The company had been steadily declining when it was purchased by a group of entrepreneurs. The new owners’ plans for substantially expanding and growing the company were based on providing an extraordinary quality of service to the franchisees, and through them to their clients. While the economic bleeding had been stopped, the existing culture would not support these plans. For example, integrity was sorely lacking – promises were frequently made to franchisees with no intention of keeping them. Personal expenses were openly charged to the company credit card. Gossip and rumors were rampart, with the inevitable interpersonal conflicts and poor performance.
Frontier Associates was engaged to help alter the organizational culture to one that would support the company’s strategic plan for quality service.
As part of the turnaround, we worked with senior management to design and implement a New Employee Orientation Program that was to play a major role in creating and sustaining the turnaround and a targeted new company culture. This new culture was characterized by integrity, unreasonable results, extraordinary service, world-class quality, fun, making a difference, working as a team, open communication and certainty. The Program was designed to not only cover needed information, but to be itself a reflection of the intended culture.
Every aspect of a new employee’s interaction with the company was designed, from his or her first contact as a prospect to the third day as a new employee. For example, the offer letter described the employee’s accountabilities (the results), rather than a job description (how). The purpose of this distinction was to communicate the cultural value of "service."
During the Program's three days the new employee had no other responsibility other than to learn about the company. One person coordinated each individual’s program. Every moment was planned in advance, including lunch with people who the new employee might not normally encounter.
During unstructured time with senior managers a number of levels above them the culture of the company was covered. In addition every new employee spent at least 2- hours with the president, where they were enrolled into the company’s vision and mission.
Participants’ analysis reports written at the end of the Program were uniformly favorable and enthusiastic.
New employees internalized the desired company culture and became allies in its ongoing creation. Even if people subsequently told them otherwise, they believed in and supported the culture that was communicated to them during their first days, and it took a lot to change their opinions. (First impressions are hard to change.
More than just being told that this company cared about service, new employees experienced being served themselves. Feeling cared about and important made it easier for them to care for and serve others, resulting in very high customer service marks and effective team-building. Years later, employees said that the New Employee Orientation Program was one of the most impactful experiences of their work life. They felt that it was so unusual, and such a pleasant experience, that it reinforced that they had made the right choice in coming to work for this company.
There were many other notable outcomes of the New Employee Orientation Program. During the culture change initiative, which can be a time of uncertainty and frustration for employees, the company experienced almost zero turnover. Employees remained engaged while increasing their productivity. And perhaps most impressive of all, the company changed its culture from one of gossip, broken promises, conflict and poor performance to one characterized by results, service, teamwork and fun – in just eight months.