Dave Larson, president and CEO of St. Paul-based Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, says employees are the organization’s “secret sauce.”

Affinity Plus wouldn’t be as successful as it is without their ideas, courage to take risks and determination to serve members. All of that inspires him to be a better leader, said Larson, who was recognized through the 2018 Top Workplaces survey as the top leader among Minnesota’s large companies.

But something was missing from the recipe, Larson discovered, after his 2013 promotion to president and CEO. He had previously served a stint as interim CEO and nine years as senior vice president of Affinity Plus.

The organization at that time faced high employee turnover, greater than 35 percent, Larson said. Some departing employees “weren’t particularly proud of their time here,” Larson said, and “almost in some cases worn out because of the expectations that were put upon them.”

Larson identified the missing ingredient as care — care for the 560 employees who serve the credit union’s 188,000 members.

“I really wanted to bring this element of care to the employees and let them know that we as an organization care about them,” Larson said. “We’ve worked hard over the last years to bring that value into the organization. Our turnover rate today is at 10 percent and that’s in a pretty hot job market so I think we’ve done pretty well related to that.”

Employees are taking greater ownership of Affinity Plus’ current and future success, “because they feel part of something,” said Larson.

“I almost at times see myself as kind of the storyteller or the narrator of the credit union,” Larson said. “I talk a lot about the role of the employee in that story. Because I believe that when people see themselves in a story or see themselves within the realm of what Affinity Plus is doing, it builds a much stronger connection to the organization.”

Larson describes his approach professionally and personally as transparent, authentic, vulnerable and curious about people. He believes that resonates with employees.

He’s open about what’s going well with the business and what needs to improve. He shares his father’s struggles with Alzheimer’s disease. He told employees about how he was a “nervous wreck” until his 16-year-old daughter returned safely from her first time driving alone.

Larson emphasizes listening. “My father was quick to remind me in my upbringing of his ‘two ears, one mouth’ philosophy, or spending twice as much time listening as talking,” he said. He asks employees about their work and lives outside of work, and gets feedback from small groups of employees at “Lunch with Dave” sessions.

He wants them to hear his voice too, so he sends frequent companywide voice mails to reach Affinity Plus’ 29 branches across the state.

“My parents were both teachers who simply believed that to be successful you had to work hard, treat people right and try to have some fun along the way, and that’s something I try to do here each and every day,” Larson said.