Bell Bank employees embrace ideal of 'North Dakota nice'

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Julie Peterson Klein, chief culture officer at North Dakota's Bell Bank, was reading the book "How Fargo of You" when inspiration struck.

The book celebrates the local culture of the city known for its friendly residents and charming accents. She decided there was something she could do to honor her bank's culture and How Bell of You was born.

Going on since 2013, the How Bell of You program recognizes bank employees who demonstrate the bank's core values of family atmosphere, personal service and paying it forward.

The book tells the story of a family that moved to Fargo and was welcomed with kindness, including by a carpenter who insisted his work be a housewarming gift and an unknown couple who paid for their meal at a restaurant and left without telling them.

"As I was reading, I kept thinking this has Bell written all over it," Klein said. "I thought we needed a How Bell of You program to highlight all the wonderful experiences our employees create every day at our company and in our community. It's the little things that matter most."

Mortgage loan processor Irena Lazic won the first award, for making a raincoat out of plastic bags for a customer in a wheelchair. Initially there was a ceremony modeled after a Hollywood awards show, and employees showed up at the Fargo Theatre in their best "blue-carpet" attire, a nod to the color scheme of the bank's logo. Attendees donned sparkling dresses, feather boas, powder-blue tuxedos and metallic top hats.

As the $4.9 billion-asset bank has expanded into Minnesota and now Arizona, the event has evolved into a live online video presentation.

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Nominations for awards come in throughout the year. The top five stories in each of the three core values categories are selected by a group that includes the executive team, culture committee, managers, previous winners and a random selection of 20 other employees. In early August, a vote by all Bell employees determines the winner.

Each nominee receives a basket filled with some of their favorite things, based on a questionnaire they fill out.

Each of the three winners receives a trip to anywhere in the continental U.S., with the bank picking up airfare and three nights' accommodations.

"We're so proud of our employees for carrying out our values every single day," Klein said. "We have special people here at Bell."

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