PSA Scraps Formal Awards Ceremony for Something More Fun

Posted in: News

Most of us associate insurance and financial services companies with dark suits and blazers, pie charts and bar graphs. In large part, that description fits the bill.

You might be surprised to learn, though, that each winter at PSA, we set aside our gap analyses and cost models to play the parts of rock stars, movie stars, and sci-fi characters. There was the year Chip Lewis, PSA’s managing director, arrived as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the year Frank Giachini, our senior vice president of operations, showed up as The Jersey Shore’s Snookie.

A long way from the formalities of the financial sector, the creative costumes and elaborate acting by normally relatively conservative folks is the hallmark of our company’s annual PSA Kickoff, an event through which we honor our staff, celebrate our successes, and generate excitement for a new year. Culture matters a great deal at PSA. So does taking time to unwind and play — and to bond over something other than dashboard analytics.

Many awards ceremonies base accolades solely on sales metrics, but PSA Kickoff celebrates all sides of the business, not just those that generate revenue. This past year, we gave awards for outstanding customer service, awards for culture, awards for years of service, and even awards for using Salesforce.com. We also named a social media star — and honored sales made by both salespeople and other staff members.

Yet PSA’s awards ceremony didn’t start this way. It used to be the traditional sea of blue blazers, white tablecloths, presentations, and plaques. In 2007 PSA decided to mix in some fun by playing TV game shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Weakest Link. The games were a hit, and something magical simmered beneath the surface, with staff members reminiscing over the fun for months on end.

So the fun and games continued, evolving the next year into an event centered on the 2010 Winter Olympics (Vancouver). In lieu of custom engraved plaques, employees took home Olympic medals in faux gold, silver, and bronze. They cheered each other on in a long-distance ski jump competition, performed not soaring high over Whistler Mountain but right here at PSA, on a Wii Fit.

The next years brought bigger and better events. One year was the music-themed PSA Palooza. Then came PSA Goes Hollywood, followed by a Back to the Future-themed event created especially for PSA’s 85th anniversary. For this one, staff members dressed as icons of the past nine decades, showing up as The Kardashians, Ronald Regan, Lucille Ball, Pac Man, and the Harlem Globetrotters.

Our most recent kickoff event took place last month and featured a Saturday Night Live theme. Departments created and performed their own SNL-inspired skits, with a PSA twist. Staff members took the assignment seriously, and came up with some seriously-funny scripts.

Their hard work and practice made for an incredibly entertaining afternoon, during which our team performed some of the funniest Saturday Night Live skits ever to air — featuring Weekend Update, Pumping Up with Hans and Franz, The Coneheads, Sally O’Malley, Jingleheimer Junction and, of course, lots of Debbie Downer references.

These events are a rollicking good time — and do far more than a formal ceremony could ever do for our employee engagement and morale. It’s easy, in financial services, to go through each day with our guards up. This event makes it OK to let our guards down. It also serves as an authentic team-building exercise, bringing employees together who might not cross paths that often, and presenting a side of them the company rarely, if ever, sees.

What does the PSA Kickoff mean to our employees, personally? Here’s what some of my colleagues say.

Becky Barth

Systems Trainer Administrator

“Getting everyone in the same room, having a great time is a huge motivator. Though I work with just about everyone in the building, the event brings us closer. Ultimately, it’s a great celebration of our successes and a fantastic way to pump us up for the next year.”

Joel Ellis

Commercial Lines Account Manager

“I’ve never seen a corporate kickoff like this one. The PSA Kickoff gets everyone going and gives the entire company, regardless of your role, a chance to participate if they want. We have fun, get awards, pick up words of wisdom, and leave feeling motivated to make this year the best ever.”

Angela Purdum

Communications Consultant, Employee Benefits

“I’m fairly new to PSA and was pleasantly surprised to see a sizable company in the financial industry host events like the PSA Kickoff. It gives us a great chance to take a break from the day-to-day and let loose as a whole organization, and it lets me put names to faces and see people’s personalities in an entirely new way.”

Craig Routson

Senior Vice President & Team Leader, PSA Risk Solutions

“Other kickoffs and award ceremonies for companies in the financial industry involve hours of slide presentations interspersed with speeches — not what I call exciting. PSA intersperses this information with games and skits that bring us out of our shell and let us have fun. The entire staff feels invested and engaged, and for this year’s kickoff, especially, the lampooning of our staff was truly unforgettable.”

We’re not a company that is going to put in ping pong tables and ride mountain bikes in the office, but we are going to do things to get our employees engaged in their work and with each other. It doesn’t matter what department you work in or what position you hold — these events are an all-out good time. Our marketing director, Justin Hoffman, may have put it best when he said, “We work hard all year, and this event is a highlight, reminding us not to take ourselves so seriously in a field that takes itself very seriously. It’s a true morale builder.”

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