Smart Move

Question: How do you move 900 employees to a new headquarters in one weekend without losing productivity? Answer: Very carefully.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Write To The Editor Reprints

Just about the only similarity between employment-services provider Manpower Inc.'s gleaming new downtown Milwaukee headquarters and its former Glendale, Wis., home some five miles away are the flags of 30 countries flapping out front.

The new site, situated along the Milwaukee River, gleams with 45,259 square feet of glass, whereas the old home was dominated by concrete. Once nestled in a sleepy suburb in a collection of four buildings that served as the company hub since 1973, the new headquarters now sits in one solid piece near the center of the bustling beer-producing city's heart.

Such sudden and drastic changes could easily have overwhelmed the 900 employees who power Manpower's 35,000-worldwide-employee operation, but thanks to an information campaign spearheaded by Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources Mara Swan, employees were already well on their way to feeling at home in their new digs even before they set foot in the new building last September.

Manpower began looking for a new headquarters in 2005 in order to finally bring its 900 HQ employees under one roof. But considering the company's quickly rising revenues, ($11 billion in 2002, $21 billion in 2007) an eye was also cast toward future expansion: The new headquarters has room to accommodate another 300 workers over the next five years. And the move downtown was actually a homecoming of sorts for the company, which had previously been headquartered in the city from 1948 until it moved to Glendale.

In the spirit of impending change, the company embarked on its first efforts since its founding in 1948 to come up with a new brand and vision statement. Based on the idea of "Contemporary Working," the new vision statement was launched in February 2006 and implores employees "to lead in the creation and delivery of services that enable our clients to win in the changing world of work."

But with that new vision came new challenges, says Swan. "One of the challenges was, 'How do we get a physical space that matches our new brand?' "To find an answer, Swan held an in-person "visioning session" with employees to get their input on what elements should comprise the new space. "The design principles [the employees came up with] were warm, welcoming and contemporary," says Swan. Those principles were given to the architect, who incorporated them into the ultimate designs.

The HR department also implemented an employee-involvement plan in 2006 -- based on the change-management-process model of business author John Kotter -- that created a number of teams focused on different aspects of the move, from communications to furniture.

The model was made up of representatives from all levels of the company who were selected by their supervisors to brainstorm, share information and coordinate employee events. They were charged with making sure that information about the move was maximized and concerns minimized. About 250 employees participated in the planning and execution of those activities.

One of the first actionable ideas came from the headquarters communications team, which suggested posting video logs created by employees to express their feelings about the upcoming move on the company's intranet site. Employees could then rate their favorites, and more than 300 employees voted, according to company spokesman Paul Holley. The input there, which was accessible workforce-wide, was as troubling as it was enlightening.

"One of the most unexpected things we learned was that people really wanted to hold on to what they had and they didn't want to give that up," Swan says, referring to aspects such as the proximity of facilities in the old building to the comforts of a suburban neighborhood they would soon have to leave. "It was more about the fear of the unknown. It was really shocking, but there was a lot of fear."

An online survey of employees also revealed that people were concerned about longer commute times and new traffic patterns, so move planners arranged to have a Milwaukee police traffic officer stationed near the new parking structure to facilitate the influx of vehicles during the opening days of the new headquarters.


Allaying Fears

Following the premise that information helps dispel fear, Swan made use of the company's intranet to keep employees posted on the progress of the construction of the 280,000-square-foot building by hosting a live Webcam at the construction site as well as a photo gallery of construction photos. The company received several hundred hits on the site during the months leading up to the move.

The Web site also featured a "Discover Downtown" page with links to Web sites compiled by Swan's staff regarding entertainment options, events calendars and parking information in downtown Milwaukee. Directions to the new headquarters were also posted to ease employee travel worries.

Jeff Lengling, a lead collection specialist in the finance department, kept track of the building's progress online. "It was nice to see it taking shape. It really helped build anticipation," he says.

But Web sites and virtual postings can only convey so much, so the change management team also focused on workstations and furniture. Swan created "anticipation areas" where the new office furniture could be set up at high-traffic areas at existing office sites.

The idea was to give employees the opportunity to see them and say, " 'Oh, so this is what it's going to be like,' " says Lengling, who tried out a new workspace himself. "You can anticipate it more when it's right in front of you."

Llorel Baker, a senior collections coordinator, volunteered to be a "tour guide" for the new workstations after she received an interoffice memo from her supervisor asking for volunteers. She was taught all the new features of the modern furniture (such as a file-cabinet drawer that also doubles as a padded seat) and then explained the benefits to others. "It really kept people interested and excited the whole time," she says.

Newsletter Sign-Up:

HR Technology
Talent Management
HR Leadership
Inside HR Tech
Special Offers

Email Address

Privacy Policy

Touring sample offices also served a functional purpose. According to Swan, the company ended up spending more on chairs than it had planned to because of early feedback received about the sample workstations.

Swan's department also organized a "New Neighborhood" fair two months before the actual move, which brought 40 representatives from businesses and agencies to Manpower so employees could become familiar with restaurants, banks, transportation and other services within walking distance of their new corporate home. More than 600 of the 900 employees turned out for the event.

Moving Day

For any company, certainly including one that makes $21 billion in revenue annually, it's awfully difficult to just shut down operations for a week while a corporate headquarters move is executed. "We really couldn't stop work," says Swan.

So instead, in the week prior to the transition, moving tasks were divided into three parts and packaged as a companywide triathlon competition, with less-essential materials such as old files and other collateral packed and moved first.

"The last third was picked up [by movers] on Thursday afternoon and, by Monday, all systems were go." Lengling reports the move was easy for most employees. "All we had to do was pack up the stuff and put them on carts. The movers did the rest," he says.

On the first day of operations at the new building, maps of new locations were given out to managers, who guided their employees to their new homes in the midst of a full day's celebration.

"That day we moved in, we had volunteers greet people with balloons and coffee and doughnuts as well as welcome guides, who also brought people to their new desks," says Swan. "It created camaraderie and it was really fun."

A flag system was pre-arranged to assist roving IT personnel to help troubleshoot networking problems. Despite the sheer logistics involved, including flat-screen monitor upgrades for all computers, "It went so smoothly, I still can't believe it," Swan says.

The move downtown was also a consolidation of sorts, bringing all of Manpower's North American headquarters components together, as well as the Jefferson Wells agency, a Milwaukee-based employment agency Manpower absorbed in 2001.

With this consolidation came new faces and new relationships, and to foster that, the company continues to sponsor monthly after-work mixers, which are held at restaurants and clubs in the new neighborhood so employees from the various locations can get acquainted with both their new surroundings and colleagues.

As part of the grand opening, the company held a flag-raising ceremony, which was both a nod to its former home and a recognition of the 30 countries that provide the greatest revenue for the company.

"That was a big hit with the employees. It showed how diverse we are as a company," says Swan. The power of communication between those diverse parts is what made Manpower's move a smooth one, she adds.

"We had some clever ideas to start out with, but when you involve a lot of people, it's amazing how clever they can be."

Copyright 2017© LRP Publications