But how does an organization go about creating and sustaining a culture so strong that it contributes not only to the goodwill of the team members, but also to the bottom line of the company? At Byron Bank, we are committed to addressing the three key elements we feel are critical to making this happen:

1. Be Intentional:
Organizations that seek sustainability make the choice to develop and reinforce a successful corporate culture that is established by design -“ versus one that just happens. This means being extremely intentional regarding all people related issues -“ ranging from compensation and benefit design, to the language that we choose every day. For instance, we do not refer to anyone on our team in communications or in any human resource documents as “employees.” We are all simply team members, who operate on a first name basis.

2. Be Clear and Goal Oriented:
Five years ago we created our “Seven Characteristics of Excellence” to embody the best aspects of our organizational culture, and to establish standards for what those values should look like. These include such items as: Take Charge, Solve Problems, Build Relationships, Create Teamwork, Respect All, Have Fun, and Get it Done. These characteristics are tied to each team member’s performance assessment and review, and also affect their ability to be promoted or post for other positions within the organization.

3. Be Consistent:
Consistency is an extraordinarily important aspect to building a strong culture. An open door culture of communication whether the news is good, bad -“ or yet to be determined -“ is at the heart of what makes a company a great place to work. Regular communications from top leadership is part of building an open door culture. For example, the president of the bank, Pat Gill, sends out regular e-mail communications to candidly share important company information, updates, or other issues that may affect our organization. He also actively solicits and acts on the opinions and feedback of everyone on the team.

This strategy also works well during challenging times. A recent example of this is the decision the bank faced with the well publicized Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). Not only did Pat send out several communications to the team members to explain what the program was about, he also invited each team member to submit their own personal opinion regarding our participation in the program. It is this consistent level of open and frequent communication style that is essential to an environment of trust, which is the very foundation of a strong culture.

It is no secret that culture as an asset can be a very powerful component to an organization’s success -“ to which our organization can well attest. Despite challenging economic conditions and industry uncertainties in 2008, Byron Bank was able to leverage its strong culture to turn in a superior financial performance compared to our peers, deliver record customer experience ratings, continue a proud heritage of “giving back” through volunteerism and corporate fund-raising, while also taking the time to celebrate the contributions of valued team members.

Melissa K. Lee is the senior vice president of human resources at Byron Bank and its affiliate companies, Byron Investments and Byron Insurance. Byron Bank is a winner of West Michigan’s 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For in 2008 and 2009. Lee can be reached at [email protected].