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Teddy Heidt of ‘The Gauge Collective’: “Champion learning and growth”

Champion learning and growth. Showing up for work is one thing, but growing in your role is another. I find employees value educational opportunities that allow them to develop their skillset and improve in their everyday work. As a part of our onboarding with new clients, we participate in “immersion” experiences that give our team […]

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Champion learning and growth. Showing up for work is one thing, but growing in your role is another. I find employees value educational opportunities that allow them to develop their skillset and improve in their everyday work. As a part of our onboarding with new clients, we participate in “immersion” experiences that give our team members firsthand interaction with a brand from an inside perspective. Not only does this allow them to understand the nuances of the brand, but it places them in an unknown environment where they are learning and adapting to the atmosphere around them.


As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Teddy Heidt, Founder & Creative Officer, The Gauge Collective.

With over ten years of professional experience in advertising, marketing and media, Teddy continues to find excitement and passion in creativity. While working for brands like The Walt Disney Company and Protein Bar Restaurants, he brought his passions to life developing custom and authentic marketing programs that are unique, powerful and successful. Today, he oversees The Gauge Collective’s day-to-day support of brands big and small in developing a social and digital strategy that is unique to them. When he’s not rolling up his sleeves or behind the camera, you can find Teddy exploring the amazing food and wine scene in Chicago, relaxing with his husband Ryan and two cats, Gus and Rafa, and finding new series and documentaries to binge on Netflix.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My professional background has always been a bit entrepreneurial but with a focus on digital marketing, specifically social media. Fresh out of college, I got my feet wet working for The Walt Disney Company, focusing on their Radio Disney and Disney Online divisions. Then I moved to Chicago to immerse myself in the culinary world, including a stint in culinary school. I jumped on board at Protein Bar Restaurants as the brand scaled from 2 units to 20 and helped to build their digital marketing and social efforts over time. After almost four years with the company, I took the leap to build a powerhouse freelance community that challenges the traditional notion of an agency partner by delivering efficient, affordable and highly creative work.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

What I find the most interesting is the level of talent we’ve been able to tap into in the freelance community. I initially had no idea if a concept like this would be appealing to creative freelancers, but we are now a team of 12, including myself, and I’m so proud of the growth we’ve seen in just under three years of existence.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

How can I choose just one? I will say this: we have the opportunity to work with a lot of emerging and growing brands, and I’d say that is the most exciting part of our day-to-day. Getting to grow alongside a brand and watch them succeed is astonishing.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

I think a lot of it has to do with the generational shifts that are occurring in the workforce, and the lag in the adaptation by brands, offices, etc. The traditional 9–5 is no more, and I believe a lot of people are finding themselves stuck in a rut with very little differentiation in their day-to-day. I’ll use our organization as an example: we are tapping into the fast-growing freelance population and recognize that many workers, specifically Millennials, want to call the shots when it comes to their day-to-day work, environment and schedule. I continue to encounter more creatives going the freelance route because it allows them flexibility, independence and the ability to focus on their core strengths, without being bothered by all of the other diversions that can arise in a traditional work setting.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

From experience, it negatively impacts all of the above. An unhappy employee is disengaged, which leads to a significant decrease in productivity, thus impacting profitability and growth. And, having experienced burnout in a traditional office setting, an environment in which you are unhappy negatively impacts your mental and sometimes physical health. All in all, it’s a lose-lose for everyone involved.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

  1. Champion learning and growth. Showing up for work is one thing, but growing in your role is another. I find employees value educational opportunities that allow them to develop their skillset and improve in their everyday work. As a part of our onboarding with new clients, we participate in “immersion” experiences that give our team members firsthand interaction with a brand from an inside perspective. Not only does this allow them to understand the nuances of the brand, but it places them in an unknown environment where they are learning and adapting to the atmosphere around them.
  2. Foster transparency and mindful relationships. Communication is everything. The relationships you foster with your team, as well as the support you provide in helping your team foster relationships among themselves, is crucial to maintaining high engagement, creativity and output. When everyone feels supported and valued, you make great strides.
  3. Allow your team to thrive within their zone of genius. This is huge for us at the Collective. Every freelancer has a lane within which they thrive, and their work stays within the lane always. Having worked in atmospheres ranging from start-ups to agencies, both big and small, I’ve noticed what can happen when an employee is pulled in too many directions. Allow your team to strengthen their talents in the space that is truly their genius, and the work completed will continue to improve and exceed expectations.
  4. Provide insight into an employee’s impact. All of our freelancers understand how and when our business grows, and each is capable and incentivized to help us in this growth. When an employee understands their physical impact on a business’ bottom line, they are more engaged and fully committed to the work at hand.
  5. Hire for fit. This is probably the one area I put the most emphasis on when we are looking for new creatives to join the team. Talent, skillset and experience are important, but an individual’s ability to fit within and help strengthen your culture is huge. Sure, we are a fully remote organization, but our “virtual” culture is important day-to-day, and we want to hire freelancers that not only have an amazing background but also will help strengthen our group and the creative synergy that keeps us going.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

As a culture, we are too obsessed with the rules. While they may have a place within an organization, I find that things like office hours, dress codes, etc. become looming clouds that can ultimately take away from an employee’s overall experience with a company. I believe we need to shift our focus to creating cultures that value learning and development, so individuals are able to not only deliver the work they are hired to do, but also grow in their role professionally and personally.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I would classify my leadership under compassionate collaboration. I may be driving the bus, but I understand and truly value the work, expertise and insight of those on the vehicle with me. I place a heavy emphasis on having constructive and collaborative conversations with freelancers weekly and am constantly keeping my fingers on the pulse of how they are doing and, more importantly, how they are feeling in their roles.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Absolutely. This person is a great creative collaborator of mine and a friend. I’ve had the honor of working with Dr. Daphne Scott, a fantastic Leadership and Development Coach, over the past few years. She has completely transformed my views on leadership, as well as help me feel comfortable as a young leader in my role. Daphne values mindful leadership, and I couldn’t agree more that our presence and connection to the work we do leads to ample benefits in our leadership AND our lives. Work and life are constantly in tandem with one another, and Daphne teaches — and values — a conscious approach to thriving in both arenas.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We’ve had the great opportunity to support nonprofits and charities within the digital marketing landscape, which is something I’m really proud of. Helping them bring their message to more people when normally they would struggle to do so is incredibly important. Additionally, I launched the Peggy J. Beadle Foundation early last year after the passing of my grandmother which partners with the Detroit-based organization Alternatives for Girls.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Carol Burnett once said, “Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.” I absolutely believe this statement and find many people who struggle to elevate their life because of the fear or anxiety that has held them back. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I let the fear of failure or risk hold me back.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I really want to support and inspire freelancers of all kinds, as well as help propel the freelance movement into the future. I think many people are timid to take that route because it’s not necessarily 100% comfortable or mapped out. I want those people to know that, while it might be scary at first, the opportunities are endless and the skillsets unmet.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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