Founder and Chair – LMFC
Vice Chair – LMFC
President and CEO – The Bank of Northern Michigan
SVP of Shared Services - LMFC
Senior Vice President, Traverse City Market Manager

Hear from the founder of Lake Michigan Financial Corporation, Rich Lievense, and his insight on what this blog encompasses.

Since the first blog post on culture was published, I have had a number of comments and questions about this topic.  Most revolved around the question of what to do to establish a culture in a company or fix a culture that has been damaged for one reason or another.  This seems to be a common problem.   Why is the right culture so important yet so elusive?
Culture is defined as “the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent.”  Isn’t that something we all want in our lives?  Don’t we all want to be great at something?
Those of you who have excelled in something know it doesn’t just happen.  It is the result of a clearly defined goal, a strategy to achieve that goal, much work and commitment, and a willingness to pursue that goal when times get tough.  It seems to me that establishing, nurturing, and maintaining the right culture in a company is no different.
It starts with clearly defining what we want for our culture.  Does it start with product design (like Apple)?    How do we want our people treated?  Are we willing to spend the time and money to insure our actions live up to our hype?   Do we really want our company to be excellent and stand out among others in the industry?   Where does profit fit in?  How do we want to treat our customers and what promises are we going to make to them?   What are we willing to forgo in our pursuit of profit?  Is our culture for sale if the price is right? These are great questions to ask yourself and your team. You should also ask these questions to a broad cross section of customers and employees.
After you get some answers to these questions, it is time to really understand where you are right now.  Assess what your current culture looks like and figure out where you are succeeding and what areas need attention.  This is the difficult part because broken cultures cause people to become defensive, upset, angry, hurt and sorry and always get in the way of excellence.  This process needs to be led by the owners/senior managers of the company and should be in an honest and non-threatening environment.  If the culture is badly in need of attention, don’t be surprised if this takes much more time than you think and ends up being hurtful for everyone involved.
Once you know where you stand, a long-term process of improvement begins.  This same group of people needs to do something to build on the positive traits and establish a game plan for the areas of improvement.   Be sure to outline specific actions to be taken.  Publish them for all to see.  Once these actions are established, get to work on making them happen.  Early progress is critical because your people will question if this commitment is lasting and something to be taken seriously.  Establish a regular meeting to review your progress, assess what is working and what isn’t, make adjustments, and continue to address issues as they arise.  Be honest in your evaluation of what is working and what isn’t.  Be sure to celebrate your successes and honestly acknowledge things that aren’t going quite as well.  Your employees will be watching carefully.
This process takes time and commitment but like any other business situation, progress can be made if the right process is implemented in an honest non-threatening environment.  Are you ready to make the change?

It seems that every management book or article starts with the importance of establishing the right culture in your business. They say that without the right culture, the business cannot be successful in the long run and will not meet its long-term goals. However, the specific things to implement to establish and nurture an effective culture are often difficult to measure and implement.

We believe every company has a culture, whether it knows it or not. It might:

  • be consistent with the written culture in that company’s plan or in the owner’s mind, or it might not;
  • center on how the employees, customers, or owners are treated;
  • relate to stewardship of the environment;
  • determine how willing the company is to bend or break the law;
  • relate to the level of honesty that is expected in and out of the company; or
  • determine the safety of the work environment or the products produced by the company.

In our company, we believe our culture is determined by what our employees, clients, owners, and community members observe in our daily behavior. It hopefully is consistent with our vision, but others see it clearly in their interaction with our business. Do we treat our people fairly by offering them fair compensation, realistic opportunities, a nonthreatening and safe work environment, and a feeling that they are valued by the company? Do our customers feel valued and respected? Do our products meet their needs? Is our pricing fair and competitive? Are we honest in our interactions with others, and will we accept any less from our people? Do we do what we say we will do?

We have always believed that the true company values and culture reveal themselves when there is a lot of money at risk. Will we:

  • bend the rules if it pays enough?
  • allow a high-profit customer or a particularly effective salesperson to treat our people poorly?
  • continue to offer predatory high-profit products or services?
  • terminate an employee if he or she does not live up to our culture and values?

Corporate culture and values come from the top of the organization and directly relate to how company leaders behave. Culture and values outlined in a company plan or on a plaque on the wall come to life when employees see company leaders actually living them. It is especially important for the employees to see these values implemented when there is money at risk or the company is in a period of stress.

What are your company values and culture? Are they clearly articulated? Do your employees, clients, owners, and community members see them in action? If so, congratulations. If not, what are your true culture and values? You might be surprised at what you learn. 

A new wave of adept robots is changing the face of global industry.  Tasks that were previously completed by skilled workers are now being completed by increasingly sophisticated robots.  This is impacting labor trends in the United States, China, and around the world.  This is just another example of substituting capital for labor and is an important factor to consider as we attempt to move our country to full employment.
There seems to be a generational change in spending habits away from houses and cars and toward technology. This interesting article might have important repercussions for your business in years to come.
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