Creative Culture: Wanzek Construction’s FistBump

Written by: Fargo Inc

Photos by Hillary Ehlen and courtesy of Wanzek Construction
Graphic courtesy of Wanzek Construction

As more and more organizations have realized the value — both economic and otherwise — of cultivating a particular culture at their company, it’s also become more difficult to set yourself apart. That’s why, whenever we come across a business that’s doing something truly unique, we’re going to bring it to you in our new “Creative Culture” segment.


This month, we take a look at West Fargo-based construction company Wanzek Construction, which is using a combination of new technology, team-member feedback and outside input to create a cultural offering that might offer some insight into the technology-driven future of employee engagement.

An Overview

The Challenge

After sending out an employee engagement survey in 2016, Wanzek leadership gleaned a number of things, but a few things moved to the top of their to-do list:

  • Find a way to better engage employees.
  • Develop a more formalized system for recognizing accomplishments.
  • Figure out how to knock down silos among the company’s different levels, divisions and departments.

The Solution

Wanzek partnered with a five-person team of MBA students from the North Dakota State University College of Business to figure out how to tackle some of these internal employee-engagement and -recognition challenges.

To get a better sense of the company and gain some better insight into its gaps, over the course of a semester, the MBA team spent time and conducted interviews with not only Wanzek leadership but also 15 Wanzek employees from a variety of levels and departments.


To help push engagement from the VP level to the “clay layer” and create a culture of accountability that shows employees how direct an impact they have on the company’s results, the MBA team provided insight and feedback to the Wanzek team, which then developed a new feature — called a “Wanzek FistBump” — within its existing internal company app.

Wanzek FistBump

The Inspiration

One of the members of the NDSU MBA team, Phil Swan, is also a financial crimes detective with the Fargo Police Department.

When brainstorming ideas with his team about some potential ideas for Wanzek, he naturally thought of a recently implemented employee-recognition system at the FPD.

“One of the things our department wanted to do was get better at communicating all the little things done every single day by anyone from supervisors to officers,” says Swan, who says he began to realize the amount of similarity and overlap between the FPD and Wanzek.

“In my head, it kind of clicked: The police department is similar in nature to Wanzek in the fact that we’re both spread out all the time (Wanzek at job sites),” Swan says. “Very rarely are our officers at the police station.”

Using the MBA team’s input and using the FPD program as a jumping-off point, the Wanzek team was then able to create a solution unique to their own needs.

Fargo Police Department Detective Phil Swan (second from left) and Wanzek Construction Renewable Services Technical Director Karen Tucker (middle) were two of the five MBA team members who helped Wanzek Construction develop its FistBump employee-recognition feature.

How It Works

  1. Pick a Wanzek employee.
  2. Thank them for living one of Wanzek’s six core beliefs and/or going above and beyond the call of duty.
  3. Just like on social media, you can tag people and add additional comments to the FistBump itself.
  4. Other Wanzek employees receive an alert/push notification about the FistBump.

The FistBump is a kind of digital thank you note that any of Wanzek’s approximately 1,000 employees are able to see and comment on (in addition to the person it’s directed at, of course). This allows Wanzek team members — regardless of title or department — to recognize one another for living the company’s core values or going above and beyond their stated job requirements.

“The idea behind a fist bump is that it’s cross-generational, and it’s cross-cultural,” says Wanzek Vice President of Corporate Services Randy Johnson. “I think everybody understands what to do if you put your fist up. It’s pretty universal.”

What the Team Is Saying

Rob Lee, Executive Vice President


“We want to recognize employees for going above and beyond on a daily basis. We want to tell our employees how much we appreciate their efforts and give them a simple format where they can (provide recognition) instantaneously after it’s happened, so they don’t forget about it.

“It’s the little things, not the huge things, that make up culture, and somebody going above and beyond for somebody else and instantly getting recognized for it breeds that culture.”

Randy Johnson, Vice President of Corporate Services


“My generation got their recognition every two weeks when they got their paycheck. The younger generations, though, have gotten feedback about their performance every day since they were 3 years old. Whether it’s through school or on social media, they’re always measuring their performance. And so as they’ve come into the workplace, we’ve had to step it up a notch in terms of how we’re providing recognition.”

Juli Munro, Director of Corporate Services Projects


“With the FistBump, we can give more feedback to our team members more often, and that recognition can come from any level and any division within the company, which is powerful and unifying.”

Anna Xavier, Wind Technician – SPRAT 1


“It’s a platform that fuses our team together, providing an avenue to feel connected, supported and heard as we all tackle our projects. It’s a reminder that we’re a part of something greater, and the encouragement and acknowledgment that stems from the app inspires me to stay on track and (reminds me) that our hard work and sacrifices are acknowledged.”

Karen Tucker, Renewable Services Technical Director


“A technician who is 300 feet in the air at the top of a wind turbine in Wyoming can be instantly recognized by another Wanzek team member who is working in Iowa.”

Wanzek Construction

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Brady Drake is the editor of Fargo INC!