“We want Kudos back!” How a Utah Advertising Agency Built their Dream Culture

Recognition

May 7, 2021

Margaux Morgante

X min

6 min

What began as a single car dealership in 1979 run by Larry H. and Gail Miller, has grown into one of the largest privately-owned companies in the United States. The group’s primary mission is “To Enrich Lives.”

Utah advertising agency uses Kudos to build a culture of recognition that each team member feels as soon as they walk through the office doors.
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Table of Contents

Client Profile

Company Name: Saxton Horne Communications

Industry: Marketing, Advertising

Head Office: Sandy, Utah

Kudos Champion: David Blain, President

Key Takeaways:

  • Culture is a strategy (good cultures can overcome bad times)
  • Systems create consistency (from manual and once a year to online and all the time)
  • Live your values (from words on a wall to everyday actions) 
  • Measure what you want to manage, and listen to your team (from assuming all is good to knowing where you need to focus) 

“We want Kudos back!” How a Utah advertising agency listened to their employees and built the culture of their dreams

“That’s the most fun I’ve had all day!” is what David Blain, President of Utah-based advertising agency Saxton Horne Communications, wants to hear from his clients after every meeting. Blain also loves to hear: “I want to work at Saxton Horne; you guys have more fun than anyone!” The latter is arguably much harder to achieve and has been on Blain’s mind, and to-do list for years.

Saxton Horne Communications is part of the LarryH. Miller Group of Companies, which includes more than 80 businesses located throughout the western United States. The Larry H. Miller Group of Companies has subsidiaries in automotive, entertainment, finance, auto insurance, real estate, health care, and philanthropy. What began as a single car dealership in 1979 run by Larry H. and Gail Miller, has grown into one of the largest privately-owned companies in the United States. The group’s primary mission is “To Enrich Lives,” and their vision is simple — to be “the best place in town to work and the best place in town to do business.”

About five years ago, Blain and his team sat down to develop a plan to take the agency’s culture to the next level, in part to live out that broader vision.

A culture of recognition is one where everyone’s contributions are celebrated and appreciated regularly.

“The conclusion that we came to was that you could just let culture happen and be what it is, or you can intentionally create it,” said Blain. “And we decided that we were going to create a culture of recognition.”

As a first initiative, the team decided to start Thank You Week. The idea behind Thank You Week was to celebrate Saxton Horne’s people over the course of a week every year. They would bring in lunch everyday and give everyone Friday afternoon off.

The thoughtful recognition component was even more powerful; every day, employees were asked to write five thank you cards to someone they didn’t typically work with. Every morning of Thank You Week, employees would come in to find thoughtful notes on their desks.

Another year, the leadership team wrote a thank you note to their colleague's spouses and significant others, thanking them for supporting their partner in what they did for the company. 

The Saxton Horne team experienced the power of recognition every year during that week, and soon realized that they needed to expand the initiative beyond just 5 days per year. David Blain knew the solution — he called Kudos. He knew about the Kudos platform during his previous work with an organization that used it. He recognized that to build the culture he wanted, he needed a robust system in place to create a great, measurable culture.

Sometimes, implementing new software can raise brows. Still, Kudos was welcomed with open arms by the Saxton Horne team. The energy and sentiment of Thank You Week recreated daily through recognition messages, flowing between employees and leadership. 

There were even some unexpected benefits of Kudos:

  • Foster inclusion through the built-in analytics
  • Outline the frequency of recognition between employees
  • Observe patterns, like who might be looked over or left out

Then, in the early spring of 2020, The COVID-19 pandemic hit

Unsure of what would happen to their business, David laid off staff, reduced salaries, and cut costs wherever possible — all with a heavy heart.

Unfortunately, that meant software programs like Kudos had to go.

And while the guilt of layoffs and salary cuts weighed heavily on management as the whole world watched the pandemic escalate, something unexpected happened at Saxton Horne.

While everyone on the team was working remotely, there was one resounding message coming from staff to David and the leadership team: “Bring Kudos back.” And that’s precisely what they did. 

“Before our hiatus,” said Blain. “We didn’t entirely recognize how important Kudos was.” The pause from Kudos showed David and the team at Saxton Horne that everybody loved the platform.

“You want to see if something works? Take it away and see what happens,” joked Blain.“We took away Kudos, and they protested — that told us it was worth a lot.” 

Essentially, the culture of recognition designed by the company’s leaders was lacking without Kudos.

David Blain, President of Saxton Horne Communications

Now back in action, Kudos is the responsibility of Saxton Horne’s “Culture Club”

The club was formerly known as the party committee before David heard Boy George’s Karma Chameleon on his way to work one day and was immediately inspired to change the name. The Culture Club’s mandate is simple — build culture. Made up of people from each department in the agency, they are responsible for managing and implementing all culture initiatives, including managing and running programs through Kudos. 

The impact of Kudos has been significant, especially with the majority of the company working remotely. While other tools are used strictly for business purposes, Saxton Horne uses Slack and Kudos as connection points for the team. Most Kudos recognition messages are sent through Slack using the Kudos integration.

“Just like Kudos was an extension of Thank You Week, it’s also an extension of the connection our team would experience in the office. It creates the conversational, non-formal culture that we want,” said Blain.

And as for the famous Thank You Week that started it all? It’s still going strong, and this year, assuming the pandemic continues to improve in the U.S., it will coincide with many Saxton Horne employees returning to the office. 

About Kudos

Kudos is an employee engagement, culture, and analytics platform, that harnesses the power of peer-to-peer recognition, values reinforcement, and open communication to help organizations boost employee engagement, reduce turnover, improve culture, and drive productivity and performance. Kudos uses unique proprietary methodologies to deliver essential people analytics on culture, performance, equity, and inclusion, providing organizations with deep insights and a clear understanding of their workforce.

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