Minnesota’s Bridgewater Bank takes culture, growth seriously

Mary Jayne Crocker

Editor’s Note: Brian Love, head of banking and fintech for Travillian, talked with Mary Jayne Crocker, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Twin Cities-based Bridgewater Bank, about the bank’s unconventional culture and how it attracts and retains talent. Their conversation has been edited for clarity.


Brian Love: What makes Bridgewater Bank’s culture unique?​​

Mary Jayne Crocker: I think it comes back to Jerry [Baack, founder, president and CEO]. One of his big things was being unconventional. He wanted a bank where people were empowered to make a difference. So be it the way we advertised, the way we hired, the way we built our buildings, our branches — anything that was unconventional was how he envisioned Bridgewater. That dictates our culture. And when you’re building a culture you want to make sure the people you’re hiring think like you, that they have the same values.

Brian Love: How do Bridgewater Bank’s core values trickle down into the organization?​​

Mary Jayne Crocker: There are probably four things that are really important in the organization. ​One is that we’re really transparent. Transparency is evident throughout the bank.

Everybody in the organization actually goes through a strategic planning session and that plan is shared across the entire organization. 

We are a highly accountable organization. Every single person in the organization [measures] how they’re contributing to the overall goals of the organization. People also have anywhere between one and seven projects that they’re working on at any given time. And they’re all working on those projects within the same timeframe. So I think that accountability piece is important. 

There’s continuity of practices. Everybody has the same cadence of weekly meetings. Everyone follows the same agenda. So the buy-in across the organization is really high because everybody does things at the same time, within the same framework, using the same kind of underlying templates.

And we make sure we recognize people as often as possible. We have recognition at all of our team meetings, and on our SharePoint site with core value recognitions. We have a lot of team building exercises. We are already a bank that’s pretty well-networked, but we network internally as well. 

We have Thirsty Thursdays on the third Thursday of every month; we get together as a team for happy hour and someone entertains. ​We ensure that people play together, and again that goes back to Jerry. 

Brian Love: What is the onboarding process?

Mary Jayne Crocker: We give them a 90-day plan; it includes everybody they need to meet and their top five priorities. For people at a higher level, we also give them a SWOT analysis and [allow them to] present back to leadership what they saw in their first 90 days. That’s been really helpful as a leadership team to see how people perceive us when they come in. 

We [assign] everyone an ambassador, somebody unrelated to their position who can tell them where to get lunch, that kind of thing. We have what we call BWBU, which is a two-day program where every function leader comes and speaks about how their department functions and interacts with the different parts of the bank. We have a monthly leadership team meet-and-greet breakfast everybody attends. We set somebody up with check-ins on a regular basis. So they’re meeting with someone every single week, learning a little bit more about the organization. 

And we never hire to a branch; we only hire to the organization. So that way all of our hiring is streamlined and the same people are doing the interviews so that we’re making sure that we’ve got continuity as we’re bringing people into the organization. They’re joining Bridgewater as a whole. 

Brian Love: What are best practices around recruitment and retention?

Mary Jayne Crocker: You know, I’m really proud of the fact that out of the 47 people we hired [in 2021], 40 percent of them were referrals. I think that speaks volumes about how people enjoy working at Bridgewater and how they feel that they can develop. I think people see opportunities at Bridgewater. We also pretty much always hire people who have a university education. So they’re all growth-oriented and curious.

Jerry has been really instrumental in identifying talent he wants to bring on board and as he’s seen opportunities, he’s kind of courted that person along the way. And as soon as there’s an opportunity for them to change positions, he makes sure he’s in there to make sure that person knows that Bridgewater would be a great home for them. So there’s a courting process that we use for a lot of our producers. And when you bring those people in, they bring their people with them that helps build our credit team and helps build our business development team, and certainly our servicing team. 

Brian Love: How does Bridgewater deal with employees who fall out of culture fit?

Mary Jayne Crocker: You know, it’s not easy. I’ve done my fair share of letting people go and it’s never an easy conversation. The next day is always a lot better than you think it’s going to be. But we do have a slogan that we “hire slow and fire fast.” It’s really important if someone is not fitting into your organization, be they the wrong cultural fit or be they the wrong person in that seat, that we make sure we move them out pretty quick. 

We do have a “right person, wrong seat” phrase. Sometimes it’s finding a new home for them inside Bridgewater; we’ve done plenty of that. With our growth, I think lots of times the position outgrows that person. And those are sadder goodbyes, because the people have been instrumental in getting us to where we’ve gotten to, but they really can’t get us to the next level. Those are hard.

What you have to be thinking about is, they’re better off. And as you’re sitting, waiting to try to figure out what to do with this person, the rest of the organization is also watching and knowing you’re not being authentic about really having the right person in the right seat.