It all started with a TED talk. This TED talk to be exact.

In the summer of 2017, Carson Group’s leadership and culture team unveiled a RISE (Rejuvenate, Inspire, Serve, Evolve) series focused on personal development. Stakeholders were gathered, snacks were purchased and the aforementioned video featuring former Excell keynote Dan Pink was played for the audience. The original intention was to spark a discussion on intrinsic motivators – it turns out, it sparked much more.

About thirteen and a half minutes in, Pink relays a story about FedEx days. In no way connected to the company from which the name is hailed, FedEx days refer to software developer Atlassian’s push to inspire creativity and autonomy from within. A couple of times a year, their engineers are given 24 hours to work on ANYTHING they want, but they must deliver an idea/product aimed at company improvement overnight (hint: this is why they are called FedEx days).

The result at Atlassian: Innovation.

The response at Carson Group: Why not us?

RISE Innovation

Fast forward to this past summer. The same team who planned the initial RISE series spent a year strategizing how to bring this type of brainstorming event to Carson Group. Ultimately, they decided to host a special competition at the inaugural Carson Days retreat.

Here’s how it worked:

Every stakeholder in the company had one month to submit their idea(s) to enhance our current processes or push Carson Group to the next level. In total, 36 participants put forward 53 submissions, encompassing every area of both the retail and advisor-facing sectors.

Following the deadline, a judging panel consisting of four members from the Executive team, two stakeholders and one Carson Wealth client met to select the top 13 entries. These 13 were invited to prepare a three-minute presentation for the panel, where they would also be subject to a Q&A session. Taking into account four lenses – stakeholder engagement, business efficiency, client experience and advisor experience – the judges then chose ten individuals/groups to move on to the final round.

Carson Days

For the first time in company history, Carson Days brought together stakeholders from all over the country. Featuring an interdepartmental bike-building contest for charity, an all-team meeting on the status of the enterprise, a presentation by guest speaker Colonel Arthur Athens, an after-hours reception with dueling pianos and more, the purpose of this event was to promote stakeholder collaboration and unity within the Carson family. Coincidentally, it also presented the perfect opportunity to showcase the amazing talent at Carson Group.

On Friday morning, the ten finalists had five minutes to wow the judges and their peers. Each individual/group took the floor and described how their idea would impact the company and what resources they’d need to accomplish their goal.

With a grand prize of $2500 on the line, it came time for the judges to vote on the winner. After three rounds of vetting, however, they felt a connection to each idea and found it increasingly difficult to reach a consensus. Knowing they needed to choose just one idea to bring to fruition, the judges quickly pivoted. During a 10-minute recess, they opened a poll which allowed all stakeholders to vote on the submission they liked best.

And the Winner is…

Although a close race, first place was awarded to trading specialist Jeff Harris. Inspired by his own interest in the M&A space, Jeff suggested Carson create a project board which would allow stakeholders to explore opportunities available outside of their department. In his proposal, he explained how workers could use this resource to gain experience and knowledge beyond their wheelhouse, ultimately building their resume and rounding out their experience. The types of activities he envisioned being a part of this “Craigslist for Carson” ranged from sitting in on meetings to shadowing workers and even taking on small assignments.

One of the many reasons Jeff’s idea rose to the top spot was because it resonated with many stakeholders’ personal career paths. It’s not uncommon for stakeholders to take on a role and later realize their skills (and dreams!) may also be valuable in another area of the business. The project board would allow these stakeholders to easily share their talents outside of their current position, with the encouragement and support of the company.

In another surprising move, the judges decided to give every member of the top ten $2500, the original grand prize. For securing the win, Jeff was rewarded $5000 and the chance to see his idea come to life in 2019.

A Look Ahead

With the success of the first ever RISE Innovation contest, the leadership and culture team plan to make this a recurring event. Not only did this competition reflect the importance Carson Group places on being forward-thinking, it also demonstrated the value of each and every voice within the organization.

It may have started with a simple TED talk, but it has become a new tradition – a way to bring groundbreaking, trailblazing transformation to Carson Group, one innovative idea at a time.


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