It's the question that haunts every growth company: how do you quickly integrate new employees into an existing company culture? Start by enlisting the emphatic support and participation of upper management.
At Tactics, an Atlanta-based technology consulting firm specializing in providing Oracle systems, CEO Dewey Blaylock encourages his 200 employees to spend some time mentoring new hires. The mentorship involves not one-on-one but rather "many-on-many" relationships. Junior staffers, for example, have free rein to ask any coworker to oversee their work. Likewise, senior people often bring junior employees to customer sites where lessons can be learned. Thomas McDonald, the company's manager of database administrators, believes the system encourages skill sharing. "At a lot of consulting companies, the ace knowledge workers don't want to share their knowledge, because they want to be the go-to guy," he says.
Then there is the one-on-one approach taken at Network Management, a $10-million health-care consultancy in Minneapolis. The company, which added 65 employees in 1998, urges all newcomers to lunch individually with each member of its 10-person management team. "When new hires meet the CEO and have a discussion about the company from his perspective, they can really get infected by that," says Scott Ofstead, director of human resources.
Vastera, a $12-million provider of systems for international-trade logistics in Dulles, Va., came up with its own way of welcoming new staffers in February, after it purchased 13-employee Deltac Limited, located in Surrey, England. To make workers feel part of the team despite the distance, HR director Kimberly Walsh, CEO Arjun Rishi, and chief financial officer Phil Balsamo made a special visit to the British office. Digital photos and mini-bios of the 13 new employees were promptly appended to the company's intranet yearbook. Vivien Barns, HR manager at the Surrey office, says the meeting helped make the changeover seem much more friendly. "They don't seem to have lost their non-large feel," she says.
Walsh agrees with her English counterpart. "We learned their business strategy, and they took some good bits from us. And now we're stuck on Toblerone candy," she says.