New employees need integration

When SAGA SOFTWARE Inc. recently acquired a Canadian company and turned it into the organization’s Canadian indirect subsidiary, the company found itself with a new product line and a new development team.

It also faced a challenge not unfamiliar to many high-tech companies focused on expansion. The challenge was integration and it came at two levels: not only did it have to have to incorporate the new products, but the personnel as well.

“It’s a challenge we have to balance all the time. How do we do the things we need to do to drive new business and R&D activity (such as hiring new employees) while not alienating the existing folks?” said Andre Yee, vice-president of research and development for SAGA SOFTWARE Inc. in Reston, Va.

Jules Fauteux, director of recruiting and resource management for DMR Consulting Group Inc.’s Canadian division in Halifax, said this is a common dilemma. “It is important to preserve the organizational culture as it is because it is part of your past and is special to your current workforce, but at the same time you want to give fresh new ideas and fresh new approaches the opportunity to flourish.”

SAGA has come up with several ideas intended to smooth the integration of new employees into the corporate fold. They may sound like some of those “touchy feely” things, Yee said, but they are important nonetheless. Since making sure new and existing employees help each other is a top priority, the company offers a mentoring program that extends even to Yee’s R&D department.

When working on new technology at SAGA, Yee said the team leaders and managers are obligated to “make sure that everyone else understands the new technology.”

A mandate of a different kind, however, requires that they also put fun into the development environment, he said. “They are mandated once a month to have a casual, fun time together.” At SAGA in Reston, Va. that includes renting out a pool hall, going out for lunch together and leaving work early to do so.

SAGA SOFTWARE (Canada) Inc.’s managing director Trevor Williams said his Canadian division has also used a “buddy” program successfully. On the first week of a job each new employee is given a buddy who ensures that he or she has adequate resources to start their job. The buddies also help to familiarize their new partners with corporate resources, benefits, etc.

It is a strategy that may sound obvious, Williams said, but it goes a long way to making people feel comfortable and “breaking down the strangeness barrier.”

Tony Martino, director of human resources for Toronto-based Xerox Canada Inc., who recently hired a couple hundred people in a “blitz hire” for its New Brunswick call centre, said part of the personnel integration problem may be resolved by finding the right candidates during the hiring phase.

According to Martino, you not only want an employee with the required technical skills, but the people skills and the ability to progress through the organization. This helps, he said, when “you want to bring new blood later on into that particular assignment.”

According to Williams, “we spend a lot of time telling people they own their own career…we tell them they have to make themselves marketable,” Williams said. “And if I don’t make somebody twice as marketable in a year than they are today, then I’ve failed (as a manager).”

Both Williams and Yee agree the onus is on the manager to make a staff transition as smooth as possible. “The message has to be loud and clear from the top,” Yee said. “The existing people need to be assured they are valued for their current contribution.”

One example is SAGA’s transition plan for people working on existing products so “they understand that while they invest and work on the existing products, the company has not forgotten them. If they contribute in the existing products there is a migration plan that allows them to move to newer technologies,” Yee explained.

This is important, Williams concurred, because “you can’t have everybody working on the sexy stuff all the time so everybody has to play a part and you have to show them that it won’t be forever and that they will be recognized.”