The Impact of Integration on your Culture

By Al Curnow, Vice President

These past several weeks have brought unprecedented levels of disruption to the workplace.   There have been massive layoffs, furloughs, and wide scale redistributions of workforces. Yet, there will come a time, hopefully not too far in the future, where we’ll need to regroup and reorganize.  We’ll need to bring staff back and perhaps hire new team members.   When we do, the manner in which we do so will be critical. This is our one opportunity to create a first impression and prescribe the lens through which we want our new team members to see just how things are done at our organization.

When it comes to knowing how to bring a new team member on board, Shary Spitznagel is THE authority on the High Performing Culture team.  Sharyn brings over 20 years of experience to the table. She was responsible for designing and delivering the Integration program at RSI, where the Fundamentals System was created. Sharyn facilitated the program 50 times in 10 years and now brings her expertise to HPC clients to help them transform their onboarding practices. Sharyn was kind enough to answer five key questions I had regarding the Integration process. She provided incredible insight and wisdom in her responses below.  Enjoy!

Question 1:    What is Integration and how is it different from Onboarding?

We use the word Integration very intentionally.  It is far more than onboarding–bringing people into a company and getting you “on board”.  Integration is about assimilating people into the company.  We become one–you are a part of us and we’re a part of you.  And ideally, you’re a better person because of your association with us and we’re a better company because you’re here.   One transition I listen for during Integration is when new folks stop saying “you” and “your company” and begin saying “we” and “our company”.  

Question 2:   Why is Integration so important and what kind of impact does it have on a company’s culture?

Integration is so important because you have one shot to make a first impression. During Integration, our goal is to model how we operate and behave with one another. We want to solidify the new hires’ belongingness–belonging to the organization creates a sense of comfort and wanting to stay.  Once they belong, they can now perform at their highest level and they’re not likely to leave any time soon.

I describe Integration as super-charging the get-up-to-speed process.  It can take people years (if ever!) to get to know who people are in the company, know where to go to get things done, and to be ready to contribute their best to the organization. A full Integration addresses all of that in about a week.  Imagine the impact that makes on the company and the people in it!

Question 3:  How long should an Integration program be?

There’s no magic length, per se. However, I would expect 4-6 days is ideal.  Some of it depends on what needs to be shared/taught.  At RSI, where we developed this concept, we were an Open-Book Management company, taught The Collaborative Way, and had 5 distinct departments. We took significant time to share our history (on a tour around town!) and to introduce every single person by name, position, and something personal about them. We also learned that breaks in the schedule (one hour for lunch and 15 minutes each in the morning and afternoon) were critical for people to pay attention and absorb all of the information we were presenting.  But while some get concerned that it’s too much, we were incredibly successful because we structured it well, built in review and reinforcement methods, and made it fun and interesting. 

Question 4:   What are the most important pieces of a good Integration program?

During integration, we  want to focus on three areas:

  1. Culture: Teach your culture, model your culture, and expect conformity to your culture.  For us, it’s the Fundamentals.  First, we model the Fundamentals: we make quality personal and deliver a top-notch experience. We create a tone of friendliness and personalization throughout the program. We pay attention to the details and keep things fun.  Second, we expect these things from our newest members and we will teach them what we mean.  We give them assignments, telling them these are their first projects and they should put their best efforts into it.  Third, they should see these things in every area of the company–the people, the facility, the decor, etc.  
  2. Context:  Our goal is to teach them everything they need to know to be able to add their strengths and abilities to our operation as soon as possible.  We want them to know what we do–our business: our future goals (strategic plan & annual goals), how we’re organized (our departments, divisions, and locations), how we succeed (how we make money, who our target market and niche is, how our departments function together), our policies and procedures (Handbook Review, benefits available to them) and so on.  We want them to know who we are: every single person, how we function together, how we are to relate to one another, and how we act toward each other.  If they understand why we even exist and how they make a difference, they will do their individual jobs better and that contributes to our overall achievements.
  3. And finally, Logistics:  How to use their computer and our network, their phone, the tools at their workstation, the copiers/scanners, the kitchen/lunchroom, restrooms and break rooms, how to send mail/packages or receive mail, how to get the supplies they need, who to ask when they need special equipment, how to reserve a conference room, how to enroll in their benefits, what paperwork to submit so they get paid, who to contact when the equipment jams or a fax goes missing, and so on.  

Hopefully it’s becoming clear that if we take care of all these things in the first 4-5 days, then their attention can be on learning their job and doing their job.  And they can do that faster and more efficiently because they know everything they need to know to jump in with both feet.

Questions 5:   What is one of the more creative elements you’ve seen in an Integration program?

 Just one?  I don’t know if I can keep it to just one.  The most creative and fun thing for me to do in Integration is to surprise our new folks with little gifts on their desk every day.  And to do so in a creative way.  So at RSI, we had some vending machines that we subsidized so we could sell the items cheaper.  So I would tape 4 quarters to a piece of paper and make a note saying “Enjoy a snack today!”  Or the other things that stuck with people were the experiential tours: our History Tour was a drive around town, starting at the childhood home of the Friedman family: “This is where it all started, in the basement of this home….” And then went to each building as we grew.  We also walked around the office stopping at key locations (machines, supply areas, hidden rooms, etc.).  Finally, an employee created a map of the nearby area and showed restaurants, ATMs, gas stations, the Mall, grocery stores, and other helpful spots.  Since many of our employees lived 30 or more minutes away, this was a huge hit.  Oh, and how we made learning people’s names and faces was amazing.  We used several tools every day: phone extension lists, organizational charts, and PICTURES! We made a Face Board in the lunchroom and provided the pictures for new folks to study, cut up into flash cards, or view a slide show.  The Face Board became as important to existing employees as it was to new people.  As you can see, I could talk about Integration all day long.  It’s just that good!

If you’d like to learn more about the HPC Integration system, click the button below, or join us at our annual Culture Summit in October. 

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