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Hi.

Welcome to my blog on company culture! I’m traveling the country visiting companies with great workplace cultures and writing about them. Why? Find out here.

Julia Kortberg

julia@touringwithpurpose.com

Skidmore Studio: The Creative Studio that Starts their Week in the Kitchen & Ends it in the Family Room

Skidmore Studio: The Creative Studio that Starts their Week in the Kitchen & Ends it in the Family Room

SKIDMORE STUDIO AT A GLANCE

Founded: 1959 by Leo Skidmore and John Sahration. Back then, Skidmore Studio was a world-class illustration studio for the Big Three car companies, plus major brands like McDonald’s and Ski-Doo. Today the company is led by recent owner and President, Drew Patrick. Located in downtown Detroit, the studio specializes in crafting brand strategy, design, and messaging for companies in the business of food and fun.

Employees: 16 | Revenue: $3.0M

Core Purpose: To create the extraordinary.

Core Values: Be Creative. Challenge. Team. Enjoy. Integrity. Communication. Details. 

Community: Skidmore Studio does pro-bono work for local nonprofits, including Eastern Market.

LET THE TOUR BEGIN

I arrived at Skidmore Studio in downtown Detroit and started the day with a tour of their gorgeous studio. Imagine large open spaces with big windows surrounding the office in prime real estate (a deal they got long before it was cool to move your business to downtown Detroit). It is equipped with a beautiful kitchen, “family room,” all-glass meeting spaces, and open-desk working environment.

Their office is decorated with their 59-year history. Rich illustrations painted on the wall pay homage to their beginnings as an illustration studio, and in more their more recent history, and a  “Tim Wall” honoring their former CEO and Owner, Tim Smith, after he passed away unexpectedly earlier this year. Tim led the company from 2010 – 2018 and brought his colleague and friend, (now owner) Drew Patrick on as CFO.

According to team members, Tim and Drew cared about creating a great place to work from the beginning: quickly establishing a company purpose and core values to center their culture. However, like many good things, it took time and some hard lessons learned before they uncompromisingly lived the values out.  

While there’s no doubt that Tim’s passing has made 2018 a difficult year, after speaking with 40% of their 16-member staff, it’s clear that they feel more like a family than ever. Here’s what I learned:

MAIN TAKEAWAYS

  1. Start the Week in the Kitchen: Weekly Monday Standup

Every Monday, Skidmore Studio begins the week with a standup meeting in their kitchen. The purpose of the group meeting is to start the week off on the right foot: celebrate wins, provide updates on the studio, generate positive energy, as well as what to look forward to this week. To increase engagement and promote leadership opportunities, a different team member leads the meeting every week.

The weekly standup always kicks off with either a game, icebreaker, or question for team members to think about. These icebreakers are a great way for team members to get to know each other outside of the office individuals, as they almost never have to do with work. 

After the ice breaker, the meeting follows a relatively standard format, with the opportunity for everyone to participate:

  • Culture Shout Outs – How have team members lived the values?

  • Creative Wins – What has been going well creatively?

  • Client Wins – Any new business to celebrate? Examples of when a team member went above and beyond for a client (if not shared in culture shout outs).

  • Studio Updates – Any news to share about the studio?

  • Celebrations – Opportunity to celebrate any birthdays, anniversaries and anything extraordinary with a wheel spin (more on this momentarily).

Starting the week off on a high note sets the tone for the rest of the week. Rewarding and recognizing team members for their creative, client, and core-value wins reinforces company values and promotes a culture of positivity. Ultimately, the Monday weekly standups keep team members on the same page and provides everyone the opportunity to lead the meeting, with their own creative spin (literally).

2. Celebrating with Wheel Spins

Whenever a team member has a birthday, a work anniversary, or does something above and beyond for a customer or team member in service of a core value, they get to spin the wheel and win whatever prize it lands on.

The wheel consists of variety of fun things, including: beer, wine, liquor of choice, free hotel night, tasting menu dinner for two, cooking class for two, $50.00 cash money, $200 cash money, $1,000 cash money, $100 self-care, free vacation day, tickets for two to see a show of choice, pair of regular season game tickets, fresh kicks (shoes) and so on.

Team members love it.  “It’s a really great way to boost morale,” said HR & Accounting team member, Janet Edwards.

Skidmorvians (Skidmore Studio team members) estimate that someone spins the wheel at least once a week. The wheel is another great way to keep core values top of mind, and to help team members feel appreciated and recognized for their contributions to the company.

3. Friday Wrap Ups: In the “Family Room”

Skidmore Studio starts their week in the kitchen and ends it in the “family room” —  the small carpeted area in the front of the studio with couches, just big enough for everyone to gather around together.

The purpose of the meeting is to get a pulse from everyone on how the week went and to give team members the opportunity to share any challenges, concerns, and ultimately, leave their work at the studio before going into the weekend.

The format of the meeting is three simple questions that have had a powerful impact:

1)    How did the week go?

2)    Were you able to do your best work?

3)    Did you have fun doing it along the way? Scale 1-10 (talk about this)

“If someone says they are a seven there is an issue,” said Operations Director, Lauren Terey. “It used to be if whoever started out was a high number, everyone would be a high number, but now this has changed, people are more open.”  

Lauren accredits team members’ willingness to openly share to their core value of “challenge.” When a team member who has had a hard week says that they are a higher number, others will challenge them and ask, “Are you sure about that?” Maintaining a level of curiosity has helped Skidmorvians to share more openly with one another.

 “At the minimum, team members feel heard”, said Lauren. Furthermore, if a team member shares something at the end of the week that they need additional support with, or is concerning, leadership makes it a point to chat with them afterwards or at the beginning of the following week. Following up also provides team members with additional support and builds a trusting environment. 

These Friday Wrap Up meetings have had an instrumental impact on team members’ well-being and productivity. By leaving their work behind on Friday, they are able to use the weekend to fully recharge and return on Monday ready to hit the ground running. Additionally, these Friday meetings have contributed to building a trusting environment, where team members can openly share and support one another.

4. Celebrating Major Work Anniversaries with Friends and Family

When I asked HR & Accounting team member, Janet Edwards, what her favorite memory of working at Skidmore Studio was over the last 40 years, she smiled and shared the story of her 40th anniversary party.

Janet had always wanted to go to Hawaii, so when she walked into work on her 40th anniversary and saw a Hawaii-themed decorated office, a man playing the Ukulele, and her colleagues dressed up for a luau, she was shocked. To add to her surprise, her husband and two grown children were also in attendance. Janet recalled how touched she was to know that her “work family” had taken to the time to call and arrange with her immediate family. The final surprise, a dream come true: a roundtrip voucher for her to fly to Hawaii.

“I thought I would get a watch,” laughed Janet. “But instead, they threw me a luau.” – Janet Edwards, Team Member

 Another great story of a Skidmorvian celebration is when CEO Drew Patrick became the owner of Skidmore Studio on October 1st of this year.  “The first day that I owned the studio, I had no expectations. I remember thinking as I was driving to the studio, ‘Oh man, I should have prepared something to say’ and I hadn’t,” said Drew. He didn’t think that the transaction of becoming an owner would be a big deal internally because he had been running the studio for some time. Little did he know, that the entire team had planned a Presidential Party for him (Drew is a presidential history buff). The party was complete with American Flags, bunting decorations, and a trumpeter who played “Hail to the Chief” when he arrived. To Drew’s surprise, his parents, brother, and sister-in-law were also there. “When I came in, I had zero expectation that something was going to happen and then this amazing experience happened. I felt so cared for and it was wholly representative of what I wanted to be a part of it. That was the most fulfilled I ever felt in a work setting,” said Drew.  

“When I came in, I had zero expectation that something was going to happen and then this amazing experience happened. I felt so cared for and it was wholly representative of what I wanted to be a part of it. That was the most fulfilled I ever felt in a work setting,” – Drew Patrick, President & Owner

These are just two examples of many where Skidmore Studio has honored team members with special themed parties. Other highlights include bringing in rescued bunnies from a petting zoo for a team member who is obsessed with bunnies, to filling a little red wagon with books and supplies for a soon-to-be mom. These personalized celebrations can only come from a company who knows more about their team members than their professional life and who willingly goes out of their way to show that they care. As Drew shared, “We do a lot to think about the people who are here, not just the business that we do.”

 IN CONCLUSION

One of the things I admire most about Skidmore Studio is that they never lose sight of who they are holistically. This is apparent in how they honor their 59-year rich history—especially this most recent year – when they talk about who they are today. For example, to ensure that former CEO and Owner, Tim Smith’s, legacy lives on, they don’t shy away from talking about him. Instead, they choose to share stories about him and his contributions to the company to new hires throughout the hiring and on-boarding process, as well as through their “Tim Wall.” Owner & President, Drew Patrick remembers wondering when Tim passed whether team members would leave – no one did. They stuck together and grew stronger together. This is also in large part because they care about each other holistically as people, beyond their professional lives. This is of course evident in many small ways and in how they start every week together in the kitchen and end it together in the family room.

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