One of the core topics in any orientation and onboarding program is company culture. We want candidates to see the company culture before they apply and during the hiring process so they know they’re a good fit. And we want them to fully immerse in the culture once they arrive.
And I use the word “immerse” because some organizations are taking the challenge literally and creating cultural immersion programs. For example, Cirrus Logic, based in Austin, Texas has a culture camp they call “School of Cirrus Rocks”. In an article for Austin Woman Magazine, Chief Culture Office Jo-Dee Benson explained the theme. “We make integrative circuits for audio applications, and a lot of our employees are musicians. It’s a theme that has really evolved and resonated with our organization.”
Benson started with Cirrus Logic in 1995 as their director of marketing and communications and expanded her role to vice president of human resources in 2005. At the time, the company was facing challenges attracting, engaging, and retaining talent. She knew the company needed to do something really different and used her marketing savvy to develop a “culture camp” – think of it as a mashup between Jack Black’s “School of Rock” and Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion”.
At last year’s Great Place to Work Conference for small and medium workplaces, I had a chance to see the School of Cirrus Rocks program in action. Here’s how the program works:
Prior to the session, participants were asked to take pictures about what inspires them around Cirrus. On the day of the program, participants meet at a local bar. The first half of the day, participants learn about storytelling. Why? Because storytelling is how employees share the company values.
During the second half of the day, participants break into groups and are tasked with pulling their images together into a story. Then, with the help of local musicians, music is added. Basically, employees create a story in the form of a song about working at the company. The groups perform their song in the best place – a local bar with local musicians and their co-workers cheering them on.
While every company isn’t going to create a School of Rock themed culture camp, there were several takeaways that can be applied to any company culture program.
- Commitment. It is obvious that Cirrus Logic is “all in” with this program when it comes to resources (i.e. people and budget.) There’s a lot of people and equipment involved to produce the program so it’s only held 3-4 times a year. But when it happens, they do it right. Organizations that are committed to a culture camp need to be fully committed.
- Listening. Cirrus Logic felt it was important for new hires to tell the company why Cirrus is a great place to work, versus the traditional other way around. Organizations need to listen to their employees and understand what employees love about the company. It will tell them what to keep and what to share with candidates.
- Reinforcement. The program itself reinforces Cirrus organizational values like continuous improvement (accountability), innovation (investment to solve problems), integrity, communication, and job satisfaction. Any organizational program should align with company values, whatever those values are.
- Recognition. The Cirrus Logic program works hard to make participants feel special. First, they ask participants not to disclose what happens in the School of Cirrus Rocks to other employees. Yes, participants have some idea…but they want people to enjoy the surprise. And Cirrus also gives participants a very cool memento to remember their experience – a miniature guitar.
- Communication. I mentioned earlier that the first part of the session focuses on storytelling. The idea being that telling good stories helps your career. It’s the “story” that gets you on the meeting agenda so you can sell your ideas to others. For example, organizations can create an activity for employees to tell their culture story in six words (like the Hemingway six-word story activity).
- Teamwork. Whenever you do something a little scary, something that takes you outside your comfort zone, like creating a song and singing it with your co-workers, you will remember it forever. This culture immersion camp helps bond people with each other and with the company. Trust me, participants will remember the people they went to camp with.
Again, what Cirrus Logic does in their culture camp works for them and they’re getting a return on investment that justifies the program. It’s not about other companies duplicating their program. It’s about making sure that employees understand your company culture so much that they can tell you about it (rather than being told).
P.S. If you’re looking to gain more creative inspiration for your company programs, consider attending the Great Place to Work Conference this year in Chicago. The dates are May 23-25, 2017. Speakers from Marriott, H&M, IKEA, Google, and many more are on the agenda. I’m looking forward to being there.