Blue Compass Takes Employee Appreciation to New Heights
At Blue Compass, we’re best known for our strategic digital marketing and web development direction, but we also dabble in death-defying stunts.
That’s how I found myself staring down at our parking lot from two stories up, legs aching as I crouched on our very open, exposed roof. It had been an hour and 45 minutes of waiting for our Digital Marketing Manager, Katrina, to arrive on a chilly October morning just after a thunderstorm.
While the situation wasn’t ideal, Cary, my business partner, and I had a good reason to perch atop the roof. A few weeks earlier, we decided to find a unique way to show appreciation to our employees. We designed and printed giant 10-foot by 20-foot banners, each with a team member’s photo and a message (“We love working with Mallory” and “David makes us smile,” for instance).
We decided to climb to the top of various buildings around the city, create a reason for each team member to arrive at the building, then drop the banner over the side of the building for a fun (but admittedly strange) moment of surprise and gratitude. And, of course, we hid cameras around the area to capture each gratitude banner unveiling on video. The plan was foolproof. What could go wrong?
Special Moments Lead to Lasting Memories
More time ticked by. I lost feeling in my limbs. The roof was wet and slippery, and the banner surprisingly heavy. When I initially envisioned this, I assumed there would be a small wall on the roof that we could stand behind. Unfortunately, however, the roof dropped off directly and offered nothing to stop us from sliding over the edge. I prayed that we wouldn’t be pulled over the side, falling two stories in our attempt at a little appreciation.
I felt thankful as we finally recognized Katrina’s SUV pulling into the parking lot. She was about to be the first employee to receive the surprise gratitude banner experience.
“Let’s do this! Now!” I loudly whispered to Cary. Each holding one end of the heavy banner, we heaved the giant print over the side of the building. Thankfully, the banner held together and didn’t pull us over the edge. It unrolled to reveal our gratitude message, and Katrina stopped suddenly, looking a bit puzzled as she stared at our stunt. Finally, after a few seconds, she realized what was happening and laughed and waved (her dog, Mac & Cheese, on the other hand, was not impressed and began barking wildly). Our first gratitude banner was a success.
We proceeded to unveil more banners wherever we could for other team members. Jordan’s banner found us on top of a client’s office roof during a thunderstorm. Mallory’s banner resulted in us climbing a long, swaying ladder on a windy day to reach a particularly high roof. We waited an hour and a half through lunch to unveil Jeff’s banner, only to realize he wasn’t even in the office that day (we got him the next morning). While each person reacted differently, they all appreciated the random gesture of thanks.
And we lived to tell the tale.
Surprise + Creativity Strengthen Company Culture
While all positive acknowledgment is an essential key to having a great company culture, there’s a certain type that’s particularly effective: creative appreciation. When your gesture of appreciation is unique and out of the ordinary, it can have a deeper, longer-lasting impact. It’s even more memorable in the form of an exciting surprise (like seeing your face slowly unfurl from the roof).
Planning surprises also paves the way to document the moment on camera and share footage with the team to reminisce on good times. It’s a great opportunity to include new team members in on the fun and allow them to be part of the experience. At team meetings, we regularly display videos of our antics, which is always met with a healthy dose of laughter. In this way, a thoughtful surprise can be a gift that keeps on giving. A little laughter to lighten a busy day goes a long way in helping employees feel valued and appreciated.
With that said, simple words of encouragement and gratitude should certainly be part of your company culture repertoire. But, adding a dose of creativity can greatly enhance the effects of standard appreciation. When you add a creative, meaningful flare to employee acknowledgment, it demonstrates a purposeful intent that brings extra meaning to the gesture. While sayings like “thanks” or “you’re doing a great job” are indeed critical, they don’t require the thought or planning of an innovative display of appreciation. That’s what makes creative appreciation so powerful as you look to applaud what each member of your team can accomplish.
Recently celebrating Blue Compass’ 15-year anniversary, we took the time to reflect on what has helped shape Blue Compass into the positive workplace it is today. The answer? Our people. The people we surround ourselves with every day create the supportive environment we are proud of. As we have grown from the two-man team of Cary and myself to more than 30 employees today, we take even more care to ensure every employee feels celebrated for what they bring to the team.
Appreciation Starts at the Top
Whether a small business owner or head of a large corporation, it can be difficult to find the time to recognize every individual for a job well done. That’s why the spirit of appreciation must stem from the top and trickle down to team leaders and department heads who work closely within their own teams. Appreciation must be at the center of your organizational structure to effectively spread to every deserving individual.
One easy way to get started is to encourage team leaders to bring shoutouts to a company-wide meeting. Shoutouts are a regular part of our monthly meetings. This is a chance to showcase employee wins and allow the entire team to show their appreciation for achievements big and small. Whether securing a new client or lending a hand to stock the fridge, publicly thanking those around us for what they bring to the company creates a camaraderie that weaves its way into how we work every day. Being positive is very powerful.
We occasionally take shoutouts one step further with our own twist, in typical Blue Compass fashion. For example, we hold many celebratory events each year, but everyone’s favorite is our annual Christmas party. This event has become legendary for many reasons, one of which is the annual video Cary and I put together.
We always create a fun video as a little surprise for the team (and their plus ones). A few years ago, we wanted to do something to directly recognize each of our team members. Since we absolutely love all the wonderful, diverse personalities of our team members, we decided to write a script and feature each of them in a video — except Cary and I dressed up as and played each person.
We put together a full story about the arrival of our newest team member at the Blue Compass office and how each team member prepared for the big arrival. We purchased wigs, clothes, glasses, accessories and even fake tattoos. Cary and I came into the office on a Saturday and filmed for hours. Each of us played about a dozen different team members (we had about 24 team members at the time). The result was a weird, crazy and absolutely hilarious 10-minute narrative that lovingly played upon all our team members’ eccentricities. We delighted our team with the video at our party to thunderous laughter and applause (from our team at least — I think the plus ones thought we were crazy). Our team absolutely loved the result and to this day, we still rewatch it together at least a few times a year.
Rest assured, your team does not need to do something that wild or elaborate. Pulling off a grand surprise or a simpler gesture is as simple as taking a moment to get creative and come up with an action plan. Whether or not that includes scaling roofs and two-story buildings isn’t for me to say. But I can tell you this: we are never surprised at what our team can accomplish when they receive the acknowledgment and appreciation they need to feel like an integral part of our team.
The Greater Des Moines Partnership created the Workforce Trends and Occupancy Study (WTOS) Playbook in response to Greater Des Moines (DSM) workforce trends research that was conducted in partnership with Baton Global. The WTOS Playbook features insights related to the future of work in DSM, workforce suggestions for businesses in the region and local case study examples.
President and co-founder of Blue Compass, Drew Harden has grown and guided the company from a two-person start-up in 2007 to one of the Midwest's leading digital marketing companies today. He's a published author, has been cited by publications like USA Today and PR News, and has led web projects for clients like Spalding Sports Equipment, NAPA Autoparts and the NFL.