Even before she started her job, Maude Moreno said, the people of Farm Credit Services of America regarded her as an equal, respected member of their team.
She learned that, she said, soon after her first interview for an information-technology position. Before she started work in March 2012, her future team members took her out to dinner just to get to know her better. And on her first day, she found her desk full of celebratory balloons wrapped in cellophane — balloons she had to pop just to sit down.
Also on her first day, she suggested a process improvement that her team adopted.
“It felt really, really good to just step in and be one of them. On my first day, they listened to me,” said Moreno, a business analyst for applications development.
Moreno was surprised when her new-employee orientation leader — Doug Stark, FCSAmerica president and chief executive officer — stopped by her desk to chat for about 10 minutes. The 33-year FCSAmerica veteran considers it his personal task to nurture a welcoming culture among the more than 500 employees in the west Omaha headquarters of the farmer-owned financial services cooperative.
The creation of that culture, Stark said, began around the time he came to Omaha in 1998 and was well underway when he advanced from chief credit officer to CEO in 2005. The Wyoming native finds its source in the values held by the 52,000-some agricultural and rural customers that FCSAmerica serves in four states within the national Farm Credit System.
“We emphasize honesty and integrity,” Stark said. “Everybody wins. … I'm not out to generate profit for shareholders. Our customers are the shareholders, and as a result, we're working for the same people we serve.”
Stark said he realized early that “the people who sit at the front (reception) desk have a greater impact on our image than I do as CEO. So my job as CEO is to make sure they love what they do and treat their colleagues and customers very well.”
Small gestures are as vital as major initiatives, he and Moreno said. Everyone uses first names, even with executives. Cubicle walls are relatively short. Executive offices may be enclosed, but they're in the middle of floors, not in corners. Workspaces at FCSAmerica — designed with employee guidance — are allocated throughout the two-building complex so employees must move between them to work together.
An employee's suggestion, Stark said, prompted executives to provide employees with a variety of free drinks — pop, milk, juice, tea — besides the usual free coffee. Business-casual dress is normal, Moreno said, but Fridays are “jeans days” as are occasions when there is something to celebrate, which happens often.
When an employee sees a colleague doing a good job, Stark said, he or she can give that person a “Difference Maker Award” — a congratulatory card with a $25 gift card enclosed. As long as the reason is within the award's spirit, there is no limit on how many such awards an employee can present.
It's normal for FCSAmerica to assemble cross-functional teams from several departments to solve problems or take advantage of new business opportunities, Stark said. Executives provide basic criteria, but a team's recommendations usually are adopted if they not only meet those criteria but also have been thoroughly reviewed by all the affected departments.
One such team devised the current FCSAmerica workspace design, while another came up with incentives for increasing employees' community involvement. Employees can use work time to pursue involvement in charity work or community activities. If three or more employees come together to work on a charitable activity — such as a Habitat for Humanity building project — FCSAmerica will make a financial contribution.
In these ways and many others, “I hope that people who work here are better people — become better persons — because they work here,” Stark said. “If they're better balanced as people, they're going to be better employees.”