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E-commerce Firm Gets New Hires Psyched

Influence's orientation program ain't cheap, but they want new employees to feel excited.

October 30, 2000
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G

et ready for FUSION.

That’s the message new employees hear when they walkin the door at Influence, LLC. The company, an e-commerce solutions provider,wastes no time in helping newcomers acclimatize. During an intense two-dayorientation program, employees may find themselves in a pasta-cooking contest orlaughing with the CEO over bagels and juice.

The program combines basicinformation, such as how to use the phone and access e-mail, with funice-breaker and team-building exercises. It is designed to give new hires ataste of Influence’s "fast-paced and cool" environment, according toCarol Sacks, vice president of leadership development. "We want toindoctrinate people into the culture and give them an instant sense of communityand commitment," she says. "We want everyone to feel the samepassion."

FUSION was launched in June, following a staff survey in which respondentsrequested a formal orientation workshop. Immediately, it became a top priorityfor management. New employees get the lowdown on everything from Influence’svalues system and history to the company handbook, which is written in a fun andfriendly style. Since all employees own stock in the company, they are referredto as "associates," reflecting the company’s focus on empowerment.

New associates always start on a Tuesday, joining fellow newcomers at thecompany headquarters in St. Louis. FUSION begins with an introduction to thecompany’s leadership team, including president and CEO Craig Kaminer. Theythen spend two days hearing presentations, participating in team exercises,undergoing personality evaluations, and socializing with colleagues. An averageof 10 new employees take part in each FUSION workshop.

"FUSION was a wonderful and very positive experience," says LoriMillner, manager of e-business development at Influence. "It was extremelyhelpful in showing me, explaining to me, introducing all the little things youneed to know -- just those things my previous employers never got around toexplaining, things you just had to learn by fumbling your way through them untilyou figured them out."

Sacks explains that while the intensive orientation requires a majorinvestment, it minimizes frustration and wasted time. "Whether someone isemployee number 50 or number 100, we want them to feel the same sense of cultureand excitement about the company," she says. "We also want to enableour associates to be productive right away. If you don’t orient people, they’renot going to produce breakthrough work."

In the fast-moving, high-turnover environment of e-commerce, effectiveorientation is a necessity rather than a luxury. Influence, established in 1998,also has offices in Kansas City, Missouri, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. The firmexpects to more than double its staff of 124 within a year. New associates arealso teamed with a buddy. After a month on the job, they undergo a "karmacheck." Sacks explains, "Within the first 30 days of the job, you cantell if you’re comfortable, if the job is what you expected it to be."

Workforce, November2000, Vol. 79, No. 11, p. 38 -- Subscribenow!

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