What makes a business a ‘best place to work?’ Three award winners share their secrets

Oct. 22, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by the Prairie Family Business Association.

It takes a workplace culture that inspires loyalty and enthusiasm among employees to be named one of the Best Places to Work by Prairie Business magazine.

After nominations were received from more than 1,300 employees, 50 businesses in the upper Plains were declared winners. Their honor was based on anonymous employee surveys outlining work environment, employee benefits and employee morale.

Six members of the Prairie Family Business Association were named to this year’s Top 50 Best Places to Work list. They are:

  • Baker Boy in Dickinson, N.D.
  • Lloyd Cos. in Sioux Falls.
  • Nexus Innovations in Bismarck, N.D.
  • Starion Bank in Bismarck.
  • Steffes in Dickinson.
  • WCCO Belting in Wahpeton, N.D.

“Our family businesses provide outstanding examples of how to build and evolve a positive workplace culture,” said Laura Schoen Carbonneau, executive director of the Prairie Family Business Association. “We’re proud to continue to provide a platform for them to learn from experts, share their best practices and grow together.”

Culture shift

Shortly after Nexus Innovations joined the Prairie Family Business Association about six years ago, the association connected the business with a webinar that led to big changes.

It introduced owners Bob and Lorie Pope to “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by consultant and speaker Patrick Lencioni – a philosophy that completely changed their approach to cultivating a workplace culture.

“That book has been gold for us,” said Bob Pope, who founded the strategic consulting firm with his wife in 2000.

“We did not have an environment in which people felt free to challenge and disagree with each other. And part of Patrick’s core teaching is if you don’t have healthy conflict, you’re going to be stunted as an organization. And we were stunted.”

Lorie led an effort to build trust among employees, he said.

“We were very intentional about opening ourselves up and asking the team to open up and become vulnerable with one another and develop that deeper level of trust,” Pope said. “When you have that and understand your co-workers at a deeper level, you’ve able to have healthy conflict. We encourage our team to disagree, to vocalize that in a respectful way and work to find the best solution for the client.”

Monday morning meetings now start with a chance to share a highlight from the weekend.

“It’s one of those things that helps you get to know each other better,” Pope said. “When your kid wins the tournament, it’s fun to come to the office and tell everybody about it.”

Their staff of 16 is split between their headquarters in Bismarck and an office in Fargo. Each year, the entire team and their families take a trip to the historic town of Medora, N.D.

“It’s something the kids look forward to more than anyone because some of them have been doing it for 15 years. They get to be college age and want to come,” Pope said.


Nexus Innovations devotes an entire section of its website to detailing its culture and core values, including:

  • Integrity.
  • Excellence.
  • Cutting-edge skills.
  • Creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Quality service.
  • Customer satisfaction.
  • Trustworthiness.
  • Open communication.
  • Commitment to deliverables and deadlines.

Pope hopes prospective employees take notice.

“We want people who are potential employees for Nexus to see that and see the difference. The fact is, for some employees, this is really important. For others, they really don’t care, and we want people who know this is important and believe this is important to be the ones who apply.”

And while it has been named to the Best Places to Work list for five consecutive years, retaining and strengthening its workplace culture is an ongoing effort.

“We’re still extremely mindful of it,” Pope said. “It wasn’t an exercise. It’s a way of life.”

Employee experience

From one apartment building to a leading Sioux Falls property management, real estate, construction and development company, Lloyd Cos. has kept a focus on its employees’ experience as the business has expanded.

“I would describe the culture of our business as a place where people are important,” said Marcia Schmitz, training and development director.

“Clearly, our customers, business partners, the vendors we work with are all important. But it really starts with our team. We have tried to assemble a team of great people and invest in the relationships both internally and externally. I believe that has impacted our culture and made Lloyd Cos. a place where our team enjoys coming to work each day and working together as a team.”

Lloyd has invested in Lloyd University, an in-house leadership and professional development program.

“Our employee-perks list keeps growing as another way to give back to the team. We truly try and treat our team members like they make a difference because they do,” Schmitz said.

As a family business of more than 45 years, Lloyd is mindful of the values that founders Craig and Pat Lloyd instilled in the company, said their daughter Christie Ernst.

Ernst is Lloyd’s senior vice president of property management and also serves on the advisory board of the Prairie Family Business Association.

“We have an obligation to our investors and owners similar to corporate America’s obligation to stockholders; however, we have assembled a management team that makes decisions for our company using the values that have been passed from Craig and Pat,” Ernst said.

“Employee relationships, high ethical standards and giving back are included in those values, which foster a workplace of people being ‘good people.’ We have been in business for 46 years because Craig and Pat took care of our employees and investors, and we want to remain a family business for future generations using that same philosophy.”

While the company has grown to 175 full-time and 19 part-time employees, CEO Chris Thorkelson said the goal is to still feel like family.

“It is a place where everyone is there to support one another, and it truly is a collaborative effort by all to accomplish the goals that are in sight,” he said. “The family aspect just resonates, especially through events and functions, whether it’s a company picnic or a project ribbon-cutting or just a member of the family and team that needs extra support. Everyone is there for each other.”

Lloyd has been named to the Best Places to Work list for four consecutive years. Employees praise the business for its commitment to philanthropy, caring for people and valuing family.

“I’ve been with a lot of great companies, successful companies, and they all preach the same thing. But Lloyd really backs that up,” said Randy Diekmann, a maintenance professional. “They want to take care of you. They give you all the support you need, and they’re genuinely kind, respectful people. And I really, really like that.”

Recipe for success

When your business is a premium bake shop, there’s no shortage of tasty treats in the employee break room.

Based in Dickinson, Baker Boy Bake Shop was founded in 1955 by Marvin Moos. His son, Guy, is now the president.

Its 211 employees help manufacture premium bakery products for food service, bakery, convenience store and private-label customers, including breads, buns, cinnamon rolls, cookie dough and donuts.

The culture is built around continuous improvement, said Sue Roller, director of human resources.

“We work as a team to offer the best products for the best value to our customers, and we strive to be efficient in all we do. We strive for everyone to think like an owner and make decisions that are the best for the company, which in return rewards the employees. We do not compromise the quality and safety of our products.”

One of the company’s guiding principles says it well, she added:

“Work must be fun!”

“We celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries, and we support our community by funding worthwhile projects that make our community better, which makes it easier to attract talent to our area,” Roller said.

Along with competitive wages and benefits, Baker Boy attracts and keeps employees with ongoing communication, training and appreciation events.

There are quarterly staff meetings to teach and inform employees about the financial condition of the company and “RIP” celebrations for executive rapid improvement plans that focus on a specific process or task each quarter.

“If, through hard work and focus, the goal is met, the team receives a celebration, and the company has more dollars drop to the bottom line. This in turn puts more dollars into our profit-sharing bucket, which gets distributed to all qualifying employees,” Roller said.

The company also prides itself on being a “learning organization,” she said, with many training opportunities to benefit the employee and the company.

Anniversaries are recognized too. Each month, employees who have worked five years or more at Baker Boy are invited to a lunch with Moos “to acknowledge the hard work and effort these employees give each day, but more importantly, he asks them how things are going and how the company can help,” Roller said.

After one decade of service, employees become part of the Ten Year Club, which meets periodically when there are new members to socialize outside of work – often at a dinner hosted at the owner’s home. Prizes also are given annually to employees celebrating work anniversaries, ranging from clothing to gift cards to trips after 20 years.

As a family business, Baker Boy’s family-owners support giving back in many ways, Roller added.

“They wish to see this company grow and prosper well beyond each of us. They generously ‘give back’ so new equipment and more automation can be integrated into the production process, which is less labor intensive, more efficient and creates better jobs,” she said.

“The owners and senior leaders believe the bottom line is not the only way to measure success. They want each employee to feel like they are doing better when compared to last year. This happens when the company increases wages/benefits, offers training and education, and creates opportunities for growth. The company, while it has grown, still has the family feel to it that big corporations cannot offer. And most importantly, you are not just a number.”

The Prairie Family Business Association is an outreach center of the USD Beacom School of Business.

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What makes a business a ‘best place to work?’ Three award winners share their secrets

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