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Week three: Staff buy-in is an important first step

When Will Andrew took over as president of Trimark Sportswear Group in June, he was well aware that the leadership change could create anxiety among the staff. Though he had been at Trimark for five years, Mr. Andrew was coming at his new job from a different perspective than his predecessor.

After he took the helm, Mr. Andrew arranged to meet with consultants at Managerial Design Corp. to talk about how to best carry through on Trimark’s strategic initiatives. It was at one of those early meetings that the need to focus on culture change became clear.

Still, Mr. Andrew wanted to allay any fears that might be brewing among employees about what was happening at these off-site meetings. “People who were not there would think, ‘What did they do? Did they just go play golf? What change is going on?’” or so, at least, Mr. Andrew imagined.

At that point, he decided to write a regular news blast, outlining the initiatives and what they meant, with real-world examples. He also asked for feedback from the staff, which trickled in slowly at first but started to increase as the comfort level grew.

These small-seeming steps had an immediate impact, and many employees are expressing excitement, rather than uncertainty or ambivalence, about the changes to come:

Jim Doris, director of logistics and distribution: “We’re trying to establish a much more creative, more risk-taking environment than we had in the past,” says Mr. Doris, though he adds that the culture at Trimark has always been a positive one. “Personally, I will do better in that environment.”

But, he adds, it still amounts to change. “Even the smallest change is a big deal,” he says. “A subtle change might be even harder to establish than a big change.”

Diane Barrow, national sales manager: Ms. Barrow came to Trimark from a large global corporation where there were, not surprisingly, communication issues. So she was surprised to find that similar issues existed in a small company.

“It was quite good in silos, in departments,” she explains. “Cross-functionally there wasn’t anything formalized. I felt like we were stuck in, ‘Well, the operations team doesn’t know what sales is saying.’”

Broad-based company goals should be set, she says, so everyone is striving for the same thing. “Communication will improve every facet of business,” she adds. “The biggest benefit, because it’s measurable, will be with the front-line staff, whether it’s sales or customer service. Ultimately, sales should grow ? a byproduct of people understanding the vision, understanding they’re part of the vision.”

See more from the Capitalizing on Culture series:

Liana Tesan, controller: After five years at the company, Ms. Tesan is excited at the possibility of everyone working on company initiatives rather than on their own. “That gives people more satisfaction,” she says. “They’re not operating in isolation - they’re operating with the team trying to accomplish a goal.”

Ms. Tesan believes the changes will affect the front-line workers the most, which will, in turn, lead to better customer satisfaction.

Michelle Wilson, inside sales representative: “Because we’re here a third of our day at least, I’ve got to get something back and I need to come away feeling that it’s a job well done,” says Ms. Wilson, who has been at Trimark for about a year. “I feel that way to begin with, but to have a senior management person saying, ‘I value that’ is a dream come true.”

As a sales person, Ms. Wilson is excited about the talk of empowering front-line workers to go for such things as one-call resolution. “I’ve worked at places where I needed to check whether I could do this or do that,” she says. “I felt very restricted and that really affected how customers perceived me.”

Nelia Pacheco, sales analyst: Coming from an international company to a smaller family-run operation was culture shock for Ms. Pacheco, who has been with Trimark for just a few months.

But it was clear to her even during the interview process that the senior people were “ready to take the company to the next level” and Ms. Pacheco felt that there would be lots of room for her involvement to grow. “Does it make me nervous? No,” she adds. “A lot of opportunities will be presented as this happens, and it’s up to the individuals as to how they respond to it.”