Merchants Homegrown Approach to Leadership Development


L-R: Alberta Rosburg, Heidi Viestenz, Alissa Gibson, Mike Swanson, Andrew Althoff, Libbie Longfield, Marcus Krings, Vicky Kamrowski, Sarah Danielson, Dawn Stenberg, Sue Blagsvedt, Kim Kubis, Jim Vrchota, Wendy Cagle, Rachel Larson, Ken Graner and Kristine Valk.

We all want a team of talented staff. A business with skilled employees who care deeply about their customers is on the road to success. The people who work for your business can make a big difference. At Merchants, we feel this combination – our talented team coupled with personalized service – is what sets us apart from other financial institutions.

Attracting and retaining difference-makers as part of the Merchants team has always been important to us. We also feel it’s one of the reasons we’ve celebrated so many successes. That’s why we’re proud to have launched the I Believe Leadership Series, Discovering the Leader In You! in 2018. The program was designed by Merchants’ staff Kristine Valk, Training Director and Alberta Rosburg, Chief Human Resource Officer and is based on the philosophy of servant leadership.

“After recognizing that Merchants needed a leadership program, Kristine and I tried to find one that we could send our employees to,” said Alberta. “However, we quickly realized that if we wanted a program to reflect the Merchants’ culture, we needed to develop it ourselves. I’m so proud of Kristine, all of her hard work and the end result. The 15 students currently attending are growing in new ways to help them be servant leaders for our co-workers and customers.”

Students in the I Believe Leadership Series are from several areas of the Bank, including customer-facing departments such as Credit Cards, Mortgage and Commercial Banking as well as support departments like Compliance & Risk, Human Resources, Marketing and Mortgage/Loan Operations. The program curriculum covers a wide range of topics, relevant for those working with customers face-to-face or behind the scenes:

  • Temperament assessment and working with different personalities
  • Effective coaching skills
  • Understanding and applying strengths
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Communication and conflict resolution
  • Leading through change
  • Employee motivation and accountability
  • Team building

At this time, students are approximately halfway through the series. Many are already seeing a positive impact in their day-to-day interactions with customers and co-workers.

“The I Believe Leadership Series has been such a valuable and positive experience thus far. Fifteen of us have learned about servant leadership and how to focus on traits that lead to good, productive interactions on both a professional and personal level. The section on Finding your Strengths has been one of my favorites to date. A test identified five of our strengths as well as ideas on how to use them to strengthen communication. It’s exciting to think about how each of us will benefit from these new skills and knowledge. “– Wendy Cagle, Loan Review Officer in Winona.

“The information from the program has helped me be more focused on my conversations with customers and associates during my daily interaction,” – Ken Graner, Market President for Lanesboro and Rushford.

In addition, Training Director Kristine Valk has witnessed the impact of the series firsthand: “Before the program began, some of our participants didn’t really know one another. As we continued through the program, attendees have learned more about one another and are embracing each other’s talents. It’s really become an environment of trust and openness that’s resulted in more collaborative work.”

The program will run on an annual basis with current students graduating in April 2019 and a maximum of 20 new students beginning the series shortly after that. As part of one of five strategic priorities for the bank, talent management and leadership development will continue to be a key focus for Merchants in the years to come. Our I Believe in Leadership Series graduates will help all of us strive to serve each other and you better.

To learn more about working at Merchants Bank:

Design a Simple Wellness Program


Do you wish your business could encourage healthy habits for your employees? Creating a wellness program might sound like an overwhelming task, but it helps to start small.

Each year, Merchants Bank provides a simple walking program to all employees and we’re sharing our tips to help you start your own.

1. Determine Logistics

There are several pieces you need to have in place before kicking off your walking program. Answer these questions:

  • How long will the program last? Typically, we’ve run our wellness competition for six to eight weeks.
  • What walking goals are realistic? You can set step goals by day or week, depending on how you’d like to run your program. We like to have tiers to encourage employees at every fitness level to have an attainable goal. For example, in our last challenge we had goal options of 8,000; 11,000; 14,000 and 17,000 steps per day, per person.
  • How will results be tracked? It works best if your employees can track their steps and report it to a central place, which for us is the Human Resources department. The HR department then records the data in an Excel spreadsheet for the duration of the program and tallies the total steps to determine program winners.
  • What is my budget? Running a walking program takes staff time, but it also takes dollars. You’ll want to budget for incentives/prizes (ideas below) and determine if requiring a registration fee makes sense to help you offset costs. In our most recent walking program, we had 102 participates and spent about $6 per person on prizes. In addition, we asked participants to pay $5 to register for the program.

2. Make Participating Easy

Once you have the above details in place, you want to make participating as simple as possible for your employees. For example, how can they sign up for the program? At Merchants, we email all staff about the program and provide a Word document that they can fill out and return to our HR department.

You’ll also want to make tracking steps easy and inexpensive. We ask our employees to have a pedometer or step-tracking device or use a step-tracking app and then email their weekly steps to HR. Pedometers are a reimbursable item through our wellness program, so employees who don’t own one can purchase a pedometer for the program and be reimbursed up to a certain dollar amount.

3. Create Incentive

It’s easier to encourage employee participation if you can provide them with an incentive, even if it’s small.

Merchants has always given out prizes for our walking programs, from grand prizes at the end of the competition to smaller weekly prizes. Some examples include gift cards, fitbits or healthy snacks. Plus, each participant also receives a walking program t-shirt, partially covered by our registration fee.

It also helps to have the camaraderie and encouragement of co-workers. Our Human Resources department has found that the walking program is more successful when employees sign up with a partner or team instead of competing as individuals. Typically for group challenges, we have participation from between 25-35% of all employees.

So why is all of this important? Having a wellness program can benefit your business and your employees in many ways, including:

  • Lowering health care costs
  • Build a sense of community and team atmosphere
  • Improve productivity
  • Reduce employee injuries

Ready to get started? For ideas and helpful resources on starting a wellness program for your business, we recommend the following resources.

Please note through these resources you will be linking to another website not owned or operated by Merchants Bank, NA. Merchants Bank, NA is not responsible for the availability or content of this website and does not represent either the linked website or you, should you enter into a transaction. We encourage you to review their privacy and security policies which may differ from Merchants Bank, NA.


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