You’d think that with more than a billion dollars in revenue, everyone, especially the CEO, would be all smiles. But complacency is a dangerous thing, and even after posting $1.2 billion in revenue in 2006, there were changes CEO Frank Crum Jr. needed to make at his company if it was going to continue to grow and gain national recognition.
The professional employer organization — which Crum started in 1981 with his father, the late Frank Crum Sr. — was looked upon favorably by clients, but nonclients weren’t familiar with the company. The main problem was that the organization was operating under multiple company names, each with its own identity and procedures, leading to divided company loyalties.
“We have two buildings here and six floors,” says Crum. “It was divided because on floor three of building two, the payroll and billing department for what used to be Ameristaff Inc. sat. On floor two, the payroll and billing department for what used to be called Great American [Employee Services Inc.] sat. You have different managers on different floors, doing different things and almost competing. Ameristaff thought they did things right, and Great American, because they all had slight variances, thought they did things right. I said, ‘We need to bring all our companies together under one umbrella and make one family with one identity, one cause, one goal and one mission.’”
He wanted consistency and a unified brand, so he made the decision to unite everything under the FrankCrum name, creating the streamlined organization he needed to continue to compete.
“When you see Starbucks, no matter where you go, you know exactly what the product is,” he says. “As we get larger and larger in other states, people will learn what to expect from FrankCrum.”
He knew if he didn’t make the change, the competition would have taken advantage of the inefficient structure and passed him by.
“We would have been, as the years go on, an also-ran,” he says.“We posture ourselves to be a great PEO [professional employer organization]. I believe we are a very good PEO now.”
But change never comes easy. Rebranding under one name was a major challenge that created other hurdles along the way.
Here’s how Crum guided one change successfully and tripped on another, yet recovered to learn a valuable lesson.
It was late in 2005 when Crum and his team began researching how to rebrand the organization and become more recognizable around the country. A marketing company they were working with suggested they brand under the name FrankCrum.
At first, Crum was a little put off by the name because it sounded like he was running for governor or that it was an ego-driven thing.
“But then it came to mind really what Senior and I had talked about,” he says. “Because we owned the company, we had to stand behind the company. I took it a step further and said, ‘If we put our name on the company, then we couldn’t run from it.’ It would be hard to change names, and it would be hard to run from bad service. We have to stand behind our company regardless. It would lift our customer service and our company identity to anew level.”
On the surface, a name change would show a unified company,but internally, employees would have to buy in to the changes and band together as one company or else one of the main gains from the rebranding would be lost. The name would change but not the attitudes.
In order to get buy-in for the changes, Crum involved others in the rebranding process and asked what they would like to see happen.
“We manage by committee, and it was a committee that chose,”he says. “I’ve always believed if I let them be the biggest part of the decision that you already have the buy-in. Frank Crum didn’t make the choice and have to sell you, they made the choice and all I have to do is put my stamp on it. It may be a cop-out management style, but it’s the management style that works for me.
“I’ve always believed in hiring good people and delegating.They know what the goals are, they help set them, and all I do is monitor. ‘Are we heading toward the target?’”
The company has more than 250 employees, making it difficult for Crum to meet with every new employee and spend time talking to existing ones about the changes in the company. In order to build a bridge between him and the employees, as well as to improve the culture, Crum increased extracurricular activities.He’s now doing things like recognizing birthdays and anniversaries individually instead of lumping all the birthdays in one month and sending out a group recognition.
“We try to do things that make it feel like family,” he says. “We have a facilities manager, and she plans stuff all the time. We have book fairs, blood drives and ice cream socials all the time.There are always refreshments, and I try to be there.”
Crum also discusses suggestions made by his employees with them in their office or cube to improve communication.
“Right now, I am on a campaign that if you send a suggestion, I am going to come talk to you personally about it,” he says. “I try to let them know FrankCrum is nothing without them. There is no way Frank Crum Jr. can take care of 3,000 clients. They are the front line. If we are going to be successful, they are the ones that have got to do it. I’m trying to push that message out there that the smallest detail is important to me. I am encouraging them to e-mail me directly so I can respond.”
As he was focusing on getting employees to come together as one cohesive family working toward common goals, he also had to make sure clients were kept in the loop about the rebranding effort.
The company educated its clients early on in the process and put emphasis on the positives before the clients could start questioning the changes. The company’s marketing team sent out cards and letters, along with big gift boxes with the name “FrankCrum” on them to customers notifying them of the change. Inside the boxes were personalized mugs and mouse pads.
“I believe we did a very good job of communicating it ahead of time,” he says. “I can honestly sit here and tell you that I haven’t always done the best job of communicating things, but I believe in this case, we did an excellent job.”
Overall, Crum says the rebranding put them in a great position to move forward.
“We defined who we were, defined where we wanted to go and defined our objectives, and we found out where we were lacking as far as tools,” he says.
While rebranding the company and getting everyone working together was a major part of the process, gaining efficiencies from the newly united companies was the other part. And those efficiencies were only going to happen if people were using the same software systems, and that meant a major conversion project.
But what made the rebranding effort such a smooth process was exactly what made the software conversion a disaster: communication, or lack thereof in this case.
The need for the software change came about after the company realized its software for its different departments was inferior compared to the industry’s best.
Outside experts told Crum he needed to make the software changes all at once, but his management team was telling him to take it slow.
“I believed they were the experts, and my management team was shaking their heads no,” he says. “It was probably one of the poorest jobs I’ve ever did in managing anything.”
The results were disastrous. “It caused our employees to be stressed out because what used to take our employees 35 hours a week to do their job, they were working 45, 50 or 55 hours in the month of January to deliver the same product,” he says. “Even though they were getting paid for it,it was very stressful to work that many hours. We had no anticipation it would be like that. All at once, we became slower and less efficient for about a four- to six-week period. If you’re a client or an employee and everything takes you longer, everything is harder and your reports are coming slower, then everything we do for you is slower. (Clients) come to us to solve problems, not to add problems.
“You really are chiseling away at the good will you developed for25 years. Now, I’ve spent the last four months trying to rebuild the good will. It’s been a tough and painful process. There’s never a day that some client doesn’t bring up January, and I have to write them a letter of apology to assure them that things are good now. They’ll call and complain about something that happened in January, and I’ll say, ‘But how is it today?’ It’s excellent today, but they are still remembering their problems in January.”
To make up for his blunder to employees, Crum did little things to show them he appreciated their extra work through the difficult change.
“We would have our chef here make hot cookies and juice and milk,” he says. “I would go around the floors to every employee one or two afternoons a week and deliver hot cookies to them with something to drink, and thank them for their effort, and tell them I realize I put them in a hard spot and do appreciate them going the extra mile. Just any corny thing you can think of just to let them know I cared and I realized I put them in a hard place.”
Crum says, if he had to do it all over again, he would do the software conversion in parts and wouldn’t start the next step without the first step running smoothly.
“I was told if you do it all at once, they’ll all be linked together,and you’ll bite the bullet all at once and you’ll be over this painful process faster,” he says. “But, in looking back, to have every area of your business in a learning phase all at the same time is not a good thing.”
He also says he would have trained every employee on the new software and certified him or her before putting the software to use.
Then, during the employee training, Crum would have gotten client feedback on the new system, including bill and report layouts, so the company could customize it.
“With clients, they got reports, and the reports, even though they were more detailed, they looked different and the columns may have been in a different order and the headings may have been slightly different,” he says. “As people are, we don’t like change unless we buy in to the change and understand. Even if it would have taken me another six months to turn the green light on, it would have been good to do it.”
Crum says for both the rebranding and especially the software conversion, it was key to get people involved early to help fend off any problems in the future.
“Communication is everything, and I had to learn it the hard way,” Crum says.
He also says you have to be careful about where you get your advice.
“Dance with the one that brung ya,” he says. “In other words,never forget who brought you to the dance. It was my management team that brought me to the dance and helped me learn to dance. If I should have been listening to anybody, it should have been my management team. Instead I listened to the experts.”
How to reach: FrankCrum, (800) 393-0815 or www.frankcrum.com