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HR secrets of the ‘50 Best’

Editor's note: Recently, Prairie Business asked posed this question to a selection of our 2018 50 Best Places to Work winners:

What can HR departments do to inspire loyalty and commitment among employees?

Here are the companies' answers.

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The best way to know what makes employees happy is to ask! Starion Bank periodically surveys employees, and the 2018 survey identified five key initiatives.

Some of the areas highlighted – such as awareness of our education reimbursement program – simply required additional communication, while others (such as implementing a weekly jeans day) resulted in policy changes.

An integral part of new employee orientation is the Buddy Program, which pairs a new employee with an experienced employee. It’s meant to build a strong connection early on between the new employee and our company, helping the newcomer feel at home and have someone to answer the “silly” questions we all have at a new job.

In fact, this program has been so successful (based on the survey) that we’re in the process of developing a peer mentorship program to connect individuals across the organization, enhancing relationships and interactions beyond an individual’s immediate team.

Brenna Grossbauer

Chief Human Resources Officer

Starion Bank

Bismarck, N.D.


ONE has been involved with two sizeable mergers over the past two years. That means change has been a big part of HR’s focus – something I’m sure a lot of companies can relate to.  

We discovered early on that we should focus on two key areas to ensure our employees’ engagement and commitment, and they both revolved around empowerment:  

  • Ensure we have a management structure and training in place to foster ongoing feedback, communication and updates; and
  • Develop multiple ways to empower our employees to offer solutions, process improvements and have a voice in the culture and associated initiatives.  

With these two areas of focus, we’ve been able to make sure we create empowering leaders and empowered employees.

Kristi Spindler

Human Resources Director

ICS Consulting / Obermiller Nelson Engineering

Fargo, N.D.


A top reason that employees cite for working at Applied is the culture, which is known for employee-ownership and our team environment.

Employees are a priority, and each of our dedicated employee-owners feels a sense of purpose, achievement, pride and fulfillment. The HR Team reinforces this culture through company policies and programs, leading by example, screening candidates for culture fit and employee onboarding and training.

Communication is key. From the start of employment, the HR team establishes that we’re a resource for all employees for support in their roles. We’re here also as a strategic partner to help the business succeed and the organization through change.

Our HR team strives for continuous improvement. We ask employees what we’re doing well and how we could improve. We offer them continuing education and training, career development, opportunities to work with something new, advancement opportunities and more, so they’re able to continually grow.

Cassie Muscha

Human Resources Director  

Applied Engineering

Bismarck, N.D.


Through words and actions, our HR department lives up to our corporate values every day to inspire loyalty and commitment among employees.

Human Resources makes it a priority to consider the true corporate values that our bank stands for, and how these values provide our roadmap in employee engagement and collaboration throughout the organization.  

The four corporate values that truly inspire loyalty and commitment for our employees are:

  • Own the choices you make
  • Take pride in your work
  • Leave your mark on our communities
  • Seek the sunshine every day

These four values guide us in HR every day!

Cheryl Streifel

Director of Human Resources

First International Bank & Trust

Bismarck, N.D.



Developing future leaders within our organization is crucial to our company’s future. This commitment to our employees is supported through our two leadership development programs, which are offered to each Alerus employee through an application process.

  • Foundations:  This program is meant to help those newer to the industry learn more about Alerus and our leadership strengths. Participants hear from our own leaders on what they’ve done to develop their careers, learn the value of building a network of industry and community colleagues and participate in a volunteer community impact project.  
  • STRETCH: Designed for those who’d like to further their personal and professional growth through various industry-specific topics presented by our executives and division leaders, participate in a personality assessment to help establish personal development goals, engage in a mentorship program, and learn from various experiences through ongoing group discussions and a book club.

Both programs provide leadership development opportunities that have helped employees grow their careers at Alerus.

Teresa Wasvick

Director, Human Resources


Grand Forks, N.D.


Our secret? The culture of First Western Bank & Trust. When I ask our employees what inspires loyalty and commitment, they say, “the culture and the First Western family.”

Our management lets our employees “create their dream job.” If you are successful in your position and want to learn more or do more, you can.

Employee input is listened to and taken seriously. Appreciation is constantly being shown in new ways. For example, employees asked for the option of buying life insurance for themselves and their families; the bank added it to our benefits about a year and a half ago.

Last year, the bank started an employee mortgage program with special rates and terms. This year, it added a no-fee Health Savings Account investment option and launched a low-interest consumer-loan program for employees.

If I think a good thought about an employee, I tell them, and if I hear another speaking highly of an employee, I tell them as well. No one ever reaches a “grouchy” HR staff member.

To kick off Appreciation Week – our annual week-long celebration of our employees – senior managers greet our employees with a handshake and a thank you as they come to work.

I know you hear many businesses brag about their culture, but in the case of First Western Bank & Trust, it’s the truth.

Ilene Baker

Human Resource Manager

First Western Bank & Trust

Minot, N.D.


Constant communication. Constant communication from leadership about the company’s direction and purpose is vital. One important effect is transparency, and transparency inspires loyalty.

Hire the right people. Hiring people who align with the company’s vision, mission and values is also a big priority. When employees know and buy into what their company stands for, they are more engaged and committed.

Career path and professional development. Employees thrive when they are provided a career path and professional development opportunities because they see a future for themselves. When companies invest in employee growth, employees are loyal and committed to staying with the company.

Actively listen. Employees frequently communicate what they believe will improve their overall work-life balance. HR professionals need to actively listen and provide feedback.

Our HR team recently wrote flexible work schedule and tuition reimbursement policies. Both were met with very favorable responses and produced more engaged employees.

Joni Smith

Human Resources Manager

Moore Engineering

West Fargo, N.D.


Establishing and maintaining a great company culture is the key to inspiring loyalty and commitment. At Ulteig, we take this very seriously, particularly because we are all employee-owners who literally have a vested interest in the success of the organization.

Strong culture is created through offering exceptional benefits, supporting career growth and encouraging development, empowering employees and providing a flexible workplace.

In addition, the company values transparency, recognizing that keeping employees informed about the concerns of the business establishes an open and honest environment that is greatly appreciated.

Ultimately, we want to give employees the chance to do what they do best: listen to our clients, understand their challenges and provide effective solutions. That’s a critical component to ensuring an employee’s commitment to the company.

Nichole Dyer

Talent Acquisition Leader


Greenwood Village, Colo.


People, period.  People are truly our greatest differentiator.  "JLG really is a big family," an employee stated during a recent conversation.  

We call ourselves JLGers, because it’s beyond a marketing tagline; it defines who we are – we care.  

Our policies and practices maintain a strong focus on ensuring employees thrive in their career and have growth opportunities, that they come to work “doing what they love,” have both the competency and character to be a JLGer and experience an environment that supports and challenges them to deliver their best performance and be their best self.  

We are 100 percent employee-owned – and as a result, our voice elevates our communities, internal and external, and that is a driving force for excellence.  

We’re a growing firm, so most days are challenging, though very rewarding. Plus, it’s rewarding to work with such great people who inspire you to be your best.

Angela Bolonchuk

Director of HR

JLG Architects

Grand Forks, N.D.


WCCO Belting is breaking manufacturing myths with First Impression Management practices.  

Manufacturers are regularly stereotyped as minimum-wage employers offering little to no benefits in exchange for monotonous work on a dirty production floor.  For job seekers, it can be intimidating to both apply for a position in manufacturing and consider it a long-term career opportunity without knowing what goes on “in the back.”  

That’s why WCCO changed our hiring strategy to be completely transparent.

WCCO’s job application includes a list of non-negotiable standards that the candidate must agree to follow before being hired. This shows what they can expect from WCCO Belting as an employer, as well as the conduct and performance the company expects of our employees in return.  

We also forego traditional conference room “interrogations” and invite candidates on a full tour of WCCO’s facility.  The conversational-style interview process encourages them to ask questions and helps our production manager learn where the candidate will best find job satisfaction.

Rod Koch

Vice president of operations

WCCO Belting

Wahpeton, N.D.