It might not be quite as dramatic as when Tom Brady says it after winning the Super Bowl, but each year one First Bank & Trust employee can stand in front of co-workers and exclaim, "I'm going to Disney World!"

Or anywhere they want, for that matter.

For the past four years, First Bank, which has dual headquarters in Brookings and Sioux Falls, S.D., has given out an annual spirit award, which comes with a $3,500 check earmarked for a dream vacation.

Two past winners have used the money to take their families to Disney World. Another used it to fund a honeymoon that included seeing the Ryder Cup golf competition. Still another took his grown children and grandchildren to Mackinac Island, Mich.

The big trip is a prize for First Bank's "Be the 1" initiative, a program that aims to make employees feel empowered to make decisions and proud of where they work.

The winner is ...
Dave Waligoske, CEO of Fishback Financial, the holding company of First Bank & Trust, presents its 2016 spirit award to Marissa Brinkman during a luncheon in her honor. Winners of the annual award get a dream vacation as their prize. Brinkman, a business solutions expert, has yet to decide where she will go.

The $2.2 billion-asset First Bank — part of our Best Banks to Work For ranking for two years running — urges co-workers and customers to submit stories about any of its 500-plus employees who demonstrate "Be the 1" qualities such as initiative and a team attitude. A management committee chooses the annual spirit winner from those submissions. Two to three dozen come in each quarter throughout the year.

Those selected only have to submit either travel plans or receipts to claim the prize.

Jodi Siemers, head of marketing and communications for First Bank, said that what started as a limited-run campaign earlier this decade is now a mainstay.

"This has become a battle cry for employees," Siemers said. "It isn't uncommon to hear employees in conversations with each other say 'Thanks for being the one!'"

The bank also collects information from employees like their favorite actor, what they do for fun or their favorite saying and uses it to create personalized plaques with a word bubble-shaped like the number one. Many of the employees display these personalized plaques on their desks.

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The "Be the 1" principles are based on the philosophy of hiring good people and then staying out of their way, but empowerment does have limits. A teller cannot forgive a customer's mortgage, raise a credit limit based on a handshake or go against regulations.

But there are more subtle opportunities for front-line employees. Siemers mentioned a branch worker who recently extended the 60-day deadline to sign up for electric statement delivery for a customer who was having trouble figuring out the technology at home.

Siemers said the sense of being empowered to act on your own makes the culture exhilarating, but also requires some humility at times to accommodate what co-workers perceive as the best course of action.

For instance, Siemers has the radio ads for the bank voiced by professionals, but one local banker decided to rerecord the ad with his voice. She said he felt that his voice would resonate better in his market.

"I would bet everyone has a story like that," she said. "It all adds up to most interesting and gratifying work environment I've ever been a part of."

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