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Being a Great Place to Work Makes Us Even Greater copy

DEI + Culture / 9.7.22 / By Mark Stone

It’s human nature to love a win. Our DS+CO team was psyched to win 18 American Advertising Awards earlier this year. Thrilled to land 11 PRisms honoring excellence in public relations. And don’t even get me going on the DS+CO fantasy football league, our Kicks’N’Schwabl&Co kickball team, our annual chili cookoff and pumpkin carving contest, paper airplane challenge and pet superlatives. You get the point.

So when we learned that DS+CO is #18 on the Great Place to Work list, there were high-fives all around. It’s a huge honor—and one that’s not easy to earn. We’ve had the good fortune of being included on the list 15 times, and we’ve never taken it for granted. But the most valuable part of those Great Place to Work wins is the gold we discover in the organization’s survey, because it helps us shape an even better workplace.

As awesome as it is to make the cut, getting there—especially this year—required us to challenge ourselves in new ways. To understand what would help create a place people are attracted to, engaged with and want to stay at during a time of so much change.

Here are some of the highlights of how we’ve built our amazing team and, just as important, how we keep them happy. Because let’s face it: Happy people create the best work, and the best work is what helps drive our clients’ businesses. Win-win.

Tune In

The open-ended feedback we hear in the Great Place to Work survey has taught us just how important listening is. That includes comments about how our management team provides a forum for our people to have a voice. Each time we’re able to act on employee input, we build a connection and bolster trust. And those qualities are at the heart of a strong relationship that can ultimately lead to loyalty, retention and high job satisfaction.

Even though the survey responses are anonymous, it’s easy to see themes bubbling up. It helps us identify which areas to focus on and gives us the guidance we need to dig in, learn more and find ways to make improvements. It also highlights the things people are responding to in a positive way, reinforcing decisions that are working.

Real Empowerment

Give someone the chance to own a project and contribute ideas that improve the final outcome, and you’ll see someone who’s engaged and fulfilled in their work. That concept is firmly woven into DS+CO’s DNA. We’ve seen people rise to the occasion so many times that it’s become the norm. That isn’t the case in many workplaces, but if you’re willing to empower, trust and even help someone stretch, you’re going to see their very best. We all want to know we’re more than a cog in a machine and that our work is making a meaningful impact.

One of the best parts of my job is when someone describes a specific situation where they moved outside their comfort zone, overcame their fear and succeeded. That’s a story that plays out over and over throughout the Great Place to Work survey, and it demonstrates that empowered people embrace being pushed to grow. Not only is it fantastic to witness, but it contributes to a strong team.


If there’s one thing the pandemic taught us, it’s that change is inevitable. What people were thinking about last year could be—and probably is—different than what will help create a better workplace today. It takes continual self-reflection, innovation and being open-minded about what your business and employees need. That means not getting stuck.

For the past two years, DS+CO has been designing and redesigning our workflow system, transforming it into an agile process. To call it a journey would be an understatement. But rather than being rigid about these changes, we’ve provided the opportunity for employees to share their feedback on what’s working and what isn’t, and we’re able to incorporate adjustments as needed—from small tweaks all the way to complete overhauls.

We’ve used a combination of the Great Place to Work survey and periodic internal check-ins as a guide to help us understand what people really think. Believe me, they don’t hold back—and it’s been an invaluable tool. For this type of feedback to have the biggest impact, leadership needs to harness the information and make quick decisions that point our team in the right direction.

Rethinking Flexibility

We’ve learned that flexibility is key to keeping our workforce engaged. We thought we knew all about flexibility—until we discovered we really didn’t. Of all the open-ended responses from Great Place to Work survey, this was one topic that came up again and again.

DS+CO employees made it clear they’re looking for a high level of flexibility. That means having a choice of where they work. Some people like to be in the office. Some want to be entirely at home. And there are plenty of people in between. There are even team members who’ve traveled and worked while on the road.

The survey also taught us that there’s value in giving people the flexibility to time-shift when they work. Maybe they could use a couple of hours during the day for other needs and are more efficient working in the evening when they have fewer interruptions. If it’s planned for, it’s entirely possible for projects to continue moving without disruption.

What we’ve found is that people have been accountable, and productivity has remained high despite not requiring someone to be in the office during a typical 9-5 day.

Let’s be honest: Exceptional talent has so many choices of where and how to work, including remote opportunities. Your competition is coming from everywhere. Why lower your chances of hiring and retaining the very best if you can avoid that by leaning into flexibility?

Maintain a High Bar

We share inspirational work with each other to celebrate our passion for the craft. We love to see employees getting a little jealous of—and inspired by—high-quality work someone else made. It keeps the fire burning to push even harder and make something meaningful. That’s true for creativity as much as it is for an amazing media placement or an unexpected strategy. Great work is great work. The more we can create and get out into the world, the more new opportunities present themselves.

Through the Great Place to Work survey, we regularly see comments expressing pride in being able to work at an agency so committed to doing high-quality work. We know that if we suddenly changed our philosophy to one that was more focused on churn-and-burn with lower quality and more volume, we’d alienate some of our highest-performing stars. Supremely talented people quickly discover what a business is committed to and decide if they’ll come along on the journey. Those are the people we’re always looking for—and they’re the ones who end up making great team members.

A Mission for Better

If you’re reading this and working at a place that values your input and ideas sounds like you, or if you’re a client who believes your work will benefit from a happy and engaged team, we’d love to talk to you.

What strategies have you learned to help keep your best employees engaged and happy? Let’s keep the conversation going @dixonschwabl or drop me a note at

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Mark Stone

Mark’s creativity and energy inspire his DS+CO team to bring big ideas. And that when talent is nurtured well, it’s time to get out of the way and watch it grow. With 25+ years in an industry that never stands still, Mark knows that mixing innovative ideas, strong copy, eye-catching design and the right technology results in creative that connects with consumers in meaningful ways. He’s worked with local and national brands, including Wegmans, Ford, Xerox and ESL, and has led teams to more than 100 major creative awards, including the D&AD Pencil, multiple ADDY Best of Shows, and district, regional and national ADDYS, as well as work that's been published in Ad Age, Print, PDN, Graphis, HOW Design and Communication Arts. Mark lends his time to Causewave Community Partners, an organization that helps nonprofits tackle issues throughout our community, and is a member of Causewave's WB Potter Society.