Women United: A sisterhood of philanthropy for 20 years

Women United members at the recent dinner at Kettle Ridge Farm in Victor celebrating the group's anniversary.
Women United members at the recent dinner at Kettle Ridge Farm in Victor celebrating the group’s anniversary. (Photo submitted)

When women unite, the impact can be felt community wide. One group, Women United, shows how they make that impact.

Women United is a leadership giving network of the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes. It has 1,082 members, is celebrating its 20th anniversary and has raised $42 million for the area since its inception.

Lauren Dixon, board chair of Dixon + Schwabl,

“It’s a pretty dynamic and exciting group to be a part of,” said Lauren Dixon, board chair of Dixon Schwabl + Co. and one of this year’s Women United committee co-chairs. 

The goal of the group is threefold: to invest in solutions, make lasting connections and serve the community. 

One can join Women United with an annual donation of at least $1,000 (equal to about $20 per week).

By joining the group, women have access to other Women United members and thousands of local leaders from across United Way’s giving networks at member networking events. They will also gain access to leadership and career development opportunities. 

Women United members are also offered opportunities throughout the year to volunteer and participate in community-building activities with other local leaders. 

Those in the program said the benefits of membership are many, from networking opportunities to seeing first-hand the impact United Way makes.

The group strives to create interesting events that not only bring the women together but give them the opportunity to learn new things and see what is happening in their communities.

One event, for example, featured the author Louann Lofton who wrote “Warren Buffet Invests Like a Girl, and Why You Should, Too.” Another event was held at Wegmans Organic Farm in Canandaigua and another at Parkleigh.

The group most recently celebrated its milestone with a Dinner Under the Stars at Kettle Ridge Farm in Victor.

Dixon said the group will begin planning events for 2023 shortly.

The events are at no cost to the United Way, she noted, adding that many of the venues donate services or space to support the agency. 

One of the goals of the group is continuing to diversify its membership and include younger women. To help, there is a step-up option for women just starting out in their careers that allows them to pay a reduced rate and work up to the standard donation amount as they grow professionally.

Lauren Gallina Payne, marketing director at Gallina Development Corp. and a Women United committee co-chair, said the group takes an active role in change by participating in various events, such as those focused on food insecurities and childhood poverty. 

Gallina Payne

“It’s a wonderful group of like-minded women who have created a sisterhood around philanthropy and supporting the community,” Gallina Payne said.

Gallina Payne — whose family has been longtime supporters of the United Way — is impressed with the way the agency collaborates with the community to prioritize its needs and then works with the organizations it supports to help ensure those organizations meet their goals.

She added that Women United is a good starting point for younger women in philanthropy, since it provides members with insights into numerous community causes and organizations, which can help them determine where they want to focus their own efforts and support.

Margaret Farnsworth, vice president of Randall Buick GMC Cadillac and another Women United committee co-chair, said women are the driving force when it comes to giving, noting they donate to causes more than men.

Farnsworth said the recent United Way merger, which brought the Rochester and Finger Lakes regions together, creates an opportunity for even more resources and support.  

The group also gives members the opportunity to see firsthand the impact their support has on the local organizations, Farnsworth said.

“It’s a nice feeling to know you are part of a great group of women who are making an impact on the community,” she said.

Jaime Saunders, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes, said Women United is proof of what can be done when women come together.  

When Saunders was first starting out as a young professional, she took advantage of the step-up option to become a Women United member.

Initially she was expecting some of the woman, who were successful and established in their careers, to be intimidating. She instead found quite the opposite.

“Here were these titans of business who were so welcoming and supporting of all the women in the group,” Saunders said, noting the group allowed her to network, learn, grow and give. “I got more out of it than I gave.”  

Now as the leader of the local chapter of the United Way, Saunders has an even greater appreciation for the group. She noted Women United paved the way for the agency’s other leadership giving networks. 

“We wouldn’t be able to do the work we do today without the support of Women United,” she said. 

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 

Survey says: Highlights from the latest workplace trend reports

We spend about 90,000 hours of our lives working, so it’s no surprise social scientists continue to study and publish reports on employee sentiment and workplace trends. I’ve recently reviewed a dozen such studies from leading researchers at firms like Gartner and Gallup, McKinsey and Microsoft, PwC and Harvard Business Review, even Slack and LinkedIn. The reports are based on survey data gathered from employees in the US and around the world, and they all ladder up to some common themes. Here are the ones that rose to the top:

The location conundrum: a rock and a hard place

Employees prioritize the ability to work remotely at least some of the time and yet many people working in remote and hybrid environments report feeling lonely and isolated, saying it’s hard to build relationships. That’s not good for them or for business. Studies show having friends at work is a key measure of engagement and satisfaction — the National Business Research Institute says satisfaction jumps nearly 50% when an employee makes a friend on the job. It’s critical then that leaders find a balance, and that’s still a work in progress.

Talent is still hard to find and keep

The percentages vary — from PwC saying 20% of employees are likely to look for a new job in the next year to McKinsey and Microsoft studies showing 40% and 43% and Future Forum saying as many as 55% of people will probably quit (70% if they don’t have flexibility in their current job). In terms of numbers: the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports four to five million people quit their jobs every month this year, and there are currently 11.2 million open positions in the country. By every measure, then, the great resignation marches on.


If you’re looking to hire, flexible work arrangements are deal-breakers. Leaders at Thrive HR Consulting say you’ll lose 60% of potential candidates if you don’t offer remote or hybrid opportunities. So, if you can allow time and place flexibility, highlight it in your job postings. Of course, not every job can be done remotely, but you can still provide flexibility. Think job shares, early or late shifts, or condensed work weeks to give your on-site team members control over how they manage their work and personal responsibilities.

You might also consider adding or enhancing childcare and dependent care benefits. Care.com’s Future of Benefits Report states that 90% of employers say these benefits have a positive impact on recruitment and retention — equal to retirement plans and more than PTO and health insurance.

Salary isn’t everything

What are people’s top priorities when looking for a job? Microsoft, PwC, Future Forum, LinkedIn and many other firm’s surveys come up with the same results: Candidates prioritize pay, flexibility, mental health benefits, growth opportunities and fulfilling, purposeful work.

What drives people to quit? Microsoft says the top five reasons workers resigned last year were for wellbeing or mental health, work-life balance, mistrust of leadership and inflexible working arrangements. PwC’s findings are a little more nuanced, listing inability to be their true self at work, unfulfilling jobs, and uncaring colleagues and leaders.


Once you’ve confirmed you’re offering competitive pay and flexibility, take a look at how you engage and empower your people. Are your supervisors connected to their reports? Do they listen, really listen, and show how much they care? Do they understand what’s important and create paths that allow team members to make a difference, grow and thrive?

Supervisors may need training to develop empathetic leadership and listening skills and to identify when people are at risk or struggling with mental health challenges. They also need to provide opportunities for team members to learn and advance. For example, supervisors can arrange mentoring and reverse mentoring, inter-department cross-training and stretch assignments.

Hybrid work is a mixed bag 

PwC reports 63% of workers want to stick with their hybrid arrangement. LinkedIn says professionals who are happy with their location flexibility are 2.6 times more likely to say they’re happy with their job. Conversely, Future Forum predicts 70% of people who aren’t happy with their level of flexibility will likely look for a new job. So, unless you’re willing to lose employees, hybrid is here to stay. But that’s OK, because we’ve seen our team members can be productive working from anywhere, right?

Yes, and. Hybrid arrangements can be cost-effective for sure: Global Workplace Analytics estimates a typical company saves $11,000 when an employee works remotely half the time, with most of the savings coming from greater productivity and reduced overhead. Remote options also allow us to hire people we wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

But hybrid and remote scenarios aren’t perfect. Microsoft’s study shows team members say their biggest challenges are knowing when and why to come into the office and not being included in meetings. Leaders say relationship-building is the biggest challenge and the data backs that up: 59% of hybrid employees have fewer work friends and 55% feel lonelier at work than before going hybrid. That’s a problem for many reasons, including that people who have close relationships at work report better wellbeing and productivity and are less likely to switch jobs.

It’s not just relationships that suffer when people are working in disparate locations. Reports from both Microsoft and Asana show remote and hybrid work can lead to overwork and application overload. People are working and multitasking more and spending more time in meetings and on email and chat than when they worked on-site. And the result is more people suffering from burnout and anxiety.


Give people reasons to get together. Beyond social gatherings, think about the work they’re doing. If it’s an individual task, encourage them to work where they do their best work. If it’s collaborative or at a critical juncture — say a product launch or strategy or brainstorming session — that’s a good reason to encourage people to work together in person.

When onboarding a new team member, client or project, start with an in-person meeting or two. Then you can go back to working virtually but plan to come together at regular intervals — monthly or quarterly perhaps — to foster the connections. You might also consider dedicating a few minutes to icebreakers or a shared activity at the beginning of every meeting. Maybe a group stretch or have everyone answer the same get-to-know-you question.

As for overwork and app overload, see if there’s anything you can take off people’s plates. In our efforts to bring everyone together, we naturally add social activities and wellness and learning opportunities. Though well-intended, if not done carefully, we risk overwhelming team members. Ask or survey people to see if there’s anything on their schedules or to-do list that’s worn out its value. If so, give permission to stop doing it. At the same time, try not to publicly celebrate team members who work nights, weekends and all hours.

Though I used the term “app overload,” I don’t mean to suggest there’s anything wrong with the apps we use to communicate, collaborate and stay productive. They’re a godsend when used appropriately. You can even use data from your collaboration apps to gauge work behaviors, like frequent after-hour work activity (the infamous “third peak”) and volume of emails, meetings and chats that might indicate people are overworked and at risk for burnout.

You might also consider scheduling meetings for 25 and 55 minutes instead of 30 and 60 to ensure everyone has a moment to catch their breath in between. And be sure to show team members how to use apps like Microsoft Teams to set boundaries, block off time for deep work and personal appointments, enforce “no meeting” times and create an out-of-office message when they they’re going to be away.

If people are reluctant to take time off, consider a company shutdown once or twice a year. At DS+CO, we’re closed the week between Christmas and New Year’s to ensure everyone gets downtime without fear of missing out or having to log on. And throughout the year, leaders should model and hold up a positive example of taking a healthy amount of PTO and sharing stories of how they unplugged.

The office is for collaboration and camaraderie

What motivates people to come to the office? All of the studies point to collaboration and camaraderie — including celebrations, strategy and brainstorming, onboarding, one-one-ones, and training and development — and acknowledge the office is not the best place for most people for solitary work.

So, consider reconfiguring your space for activities like group training, sleeves-up working sessions, team-building, parties and spontaneous social interactions. Some companies are removing a percentage of desks to create areas for formal and informal meetings that accommodate both in-person and remote participants, casual get-togethers, small-group collaboration and quiet rooms for individual work.

And keep experimenting. At DS+CO, a group of team members volunteered to form our Community & Connection Committee to help us brainstorm and implement a trial of relationship-building initiatives. These will include a mix of agency-wide and department-level in-person work and social gatherings throughout the year. Most are optional, but we may ask folks to try to commit to attending four all-agency in-person gatherings a year. We’ll see how it goes and let you know!

Lauren Dixon is board chair of Dixon Schwabl + Co., a marketing communications firm, which has  been honored as a Best Place to Work.

Meaning and purpose at work: Beyond the buzzwords

“Purpose” is having a moment. It appears in slogans and mission statements, self-help books and job postings. We hear about employees leaving positions that lack purpose for ones that are more “meaningful.” But what do purpose and meaning mean, why are they important and how can leaders help people find them at work?

I think of purpose as your “Why?” For a company: Why are we in business and why does it matter? For an individual: Why am I here and how do I make a difference? When team members know and value their “Why?” and their “Why?” aligns with their company’s, they’re likely to find meaning in their work. That may have seemed frivolous in the past, but in today’s environment, it’s a prerequisite for having an engaged, motivated workforce. And perhaps even having a workforce at all!

Surveys by Great Place to Work go as far as to say purpose predicts whether a team member will remain loyal to the company: When millennials find meaning in their job, they’re three times more likely to stay. And it’s not just millennials. CEO of Great Place to Work Michael C. Bush says: “How [millennials] spend their time and who they spend it with matters to them, as it should to all of us. Give them a reason, many reasons, to be proud to work for you—and they’ll stay working for you.”

It’s on us then, as business leaders, to develop and distribute those reasons. Here are some thoughts on how.

Speak your “Why?”

The first step to building an environment where people find purpose and meaning is to articulate your “Why?” It doesn’t have to be a lofty statement about saving the world. It can be a few simple sentences or even your three-year strategic plan and the KPIs and goals within it. The more tangible and relatable the better. Because when your “Why?” is measurable and communicated clearly and frequently, people can track your progress. They can understand and prioritize activities that advance the goals. And they can see where they fit into the shared endeavor and how their work makes a difference.

Once you’ve distilled your “Why?” into succinct language, talk it up. Keep it front and center and use it as your north star in your day-to-day work. Wegmans does a great job of this with their “Values in action” website, newsletter and emails. They state their purpose simply and clearly: Helping people live healthier, better lives through exceptional food. And they empower employees to make decisions that advance the company’s values: community giving, optimal health, DEI and sustainability.

For example, the Wegmans Seafood and Sustainability team has a passion for protecting the environment. They’ve been working on a zero-waste program for years. Recently, the company supported the team in its hunt for an alternative to foam coolers. Management gave them the time and resources to research, develop, pilot and ultimately implement reusable plastic totes to transport fresh seafood, eliminating single-use Styrofoam coolers. It’s that kind of clear, shared purpose that drives over 50,000 Wegmans employees to live their values — and the company’s — every day.

Connect tasks to purpose

After you define your “Why?” the next step is to help team members connect what they do individually to serve the collective purpose. When people see how their contributions make a difference, it makes the hard days worthwhile, the easy days rewarding and most days meaningful.

Think of it this way: If you’re training for a marathon, you have to run a lot. Some days you’ll love it. Other days not so much. You may question why you’re running 20 miles before the sun rises or going to bed just when the party’s getting started. But then you remember your higher purpose: The marathon on your calendar. You can track your progress as your runs get longer, your pace gets faster, your fitness improves. You see the meaning of your daily run. You’re invested in performing your best together with everyone else on the course on race day.

Or imagine a PhD candidate working on their thesis. They may be motivated to persevere when the going gets tough by thoughts of their higher purpose: Defending their dissertation, earning a doctoral degree, launching an important career. Similarly, finding meaning in our jobs day in and day out is easier when we believe in and are inspired by our purpose.

Support supervisors

Not everyone finds meaning in the same things, of course. Even if a team member is 100% on board with your company purpose, different aspects of your culture will resonate with, motivate and inspire them. Consider the “SCARF” model. It describes five domains that reward or threaten and ultimately influence people’s behavior in the workplace: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness.

Each is important to varying degrees to most of us, but some people might be more driven by status while others are driven by a sense of belonging, for example. That’s why we need to encourage—even require—supervisors to get to know each of their reports and what makes them tick. We can’t expect supervisors to be psychoanalysts, but we can and should give them the time and space to build and maintain relationships.

If they’re managing hybrid and remote teams, your supervisors may need additional training, support and tools to stay connected to their people. Pull out the stops to provide it. Because if they can learn and stay on top of what motivates team members, they can help shape individual experiences. Maybe provide a stretch assignment, mentor or training to help an employee feel challenged, like they’re growing and learning. Or maybe look into AI to automate a tedious task to free a team member up for higher-level thinking.

Vive la différence

In his book Love + Work: How to Find What You Love, Love What You Do, and Do It for the Rest of Your Life, Marcus Buckingham writes “only 18% of people love more than 20% of what they do at work.” And people analytics company Perceptyx reports 30% of employees feel “hopeless, aimless and dispirited” at work. Yikes! That sounds bad, but don’t despair. It doesn’t mean dispirited people will never like their jobs. It might just mean they need help seeing how their contributions impact the greater good and how much the company appreciates their contributions.

It’s not rocket science: People want to use their talents in meaningful ways. They — we — want to know we matter. We want to make a difference. That’s our shared purpose in life, after all.  And it can make all the difference and be the difference between team members who say, “What can the company do for me?” and those who say, “What can I do to help the company and community?”

Lauren Dixon is board chair of Dixon Schwabl + Co., a marketing communications firm, which has  been honored as a Best Place to Work.

Women’s Council names ATHENA Award recipient

Dixon Schwabl Advertising Founder and Chairman Lauren Dixon was named the 2021 ATHENA International Award winner on Thursday.

The ATHENA Organizational Award recipient was Brockport Research Institute and its President and CEO Sara Silverstone. This year’s ATHENA Young Professional was Cicely Strickland-Ruiz, chief operating officer of the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc.

Lauren Dixon
Lauren Dixon

After a start in television, Dixon launched her own business in a male-dominated field, which would go on to become one of the largest firms in the Rochester region. Dixon Schwabl has been one of the Top 25 Small Companies to Work for in America for 15 consecutive years, and ranked one of the Top 20 on the Ad Age list and the Top 20 on the PR News list for five years.

Dixon’s name is synonymous with board, volunteer and philanthropic efforts, but on Thursday she thanked her family, particularly her husband, Mike Schwabl, who was the ultimate partner when she was building her company. Dixon and Schwabl celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary on the day of the event.

The ATHENA Awards are held annually by the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Inc. and its Women’s Council affiliate. The award is given to a professional female leader who has demonstrated significant achievements in business, community service and the professional advancement of women.

The 35th annual ceremony was broadcast live from the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center, where dozens of women and organizational finalists were honored for their successes and asked to say a few words about their paths and advice for the future.

Rochester’s nominees and award recipients spoke of lifting each other up and often quoted the likes of Susan B. Anthony and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

“I’d like to speak to the nominees for this award. You exemplify the highest level of professional excellence. You give back to your community and you open up leadership opportunities for others, especially for women. For these and all the other impactful things you do in your community, you inspire others to achieve their full potential” said ATHENA International Founder Martha Mayhood Mertz in a video played during the event.

Since 1982, more than 6,700 top leaders in over 500 communities have received the prestigious ATHENA Award in the United States, Bermuda, Canada, China, Greece, India, Russia, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. By honoring exceptional leaders, the ATHENA Award Program seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives.

Past local recipients of the ATHENA Award include Heidi Macpherson of the College at Brockport; Hilda Rosario-Escher, formerly of Ibero-American Action League; Elaine Spaull of the Center for Youth; and Sharon Napier, CEO of Partners + Napier.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Using personality assessments to elevate culture, communication and collaboration

web-sig_lauren-dixon_Personality tests continue to grow in popularity as a workplace tool—not only in how they’re used, but also in the number of assessments available. The more common ones include DiSC Behavior Inventory, the Big Five, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Occupational Interest Inventories and Situational Judgment Tests.

While each has its strengths and limitations, they all can provide actionable value for businesses, helping enhance company culture, communication and collaboration. (However, I’m not a fan of using them to screen job applicants, and thankfully only 13% of companies use them for that purpose, according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management and Mercer.)

I prefer to use personality assessments to help us understand each other and work together better—in other words, for team-building. Because when team members understand each other’s communication styles, approaches to work, and how they’re alike and different, they respect, appreciate and interact with each other better and are more productive and collaborative.

For example, knowing each other’s “MO” can help make partnerships more effective—and more joyful and pleasant, as well, because it allows us to plan for how we’ll partner with each other. It can be as simple as being aware that you’re what the MBTI identifies as a “thinker” and you’re teaming up with a “feeler.”

It also helps to remember that even though we’re looking at the same information, we might interpret and understand it in different ways. Keeping this in mind can help mitigate potential conflicts and clashes. As Isabel Briggs Myers, author of Introduction to Type and the MBTI Manual, said, “When people differ, a knowledge of type lessens friction and eases strain. In addition, it reveals the value of differences. No one has to be good at everything.”

So if you’re a manager, when you understand each team member’s interaction style and personality type as it relates to being part of a team, you can assign roles in a way that harnesses strengths and shores up gaps. Who’s going to review the work? Perhaps someone whose personality score suggests they’re an “analyst” or “decision-maker.” Who’s going to keep the project on track? Perhaps the person identified as a “motivator” or “coach.” Who should present the work to your customer or client? Most likely the person who ranks high as an “actor” or “persuader.”

Results should empower, not pigeonhole

Clearly there’s a business value to using personality tests in the workplace. But what about for the individuals taking them? Are there any caveats? Is there anything we should be concerned about when asking our team members to take them? Well, yes. We certainly don’t want people worrying about their responses and results. And we don’t want them to think their results will limit or cause them to lose opportunities.

While it would be ludicrous to dismiss someone based on the results of a personality test, the host of the TED podcast “Work Life with Adam Grant” cautions those who take personality tests not to “fire yourself for having the wrong personality.”

What Grant means is that he knows people who have written off entire careers because of the outcome of their personality test. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, based on how their score defined their personality, they figured they weren’t analytical or gregarious or judgmental enough to work in accounting or sales or law. Or that they were too emotional, intuitive or “thinking” to be a physician or judge or artist. Basically, they ruled out anything that required characteristics that didn’t fit into their personality “type.” Not only is that crazy, it’s dangerous, frankly.

To avoid that self-limiting outcome, I encourage team members to use their results to understand their tendencies, traits, communication style and working preferences, and to become aware of who they are in a deeper sense. And then they can decide when it makes sense to push themselves beyond their natural traits and when it makes sense to stay within their comfort zone, maximizing their innate gifts.

Because even though we have certain characteristics, thought patterns, behaviors and ways of being, we also have the power to adapt and stretch. In fact, most people who are successful in the workplace do just that: They monitor situations and adapt to “rise to the occasion” or provide what is necessary to be effective and perform at a higher level.

I think we don’t give ourselves or each other enough credit. I mean, we’re not locked into our personality type. We have the power to flex. We can stretch and grow and act in ways that don’t come naturally. It doesn’t mean we have to change who we are or alter our personality. It just means we have the opportunity to expand our capabilities and areas of comfort.

Sure, it may never feel natural, perhaps, for an introvert to go out and drum up new business, but we can get used to and comfortable with practicing and adopting different personality traits for periods of time to get the job done.

Susan Cain, author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” says introverts often don’t land leadership positions or apply for them in the first place because of the simple fact that they’re introverts. Even though introverts can make great leaders—often getting better results than extroverts because of the way they allow the people around them to showcase alternative ideas.

Cain mentions Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Gandhi as examples of introverts who pushed themselves outside their comfort zones when the job at hand required them to do so. And she tells a story I absolutely love about her grandfather, who was a rabbi and an extreme introvert. He lived alone and loved nothing more than being alone in his apartment reading. But he also loved his congregation and gave brilliant, engaging sermons throughout his 62-year career.

Cain says people came from all over to hear him speak; he was such a popular, riveting public speaker. And yet he was so introverted he had difficulty making eye contact with his congregation both on and off the podium. But when he passed away, so many people came to the services they had to close down the streets!

So I think of that story every time a team member tells me, “Oh I could never be a leader (or presenter, manager, director or account executive) because I’m too much of an introvert.”

Baloney. Most of the time, I think they’re selling themselves short. Which is why we need to make sure our team members understand that our scores on personality assessments are merely lenses to help us see where we might focus our energy as we continually grow and improve.

We all can continue to evolve and explore while remaining grounded in our true selves. In fact, the more we understand about who we are, the freer we are to jump off from there saying “OK, this is my personality. Am I going to fall back on it or spring forward from it?”

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.


Creating a zero-waste workplace and helping staff reach full potential

web-sig_lauren-dixon_When Wegmans announced it would stop using plastic bags beginning March 1, 2020, the decision became one of the more visible and controversial local examples of a company implementing sustainable practices in its daily operations. And it got me thinking about the different ways we can make sustainability part of our workplace culture—and not just by finding ways to “reduce, reuse and recycle” physical items, but resources of all kinds.

Today, most of our efforts to reduce waste at work focus on the obvious, like replacing plastic utensils and water bottles with metal silverware and drinking glasses, and rethinking whether we need to make hard copies of documents before printing them out.

But what about our work and our talent? Are there ways we can be better stewards of our creations and those who create them?

A recent Poynter article about “zero-waste journalism” got me thinking. The article was not about being green, but it applies similar principles to news content; I think we can apply the concepts in other industries like advertising and marketing.

Poynter suggests journalism outlets “take inventory of what you have or control” and then ask “how many jobs each piece of work can do at your organization—and ways those pieces of work can be adapted, reused or remixed into new content, events, consumer insights or platforms.”

In the news industry, zero-waste journalism is about “extending the life of information by presenting it in fresh ways.”

In the social media and content marketing space, we call it “atomizing” or “syndicating” content: versioning, sharing and distributing elements of articles, white papers, blogs, infographics, listicles, posts, e-books and more in different forms in different media platforms and direct marketing tactics.

In integrated marketing, it works in a similar way, generating a wide variety of communications tactics and achieving numerous strategic goals from a single advertising, promotional or public relations effort.

Here’s an example: A company launches a contest for recipes that use its products. They promote the contest in-store and on social media, driving people to their website to participate, which builds a database of customer contact information to use for future promotional efforts. The contest itself generates content—recipes, photos and testimonials—that the company repurposes in a recipe section on its website, in emails to customers, and in social and digital media posts and ads, public and media relations, even an e-book.

Voila! The company builds brand awareness, along with a database, while engaging customers, building loyalty and ultimately driving sales. One contest, a long shelf life of benefits.

But in terms of sustainability, how does that help? Well, if you look at our resources, many of them are finite, or at least limited. Like time, equipment, staff, budgets and audience attention. So it certainly makes sense to maximize the potential of the work we create.

And it goes deeper than that. What about our most important resource: our people?

Could we do more to help them achieve their full potential? Could their talents be used in additional or different ways—or do they have skills that aren’t being used at all, but could be put to work in ways that increase both their job satisfaction and the bottom line, so we don’t waste an ounce of talent?

In every organization, team members are many-faceted, multi-dimensional people with a variety of interests, talents and strengths that evolve over time. Rather than just filling jobs that fit our business needs, we should also design jobs that fit—and evolve with—our talent. By that I mean, of course, we need to make sure our team members can do the specific job that needs to be done, but we should stay open and not limit them to a rigid job description.

We should take advantage of each team member’s experiences, expertise, talent and passion by keeping responsibilities somewhat fluid and flexible, allowing people to expand their roles and explore internal mobility. Because when we recognize and encourage each person’s internal motivations and passions, we are in a better position to be innovative, productive, zero-waste organizations.

We also create a happier workplace culture. Gallup studies show that team members who feel they use their strengths at work every day are six times more engaged, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to leave the company.

So what does that look like? Well, one of our creative directors started her career as an account executive at ad agency. While she was skilled in the role and enjoyed its responsibilities, every now and then she had opportunity to join a brainstorming session or do some writing, and discovered she had a passion and talent for creative concepting and copywriting. Her supervisors were open and encouraging, giving her additional and regular opportunities, and eventually she became a junior copywriter. She benefited from the joy and excitement of developing her previously untapped talent and the company benefited from her extraordinary skills, which were “wasted” no longer.

It was because she worked in an agency with a culture of flexibility that she was able to explore new interests and discover untapped talents.

Similarly, at Warby Parker, the chief technology officer made a point of regularly asking his stellar assistant what she wanted to do with her career. She was a terrific problem-solver with a puzzle-busting, analytical mind, so one day the CTO asked her if she’d like to help fix some bugs in an app he was working on. Turns out, she did a brilliant job figuring out and fixing the problem, getting the app to work. In the process, she developed a passion and sense of pride and accomplishment. Recognizing this, the CTO helped create a path for her to become a software engineer.

The point is to create an environment where team members have the freedom and opportunity to explore new interests and are encouraged to do so. You might also look at their side gigs. There are hidden gems in every workforce, people with skill sets and talents that go beyond the typical workplace. People who have passions they’d love to pursue and passions that could benefit your business. Don’t let them go to waste!

You might have an engineer who could double as a photographer for your internal communications and outward-facing publicity. Or a gregarious customer service rep with great local connections, networking and sleuthing skills who might be able to help find new business opportunities. Or a performer or artist who can help liven up your presentations.

You get the idea: Look for ways to put team members’ multiple talents to use. It’s a win/win: Your team members benefit from personal and professional career growth and satisfaction; increased challenge, engagement and motivation; a public platform for their talents; and an increased sense of self-worth from contributing in numerous meaningful ways.

And your business benefits from additional and enhanced resources, less downtime during slower seasons, and empowered, excited, satisfied team members who are more likely to be loyal, productive and innovative in the workplace.

Zero waste.

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.


Company awards can help increase employee engagement, sense of pride

web-sig_lauren-dixon_I love watching movie and music award shows. Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, People’s Choice Awards, even the Academy of Country Music Awards. I love them all. Why? Because it’s exciting—honestly, it gives me chills—to see talented artists being honored and recognized for their passion, hard work, dedication and cultural contributions.

And it got me thinking about awards in the workplace. Do they belong here? Do they benefit individuals, teams and organizations? Let’s dig in.

Awards make people feel good, immediately. But research from Swiss economist Bruno Frey shows that more significant benefits come in the future—because people who receive awards are more engaged and motivated going forward, and the quality of their work improves, too.

Frey thinks that might be because awards are social. That is, they’re given and announced publicly and are tangible, outwardly visible signals that your supervisors value you and your contributions. That’s motivating and empowering for all to experience and witness.

Over both the short- and long-term, awards can help build relationships in the workplace, especially between managers and supervisors and those who report to them. After all, when you give a team member an award, you suddenly have a special connection with them; that can spark a new level of trust and heightened sense of loyalty to you and your company. Multiply that by every award winner and, over time, you have a stronger team built on lots of solid connections.

Maybe because I tend to be a positive person, but I don’t see many downsides to giving out awards. However, there are some best practices to keep in mind to make sure your awards program works as intended and doesn’t have unexpected outcomes. Here are some to consider:

Reward exceptional behavior

For an award to feel valuable and meaningful, it should be given out for actions and characteristics that are truly above and beyond the normal job description and expectation. In other words, avoid giving awards for simply doing what one is supposed to do, like backing up your hard drive, turning in timesheets or meeting routine deadlines.

When my kids where little, it drove me crazy when a teacher gave them candy just for doing their homework. I mean, that’s they’re supposed to do! But when they earned a prize for going out of their way to help a classmate or taking on extra assignments, that made sense and made me proud. (More important: It made them proud.)

Be conservative

As with many things in life, scarcity adds value and abundance diminishes it. Supply and demand, if you will. If you’re a parent, you may occasionally cringe at the number of awards your kids get for just about everything. It can set up unrealistic expectations.

In the workplace, when awards are given out too frequently, for too many things, it can create a superficial reward system. So set a schedule to keep it meaningful. At Dixon Schwabl, we give out the Jaz Janie Award to one team member each month, and that seems to be a good number and time interval for us.

Allow repeat winners

While it may seem like a good idea to spread the wealth and avoid the appearance of favoritism by limiting the number of times a team member can win an award, you run the risk of discouraging award winners down the road. By allowing winners to win again, as long as it’s deserved, you continue to motivate them to ever-higher levels of achievement. And those who haven’t won yet will be motivated to keep trying harder, raising the bar for everyone.

Locate unsung heroes

Similarly, even though your rock stars may deserve to keep getting the awards, their successes can overshadow the accomplishments of others who keep a lower profile. To make sure your awards feel attainable by all, go out of your way to look for team members who quietly go the extra mile day in and day out to the point where you may take it for granted.

Recognize awards may trigger emotions

Occasionally, a team member may feel resentful or unappreciated if they feel they deserve an award that is given to someone else. So be clear and transparent about what the award winner did to earn the award, and what others need to do to be considered for the award in the future—making sure the criteria are within reach and equally attainable by all.

Avoid the appearance of favoritism

Your close friends and even family members may well deserve an award, so go ahead and give it to them if they’ve earned it. Just be sure to explain in tangible, objective, quantifiable terms what they did to earn the award. Because if it looks like someone received an award because of their position rather than their efforts, the award loses importance. And you risk losing credibility and the trust of team members.

Let team members give out awards

If you’re concerned about the previous two points and caveats, you might consider setting up a fund of money or gifts and allowing any team member to dip into it, within reason and limits, to give another team member an award. It could be for impressive work or going the extra mile to help out or provide a service, for example.

Just be sure to ask the giver to write up why they recipient deserves the award—what they did and how it helped the individual, your business and/or your customers. This can be motivating and empowering for both the person giving out the award and the one receiving it, and it may very well be even more meaningful than awards that come from supervisors.

Bonuses vs. awards

How do financial bonuses compare with non-monetary awards? Research suggests bonuses don’t have the same long-term impact. Probably because bonuses are handed out in private, behind closed doors. Team members don’t freely discuss them with each other and don’t know who has received a bonus, when, how much and why. As a result, bonuses don’t provide recognition and prestige. And studies show many people value the kudos and congrats they earn from an award over the money they receive from a cash bonus.

Additionally, when you want to reward someone for doing a phenomenal job of living and breathing your core values, it can be difficult to quantify and put a price on things like teamwork, innovation or integrity. In these cases, an award can be more meaningful, especially if it’s related to the characteristic or behavior you want to honor.

Another benefit of awards over bonuses is that awards typically don’t cost anything, or they cost very little. Sure, they need to be valuable enough to make an impact and you need to create fanfare, but you don’t have to spend nearly as much as you would spend on a meaningful bonus.

So after tallying up the pros and cons, I’ve reached a verdict: Awards in the workplace get a thumbs up from me.

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.


Make storytelling a part of your company’s culture

web-sig_lauren-dixon_Everyone loves a good story. A good story can connect us. It can foster the imagination and inspire action. It can engage team members, reinforce core values and promote best practices at work. Best of all, a good story can win raving fans by creating the most powerful marketing tool known to humankind:  an emotional connection with your brand.

Relate best practices

To help your team understand expectations when it comes to best practices, try sharing a personal anecdote that shows those best practices, well, in practice. Your own stories make the greatest impression, but you can also share a powerful, inspiring experience you’ve heard or read. It will motivate your team members more effectively than simply reiterating the employee handbook. And it helps you connect with people emotionally, which is the most effective way to make an impact, influence behavior and spark long-lasting change.

If it’s a really good story, it might even go “viral” as it’s shared with others, spreading and reinforcing its themes over time. One of my favorites is from the book “Yes is the Answer! What is the question?” by Cameron Mitchell, a restaurant entrepreneur who built an empire and sold 22 restaurants for $92 million dollars. It’s his famous “milkshake story” that continues to inspire business owners and leaders to always put the emphasis on great customer service.

It goes like this: One day, Mitchell tried to order a chocolate milkshake for his son when dining out, even though it wasn’t on the menu. He was told no by the server, who happened to be the restaurant manager. When Mitchell finally convinced the manager to make the milkshake, since the ingredients were all on the menu, he was informed he would have to be charged extra for it! The moral of the story is that saying no is easy; saying yes requires work and extra effort.

Mitchell decided at this moment to build a culture where everyone in his restaurants would become a problem solver and customer champion. Whatever question or request a customer had, the answer was “Yes!” Even if they were requesting something not on the menu or if the ingredients weren’t in house. Mitchell’s servers were known to race out of the restaurant and go to the nearest store to buy items to make the dish the customer wanted.

That’s a powerful story to share when you’re challenged by a lack of creative problem-solving! It’s clear, relatable and memorable. Best of all, the inspiring moral of the story will instill a “make it happen” attitude in your team.

Model core values

It’s no secret that the best workplace cultures are built on a strong set of values. At Dixon Schwabl, our core values are Teamwork, Respect, Integrity, Innovation, Community and Fun—and we have stories for each one that span our 32-year history.

Like the times team members have rallied to support their coworkers in need with fundraisers or dinners or you-name-it.  Or the time our CFO was caught cleaning toilets after hours because he insisted our maintenance man take his birthday off. Or the story of the Ho-Hos and Twinkies that appeared mysteriously at the front desk one day to treat the whole office (still haven’t solved that one).  Or the everything-went-wrong travel stories, including one 10-hour, van-packed, sing-along-fueled overnight drive from Chicago when all the flights were canceled to make sure a dad could get home for his daughter’s Brownie ceremony.

The details aren’t as important as the fact that these are our stories. Stories we can share with new team members and reminisce and laugh about together. I’m sure your workplace has many of its own. Tell them and share them; they capture your culture in action.

Build relationships

As a business owner or leader, stories can help remind team members that you—like everyone else—are human. For younger employees, stories can show that you, too, were once in their shoes facing similar struggles and challenges. The stories of how you overcame obstacles, solved customer challenges and met “impossible” deadlines will let team members know that you understand what they are going through.

Make sure you tell the less impressive stories as well, not just your successes. Share your failures and your missteps. It may make you feel vulnerable, but in truth, it will make you more approachable—and, ultimately, more trusted.

Entertain and celebrate

Simply put, stories are fun. Who doesn’t love a good story? Seize every chance to weave storytelling into your processes, programs and day. It keeps things interesting. If you’re explaining a new policy, updating your website or even writing a new employee handbook, liven it up with stories and anecdotes that include your core values and best practices. What better way to bring your culture to life as you onboard new team members?

Think about the phrases “inside story” and “inside joke.” When you’re in on them, it’s a great, validating feeling. You belong! You’re part of something bigger than yourself!

So beyond motivating, inspiring and educating, perhaps the most important benefit of creating and sharing workplace stories is this: It cultivates a shared sense of belonging, which can only lead to happy endings.

End of story.

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.


Make sure to show appreciation for your longtime team members

web-sig_lauren-dixon_In the business world, there’s a well-known piece of advice that reminds us to pay attention to current clients even while we’re busy pursuing new ones. It’s often posed as a warning—“Don’t ignore your existing customers by focusing all your resources on attracting new ones.”

The point is this: Strengthening your relationships with current clients is as important as (and perhaps even more important than) trying to win new ones. It’s a relevant, timeless message, and it’s something we keep in mind every day as we balance our new business efforts with serving our existing clients.

Our new business team has been going gangbusters lately, and that has caused me to reflect on the adage about nurturing our longtime relationships. At the same time, we’ve been busy recruiting, interviewing and hiring new team members. And it occurred to me that the same caveat could be applied to longtime team members.

That is, we must make sure we continue to show appreciation for our current team members even while actively pursuing new talent. It reminds me of the lyrics to a song we sang in Girl Scouts: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.”

At all costs, we want our current clients and current team members to know they are gold. We want them to continue to feel a strong sense of belonging even while we’re focused on onboarding new clients and team members. But employees may feel a little insecure if they feel you’re making changes because you want “fresh thinking” and “new blood.” Whether you’re hiring because of increased workload or because you want to shake it up and present new faces to your clients, it can scare your current team members.

So what can we do to make sure our current team members continue to feel valued and know we appreciate their work, notice their efforts and are better off because of them? Here are some tips to keep in mind and practice every day.

Look back before you go forward

Here’s another famous business adage: No one is irreplaceable. We all know it and frankly it would be a burden to think otherwise\—and a liability, as well. But that doesn’t mean people don’t offer unique skills and talents. So be sure to let team members know they add something special to your company.

One way to do this is by starting your conversations with a validating phrase that recognizes the team member’s specific talents and contributions: “You did such a great job coming up with concepts last time and this new project requires your kind of big thinking. You’re perfect for it.” “You knocked my socks off with your attention to detail in that last report. That’s why I think you’re the best one for this new detail-oriented project.”

Dare to trust

OK, so not every assignment can be a high-profile, super-creative “plum” job. And no matter the role, there are probably some responsibilities that feel like drudgery. That’s reality. So try to balance the less exciting tasks with more challenging, creative opportunities. It sends a powerful message: “I believe in you and trust you will do a great job.”

If there aren’t any of these challenging opportunities on the horizon, create some. Assign an internal company marketing project or process audit, or even the chance to mentor a new hire. This shows you value your team member’s skills and work ethic so much, you want others to emulate them.

Give singular shout-outs

Yes, we win and we lose as a team and encourage our people to be team players, but don’t be afraid to single out individuals from time to time to show you really do value their unique contributions.

For example, if a team member has done a phenomenal job for one of your clients, perhaps send them to a conference or tradeshow in the client’s industry. Or if they’ve shown an interest in or knack for a new process or program, offer to register them for an off-site training session. Or if they’ve been going above and beyond, maybe give them a gift certificate to a spa or restaurant. By doing so, you’re letting them know you’re grateful for their talents and that their contributions make a difference to you and the company.

Catch them off guard

When you give a team member an unexpected gift, it has a greater impact than a reward they may expect to get after a job well done. With the surprise, they end up feeling delighted and excited, and this feeling lasts. It can be as simple as a happy Monday or TGIF gift, or remembering their birthday, that they love sunflowers or that their child is graduating that day. Or you could thank them for showing up every day with a smile by giving them an extra day off, lunch or dinner delivery, or a gift certificate for a weekend getaway.

Be supportive of doing good

If you know a team member is involved with a community group or has a passion for a nonprofit cause, offer to support or team up with them on a fundraising or volunteer effort. It could be helping raise money or donating a portion of your profits, hosting a collection or drive on-site at your location, volunteering at or attending an event or working alongside them in the community. By joining your team member to support a cause, you show them you recognize and care about what’s important to them.

Show up and show your face

Wander around your office, stop by people’s desks, have coffee in the break room and while there, initiate individual conversations. If you know of small groups or departments that routinely have lunch or drinks together, invite yourself along once in a while if you think it would be welcome. And if a team member invites you to a personal event — whether a wedding or a child’s performance — make every effort to attend. Several of our team members perform in local bands, and Mike and I love to go out and hear them play live. It’s fun and inspiring to support their talents, and I think it means a lot to them to know we care about their passions.

Ask and listen, one-on-one

Schedule and keep regular one-on-one meetings with each team member. (I emphasize the word keep because I’ve had team members tell me their former employers routinely canceled one-on-ones, which sends a really bad message.) During these meetings, proactively ask questions about how the team member is doing and feeling, and what they think about their job and your business. Try to create an open, safe space so they will feel comfortable sharing and being honest with you. And then pay attention, listen and respond to their feedback. Take it to heart. Be sure to share your thoughts and feelings, too, because it helps build trust and deepen connections.

Make gratitude a way of life

Show your thanks and appreciation to individual team members all day long. Make a visible, audible, unmistakable expression of gratitude every time you ask someone to do something and every time they do something for you. It can be as simple as a heartfelt, face-to-face “thank you” or a handwritten thank-you note or a plain old email. Maintaining strong relationships takes time, but it’s worth it.

Foster a sense of belonging

When new team members join the company, longtime ones can feel left out. And when people feel excluded, they may start to wonder if they’re still valued or whether they still “belong.” So while you may be excited about welcoming new talent, please pay attention to your current team members. Keep an eye out for anyone who acts as if they may feel slighted or overlooked, or simply don’t seem to be fitting in anymore. Actively find ways to invite them in and encourage the entire team to continue to embrace and include each other. And continue to celebrate each other’s unique contributions, special skills and, sure, even silly quirks. You won’t regret it, I promise. Scout’s honor.

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.


Creating a psychologically safe work environment

web-sig_lauren-dixon_I’ve been thinking about “sense of belonging” lately after noticing it’s a theme that comes up frequently when I interview people for open positions. When I ask why they’re looking for a new job and what they’re looking for in a new workplace, they often say they want to work where they feel they belong, where they make a difference.

I don’t think I’m alone in hearing that comment. When it comes to attracting and retaining talent, recent studies suggest a work environment that cultivates a sense of belonging trumps one that provides perks and benefits but not a community culture. That might not surprise you. But this might: Companies with the most engaged team members, those who feel they belong to something bigger than themselves and share a strong common purpose, are more likely to be innovative—and profitable.

So what does a sense of belonging have to do with innovation and profitability? Several studies point to psychological safety. That’s right, psychological safety. It’s the key to that sense of belonging, which leads to greater innovation and productivity.

Makes sense. Team members who feel psychologically safe are more comfortable asking questions, sharing ideas, putting the group’s success above their individual ego. They’re not afraid to make mistakes, nor are they worried about being ridiculed, embarrassed or, worse, penalized for trying new things.

In his famous TED Talk “Do schools kill creativity?” Sir Ken Robinson shared a few stories that illustrate the point.

In one, a 6-year-old girl was in a drawing class and though she usually didn’t focus much on her work, one day she was quite engaged in her assignment. The teacher was fascinated. She went over and asked the girl, “What are you drawing?” And the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl said, “They will in a minute.”

In another story, Robinson talked about the time when his son, James, was 4 and played the role of Joseph in the Nativity play. You know the part where the three kings come in bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, right? Well, this time, the 4-year old boys playing the three kings switched the order they arrived, so the first said, “I bring you gold.” And the second said, “I bring you myrrh.” And the third said, “Frank sent this.”

Robinson’s point is that young kids are not afraid to take risks, chances. If they don’t know the answer, they guess. They’re not stifled by fears of being wrong or making a mistake.

The takeaway? If you’re paralyzed with worry, if you let anxiety hold you back and if you don’t prepare for the possibility of making a mistake—and give yourself permission to fail—you’ll never come up with anything original, innovative, creative.

Picasso had a similar theory: All children are born artists, and the challenge is to remain an artist as we grow up. So to be innovative and productive in our workplaces, we need to encourage that childlike, fearless idea-generating, problem-solving, solution-finding creativity.

One way to do so is by creating psychologically safe environments where people feel they belong. So they’re free to focus on their work without having to look over their shoulder all the time. Where they’re confident they can ask questions, challenge the status quo and explore ways to advance the company—and that you’ll have their back no matter how it turns out.

Easier said than done, for sure. But here are some tips to get started.

  1. Get into people’s heads. Don’t assume your team members want to be managed the way you think they want to be managed, or the way you’d want to be managed. Ask them how they work best and how you can help them work their best. How often do they want to check in with you? Would they prefer face-to-face meetings, phone calls, emails? Do they need a lot of guidance and positive feedback? How open are they to suggestions and how sensitive are they to redirection? They’ll be more willing to take risks if they can predict your response to the outcome, good or bad.
  2. Hire lifelong learners. Cultivate inquisitiveness and curiosity. People who are curious, hungry to learn and know the “why” of how things work are generally more engaged, flexible, creative and able to adapt in our fast-changing environment. While you might open yourself and your processes to questions and challenges, the result could be the discovery or invention that takes your business to the next level.
  3. Welcome and model healthy debate and conflict. This might sound risky, but it’s better than the alternative tension of hostile conflict or passive-aggressive, stewing, unspoken disagreement. So create an environment that promotes open, healthy, respectful debate. Ask questions without judgment. Review and critique the work, not the people behind it. Debate the merit of ideas, not the people who came up with them. And always keep the greater good top of mind.
  4. Hear people out. One of the best ways to build psychological safety is to make sure your team members have a place and a voice at the table, so to speak. Give them the microphone, access to senior leaders, ways to provide feedback. Engage them in conversation. This gives them the means and the confidence to speak up, challenge the way things are done, put the spotlight on issues, and offer suggestions for improving your business or the way you do business.
  5. Build trust. Trust is the foundation of a safe and productive workplace and goes a long way toward creating a sense of belonging for individual team members. To build trust, you have to earn it by being:
    • Credible: Tell the truth, admit when you’re wrong or don’t know the answer.
    • Reliable: Do what you say, keep your commitments, follow through on your promises, do your job and don’t pass it off onto others.
    • Open: Trust other people, share honestly, be transparent.
    • Welcoming and supportive: Invite and include people to participate; don’t judge or dismiss people and their ideas.
    • A good listener: Make eye contact, nod, don’t multitask when people are talking, repeat back what you’ve heard, ask clarifying questions.
  1. Prioritize people and culture as equal to, or above, financials. Sure, it might sound risky. But you’re only as good as your people, and if they feel threatened, vulnerable, intimidated, scared or insecure, they’re not going to be as productive, effective and innovative as when they feel confident and secure in their jobs and their futures. So make sure your leaders are on board with creating a psychologically safe workplace that values people more than profits. This frees your team members to focus on their work, create, innovate and put your business interests above their own.
  2. Value failure. Rather than only applaud successes, celebrate attempts, too. Give credit to those who ask questions, take risks, try new approaches, start something new and then quit in the middle. This creates an environment of trust and openness, where people are willing to share unfinished projects and big ideas that didn’t pan out without exposing themselves to ridicule, penalty or shame. Doing so might inspire others to try a new approach to the same idea or to pursue another opportunity without feeling vulnerable, knowing they have your support and confidence in their talents.

The creative process is messy

Our chief creative officer, Mark Stone, often says “the creative process is messy.” And in a psychologically safe workplace, it’s OK to be “messy.” We can talk about the messy and frustrating parts as easily as we can talk about the wins and successes. It’s all part of the bigger process, the bigger picture.

With that, I think it’s safe to sum it up like this: Psychological safety means creating a workplace culture that encourages team members to be their full selves, and to feel that their full selves fully belong in the bigger picture that is your company. And there is no safer way to secure top talent than to offer them a place where they can safely say “I belong here.”

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.



Building a culture that keeps employees engaged

web-sig_lauren-dixon_Employee engagement has been a popular topic in recent years. But what does it mean in your company? What does it look like? How do your “engaged” team members feel and behave?

Motivation is the first thing I think of when I think about employee engagement. To me, engagement and motivation go hand in hand. So if we want our team members to be engaged, we need to help them feel motivated. But how?

We can start by looking at psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Proposed in his 1943 paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Maslow suggested that all of us have certain needs: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization. He arranged these needs into a five-level pyramid and said that, from the bottom up, each must be satisfied before we can move on to greater levels of motivation.

Whether Maslow’s theory can be proven scientifically is arguable, but it does provide an insightful, intuitive perspective on motivation. To see how you might apply it to the workplace, EngagementMultiplier and EHS Safety News America have created versions of the pyramid that tie each tier to an employee mindset and level of engagement as follows:

  • Esteem/importance=Engaged: “What I do makes a difference.”
  • Love/belonging/camaraderie=Almost engaged: “I feel part of something bigger!”
  • Safety/security=Not engaged: “I’m here for the money and job security.”
  • Physiological/survival=Disengaged: “I’m only here for the money.”
  • Self-actualization=Highly engaged: “I love working here and I inspire others.”

These pyramids give us a tangible way to think about how we can help our team members realize the highest levels of motivation. But first, understand that not everyone will attain self-actualization. While a realistic goal might be for 15 percent to get there, we aim for 100 percent. Here’s how:

Physiological survival. Of course everyone needs to earn a salary that covers their food and housing. But there’s more: They need a comfortable place to work—with adjustable thermostats, windows, ergonomic furniture, convenient restrooms, quiet work spaces, kitchens, parking. Flexible working hours and other perks will keep them healthy, rested and strong. So do everything in your power to satisfy your team members’ basic needs for physical comfort and well-being.

Safety and security. To stay focused, committed and productive, team members need to feel safe and secure physically, emotionally and in their roles. In addition to precautions like well-lit parking lots and working alarm systems, be transparent about job security. When people are worried about losing their jobs, they disengage and lose interest, focus and motivation.

Love, belonging and camaraderie. On an emotional level, we need to feel we are part of something bigger than ourselves, part of a team working toward a common goal. Our Ice Cream Thursdays and birthday celebrations alone don’t drive engagement, but they do help people feel loved, and those feelings lead to greater engagement. As for the “belonging” part of this tier, share inside information, keep everyone current with the direction of your company, and hold your supervisors accountable for teambuilding so everyone feels in the know and part of the vision.

Importance and esteem. To stay motivated, team members need to believe they make a difference and that their contributions are noticed, valued and appreciated. So we’ve implemented a variety of reward programs to help us recognize each other’s hard work. Team members can give online “impressions” and physical “chips” for a job well done. And each month, we award the “Jaz Janie” honor to a team member who exemplifies our core values. Think about how you can let your team members know they play an important role in your success, and that you’re grateful.

Self-actualization. When team members feel trusted, empowered and in control, they self-actualize by sharing innovative ideas, leading, mentoring and elevating the bar for all. These highly engaged people make your mission their own. They inspire others, love the company and are loyal brand ambassadors. And it’s your job to help them get there by identifying and creating the right conditions for jumping to the next tier. By providing increasing challenges, responsibilities and opportunities for your team to stretch, grow and propel to greatness, you will build a culture that makes it possible for everyone to shine.

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.

Making a culture of making it happen

web-sig_lauren-dixon_While I would love to give young entrepreneurs a single, failproof secret to business success, I can’t do that. But what I can do is tell them this: To succeed in any venture, you have to have an incredible belief in yourself and those around you. Kind of like chutzpah.

Here’s how Mike Schwabl, our president, describes it:

“When I first met Lauren Dixon 31 years ago, it was in response to an ad she put out for someone to produce weekly half-hour TV programs. Though I was basically an unemployed photojournalist from Buffalo, when she asked, ‘Can you do it?’ I answered in a heartbeat: ‘Of course I can,’ though I’d never produced a single video in my life.

But there the Dixon Schwabl MO was born. An attitude that anything is possible and that we will do anything it takes to make it happen for our clients.”

While Mike makes it sound natural and easy, it isn’t always easy to believe in yourself and stay confident 24/7. For example, my confidence—and my leadership skill—was tested in a life-changing way when the roof of our building collapsed during a monumental snowstorm in 2001.

As a result of that fast and freak accident, we lost everything. What heavy materials, snow and ice didn’t smash, water from the sprinkler system ruined—including our computers, network and electronic records, and our agency’s entire body of printed work samples and portfolio pieces. Talk about crisis.

It was devastating. Soul-crushing, really. It took every ounce of grit to stay positive, clear-headed and strong, and to lead our team through the next four months of round-the-clock restoration and rebuilding of not only our space and our records, but also our entire company from the ground up.

But we did it. We made it happen. Even while sitting cross-legged on the floor in winter coats and hats, amidst boxes and wet furniture, managing projects and keeping the work on track and moving for our clients.

At that time, we started repeating Mike’s mantra, our agency motto, as both a chant to keep us motivated and as a celebration of each step forward in the restoration process. We make it happen.

To me, that phrase defines the unstoppable, unflappable, put-your-head-down and grit-your-teeth and never-ever-give-up can-do spirit of a successful business. And so while there is no recipe for success in business, there are ingredients: trial, error and trust. In other words, the ingredients of “We make it happen.”

You have to invest in trying and learning new things to stay relevant. You have to be willing to fail, no matter how painful. And you have to trust the people around you to give it their all and make it happen.

Thirty-one years later, that confident attitude is still at the heart and soul of all we do. It’s a recipe that’s worked pretty well for Dixon Schwabl, and it’s one I’m happy to share so we can help make it happen for you, too.

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.

Give employees the chance to share perspectives

web-sig_lauren-dixon_As a manager, it’s easy to pigeonhole team members based on what you hired them to do, and within that, what they do especially well. There’s benefit to that, of course, including the confidence of knowing your colleague has the expertise to do the work according to your standards.

While it makes sense to tap into our talent as deeply and specifically as possible, we don’t want to inadvertently lock people into their roles and departments. For one, not everyone wants to be a one-trick pony. To keep people engaged and growing, it’s a good idea to create opportunities for them to work across departments.

And beyond personal growth and job satisfaction, your clients and your business will likely benefit when your team members stretch their skill sets, share their perspectives, and gain experience and exposure in different areas of your company.

Paul Gangarossa, our public relations and content manager, social media account lead and video content developer, feels passionately about it. Here’s what he says:

“Value-add.” Much as I hate buzzwords, I’ve been thinking about that one a lot lately. People and companies alike are always hunting the mythical “value-add.” On the other side of the deal, it’s often called “the cost of doing business.” One side gives a little more—not necessarily more than is expected, but more than is paid for.

Face it, we expect a value-add, whether it’s from our day-to-day vendors or the restaurant we visit once every two years. We pay for a thing, but we expect more than just that thing. Recently, I realized this applies not just to vendors and services, but to employees. Everyone is paid to do a job, so when employees do what they’re paid to do, that’s table stakes. (Hit me for the buzzword.)

Sure, you can do a great job, but you’re still doing the thing you’re supposed to be doing. This can certainly take you a long way, and if you do it better than anyone in your building or, better yet, your field, then you’re golden, Ponyboy.

Yes, of course you should strive to do your job as well as you can, and hopefully that means it’s better than anyone else. But while you’re doing that, what’s your value-add?

I’m often asked about my career path, and my answers have gotten pretty consistent. Maybe it was living through newsroom layoffs for so long, but my goal has always been to make myself as valuable as possible while doing a great job.

This means while doing my job, I also learn how others do theirs so that when someone is sick or or otherwise unavailable, I’m in a position to help in a way someone focused only on their job description is not.

Beyond doing work—mine or others’—I demand that my value-add include my perspective. Think about it this way: When your job performance earns you a seat at the table, use it. You may be in a room with people from different departments, and you have an opportunity to add something to the conversation.

It takes time to gain the confidence to throw out an idea about how someone else could do their job, but it’s next-level value-add right there. If you can’t state it, form it as a question and own the fact that you don’t know the ins and outs of someone else’s job. At worst, it’s a learning moment where they tell you why that idea has been considered and won’t work. At best, you contributed to a new way something gets done. That’s value.

I learn what I can from the smart people in other departments and even challenge them when I can with ideas that range from 101-level stuff they left last year to “Wow, I never thought of it that way.”

Most times, it’s not a game-changer, but so what? If it shifts the conversation slightly, they could make the jump from a good idea to a great one. That’s value.

So yes, do your job and be great at it. But don’t silo (ugh) yourself from the big picture. Integrate and collaborate to foster synergy and promote efficiencies with cross-departmental benefits that impact the ROI of your career. (Groan.)

Seriously, though: The value you have is the value you add. Leverage it. (Done.)

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.

Breaking barriers for untapped talent

web-sig_lauren-dixon_Many industries, and particularly those in creative and tech fields like the advertising industry Dixon Schwabl works in, struggle to fill creative positions with women and people of color—especially creative leadership positions.

And it’s not just in the United States. In U.K. advertising agencies, women compose more than 50 percent of junior-level creative positions, but only 30 percent of creative leadership positions, according to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.

And it’s not just us agencies that are concerned about the imbalance. It’s our clients, too. In 2016, General Mills—one of the most prominent advertisers in the country—pressured its ad agencies to hire more women and people of color. They went so far as to say agencies bidding on its $700 million account should aim to staff their creative departments with at least 50 percent women and 20 percent people of color.

Their reasoning? Company executives said they wanted the people creating their marketing materials to reflect the people who use their products.

“We’ll get stronger creative work that resonates with our consumers by partnering with creative teams who understand firsthand the diverse perspectives of the people we serve,” said Kris Patton, a General Mills spokeswoman.

That same year, HP asked each of its five ad agencies to create a plan for improving the diversity of women and people of color in their agencies within a year. HP specifically highlighted creative leadership roles as an area of focus. And while it didn’t set specific goals for each ad agency, HP required them to show year-over-year improvement, or the agency’s contract could be in danger.

So clearly, the advertising industry is serious about correcting the gender and racial biases and imbalances in its creative leadership ranks.

But what are the actionable steps and relationships we need to forge to get us there? How can we start cultivating diversity in our industry?

“Finding a creative job in advertising isn’t easy, and for talented people of color, it’s even more challenging,” says Dixon Schwabl Creative Director Ann McAllister. “The time is beyond overdue to open the door—even wider if necessary—for those who’ve been passed by and overlooked for way too long.”

Seven years ago, a female ad agency creative director started the 3% Movement to raise awareness that only 3 percent of U.S. creative directors were women. The percentage is far less for people of color.

Since the 3% Movement launched its efforts—annual conferences, workshops, training and advocacy—the percentage of women in creative leadership positions has increased to 11 percent. The organization has now broadened its focus to increasing diversity.

But how? I’ve thought about what’s needed to get us there, and it’s understanding, acknowledging and personally connecting to people of color. That’s what will help break down the barriers they face.

Here are three actionable steps we can take: advocate, mentor and co-create.


This includes supporting literacy, nurturing art and representing diversity in our marketing efforts. Join or give to one of Rochester’s local organizations that fulfills a specific educational need and whose main goal is to improve our community as a whole. Volunteer where you will meet diverse individuals and form relationships. Get to know people who are different from you on a human level, and you’ll start empowering them to visualize opportunities.

Representing diversity is always top of mind in advertising. But we need to take it beyond choosing a typical stock photo of ethnically diverse talent. For example, for a TV spot we did for Roberts Wesleyan College, we asked the featured student, a woman of color, to create her own script and express her own story about Roberts—from her perspective, not ours. We wanted the spot to be real and authentic and tell a story, her story, that would appeal to all prospects universally.


Once you’ve developed a bond or connection with someone, think about ways you can give them experiences and professional connections. Give them opportunities to practice their talent and hone their skills. Invite high school students to shadow for a day or make a commitment to create an internship program that includes diversity.

The 4 A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies) started the Multi-Cultural Advertising Intern Program to give agencies access to a diverse pool of talented advertising students seeking summer internships.

Dixon Schwabl partners with East High School and Edison Tech High School Advisory Council Board to talk to classes about creative careers in our industry and offer activities such as field trips and shadow days. We also conduct tours at our office and encourage students to seek internship opportunities.

After one talented Edison student, an orphaned refugee from Honduras, came for a tour, he was so inspired he a decided to pursue a career in advertising and communication—and received a full scholarship to RIT.


A fellow Women’s Foundation board member and Monroe Community College English professor, Tokeya Graham, discovered a talented writing student at MCC, Gianni White.

Graham asked Gianni to write a poem in honor of the Women’s Foundation and perform it at a grant awards luncheon. People in the audience were so inspired by the message and artistic delivery that they requested copies of the poem. We then filmed Gianni performing the piece and it’s become the anchor for the Women’s Foundation brand.

This opportunity directly led to work for Gianni: freelance writing and podcast assignments.

Stepping back and looking at what I mean by advocate, mentor and co-create, I see it comes down to a basic equation: Compassion + Connection = More Meaningful Creativity.

Compassion is understanding how privilege, opportunity and environment directly influence one’s success in life. Diversity training helps us better understand the barriers and guides us to becoming objectively empathetic.

Connection is coming together through a common desire to thrive and seek happiness. One way to connect to people outside your circle is by joining a group with the purpose of improving the community at large. Making the effort to expand our reach, communicate and recognize talent helps spread opportunity.

Compassion and connecting are inherent in each and all of us. Through our thoughts, words and actions, we can create different conditions and possibilities. We have the power to bring about change and outcomes that are beneficial to everyone.

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.

Why weird wins in the workplace

web-sig_lauren-dixon_When I speak about workplace culture and the importance of hiring for culture fit, I’m often asked if hiring for culture fit means everyone who works at Dixon Schwabl is just like me. Ha! Not at all!

Because the last thing we want to do is fill our workplaces with clones of ourselves. And we certainly don’t want team members to think they need to conform and be exactly like everyone else if they want to succeed.

As companies have become more aware of the value and importance of diversity and risks of unconscious bias, the conversation has shifted from hiring for culture fit to hiring for “culture add.”

We want to hire for “culture add” for several reasons besides being the right thing to do. Including this one: Diverse teams are smarter. Collaborating with people with different perspectives can stretch your cognitive abilities, stimulate your brain and sharpen your thinking.

And because a bunch of like-minded people doing the “same old, same old” isn’t the path to innovation. Giving people the freedom to be themselves, think freely, try new things, take risks and accept failure as part of the discovery process is what leads to creative thinking and brilliant ideas.

Which is why at Dixon Schwabl, we encourage our team members to embrace their unique—even weird—selves.

Here’s what our creative director, Marshall Statt, has to say about it:

You’re six years old and you walk into the classroom wearing a cape, bandana on your head and snow boots. Your friends rush over to check you out—it’s a hit, you nailed the look. You confidently take your seat at the craft table and draw a dinosaur wearing a space helmet.

Fast-forward 10 years. You get on the bus wearing your finest torn jeans, a 311 shirt and shield a massive pimple on your chin. Someone yells, “311 sucks!” You look around, embarrassed, and mutter “No, you suck,” as you slump into your bus seat.

Now you’re a working professional. You step out of your car wearing company-issued khakis and a freshly ironed gingham shirt. You take your place at a small but tidy desk and check your inbox. The guy in the next cubicle is wearing the same shirt. What are the chances? Pretty good.

The point here is that we all start life with a huge supply of weird. We have wild imaginations and no restrictions on what’s possible. As we grow older, we become self-conscious. Instead of standing out, we try our best to blend in. And our supply of weird is slowly depleted until we reach a stable level called “normal.” Your weird isn’t completely gone, but it becomes difficult to access. But there’s hope for you yet.

As a creative person, I’ve seen how this trend kills creativity. We often fall into the trap of tackling creative problems in the most boring and expected ways, and the results are just as boring and expected. So how do you tap into your weird and approach your creative work (and maybe your life) from a fresh perspective? Here are a few ways:

  1. Your first ideas are the worst ideas

Your brain keeps the boring stuff on the surface—you have to dig deeper for the gold. Try approaching the problem from the most absurd angles possible (e.g., dino in space helmet). Ask for outside perspectives or walk away from the problem for an hour, a day, a week. Most of my best ideas hit me when I’m not actually thinking about the project.

  1. Fail hard and often

Doing great work requires big risks and a healthy amount of naivety. You learn nothing from playing it safe and doing the expected. Get into the practice of scaring yourself, change up your routine, try something new. All the great minds of our time have quirks that get them into the right mindset to create. Find yours.

  1. Be yourself

You are the worst person in the world at not being yourself. Be confident in who you are and have an opinion. Understand your strengths and, more important, your weaknesses. It’s OK to lean on others who excel where you don’t—because guess what? At some point, they’ll need the same from you.

4. Pull from experience

What you lack in not being a six-year-old you make up for in life experience. Your travels, music tastes, hobbies and generally all the things you love in life combine to create your unique perspective. Don’t ignore it. Instead, use it to create something new and different—and repeat. Creative thinking takes practice. Whether we’re talking about you or a brand, creativity is only creative if it truly stands out. If your brand is wearing the same shirt as the brand sitting next to you, it’s not a coincidence. It’s a sign that you’ve gotta find your weird.

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.