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AgFirst Farm Credit Bank reaps a plentiful harvest with new employee learning opportunities

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South Carolina’s AgFirst Farm Credit Bank plants the financial seeds necessary for farms nationwide to flourish. Serving 15 states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, the bank provides funding, technology and other services to local associations that have their finger on the pulse of what nearby rural residents and farmers need to succeed.

AgFirst ensures that the American agriculture system reaches its full potential. Loans made by their partner organizations allow the nation’s farmers, ranchers, cooperatives and agribusinesses to produce crops and care for livestock that help feed all of us.

It should be no surprise that the bank also believes its staff deserve the same assistance and opportunities. For a company that manages money and other commodities, they’ve never lost sight of its greatest asset: its people. When they found Cornerstone, they realized they’d found the ideal partner to help their team grow into the best version of themselves possible.

  • Main Challenge: Meeting the HR needs of 20 different associations under the AgFirst umbrella

  • Solution: Cornerstone Learning, Cornerstone Performance, Cornerstone Succession

  • Results: Achieving unique goals for each organization through platform customization and increased employee learning opportunities

A wide field with distinct needs

AgFirst Farm Credit Bank is a group of four separate financial institutions overseeing nearly 20 independent associations across 15 states. Each of these groups is tuned into the distinct needs of their rural communities and what each region’s farmers need to achieve their goals.

The same goes for each of their workforces. The parent bank realized they needed an LMS that could meet their own needs and the unique goals and requirements of each of these branches.

In their search for a robust and flexible learning management system, they came across Cornerstone. They were so happy with Cornerstone Learning that they also brought Cornerstone Performance and Cornerstone Succession into their orbit.

“If you can think of it, I can find a way to do it in Cornerstone,” says their Lead Learning Management Systems Administrator, Sam Hilliard. “It’s versatile, innovative and capable.”

Planting the right seeds

Hilliard started at the bank as an HR analyst. He took over the mantle of the Cornerstone ecosystem after his promotion to Lead LMS Analyst. At first, he was a little worried the system would be too expansive to control. Still, it’s becoming a source of inspiration and education for both his organization and himself.

“With some of the content we have in Cornerstone, the previous admin had gotten very industrious about creating icons,” he recalls. “I didn’t know how to use Illustrator, Photoshop or anything like that to keep the ball rolling on that sort of thing. I used a lot of content we had in Cornerstone Learning to start learning those programs so I could convert those icons into vector files and learn how to create others myself. Now, I build my own icons just through learning from content that came with Cornerstone.”

This crash course in individualized learning made Hilliard even more excited to roll it out to each business unit throughout the AgFirst chain of command. He knew Cornerstone could meet the needs of each association and team member just like they’d met his own.

“Having the tools to do what you love is extraordinary,” he says. “I was able to take content in the system and kind of learn graphic design on the side!”

Giving everyone what they need to grow

Meeting the needs of one organization is already a tall order — doing the same for 20 separate ones is an even loftier goal. Still, Hilliard was confident he, his team and Cornerstone’s suite of products could do all that and more for each association within the AgFirst ecosystem.

“There are 20-something different business units that all operate as completely independent businesses that we have rolled up under one portal with Cornerstone,” Hilliard says. “Each individual person has their own important needs, but managing the priorities of all these moving parts while advancing the priorities of the parent organization — not to mention putting out fires along the way and juggling everything that comes with that — is something I’ve had to get very good at.”

Hilliard has gotten very good at it — and he thinks a lot of that has to do with how accessible Cornerstone support has been along the way.

“One of my favorite things is how much support and resources there are available,” he says. “Client Success Center, online help, CSMs, office hours, all of that. I've experienced other vendors that you get the product, and then it's, ‘Shoo fly, get away from me.’ But the amount of support with Cornerstone is one of the greatest things out there. The amount of information available is fantastic.”

Signs of a good harvest

Signs of a good harvest

One early sign that this partnership with Cornerstone was reaping positive rewards was the success of AgFirst’s badge initiative. The bank wanted to devise a way to recognize when employees exemplified their four core values: Industry Leadership, Stable Growth, Values Led and Everyday Impact. They were happy to find Cornerstone gave them everything they needed to achieve just that.

“We try to periodically feature a value to promote through newsletters and internal channels like that and kind of highlight it,” Hilliard says.

The bank has seen a significant influx in the number of badges accrued since adopting the Cornerstone platform. Hilliard is also hard at work collating playlists of Cornerstone content to help the bank’s people learn how to adopt these values best and get their badges if they haven’t already.

Rotating the crops

Every farmer knows that different soil and different seasons require different approaches. AgFirst is no stranger to the same concept. They knew each of their affiliates would need the ability to customize the basic LMS to their own distinct needs. Hilliard thinks the products’ ability to do so has exceeded expectations.

“The breadth of possibility and customization, for me, is one of the biggest things,” he says. “Having such a diverse, divisional and complex hierarchy throughout the system is awesome. Being able to accommodate many different organizations with different performance processes and training catalogs is amazing too. I mean, everything is completely unique for each one of those divisions. And organizing it smoothly with the Cornerstone platform makes my job easier, a lot easier.”

Hilliard has managed to make custom welcome pages and brand each portal for every affiliate to sync up with their own innate identities. And he didn’t think the learning curve to do so was steep at all, either.

“Brand and identity are visible through everything,” he says. “We cater to all these different companies’ individual needs. It’s just fantastic. I love not having to use a giant top-down approach for everybody.”

Reaping what they sowed

As far as Hilliard’s concerned, AgFirst is just beginning its journey with Cornerstone. He’s excited to help drive further adoption of the online resources, especially as more and more new people join the organization.

“Pushing for more skill acquisition is something that’s on my radar, so I’m happy to have learned a lot about it,” he says. “I think now we’re starting to see a lot more youth come into the organization. Millennials around my own general age bracket. They want growth, they want to learn, they want to engage. So that’s something I’m getting ready to make a push for in our organization.”

There’s still plenty of ground to cover for AgFirst Farm Credit Bank, but their first few harvests with Cornerstone Learning, Performance and Succession have been bountiful. They’ve seen firsthand how, sometimes, all you need to learn the lay of the land is a helping hand. The platforms have proven customizable for each regional affiliate, which counts for a lot in agriculture. The bank started at the grassroots of each organization, and they’re excited to see everything keep growing for years to come.

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