Club 78: How creating a moment transformed the experience of working at StudioNorth.
What do you remember about your first day at your current job? Or any job, for that matter? Until 2018, most of us at The Studio couldn’t remember anything special about ours.
That started to change when our Senior Vice President, Creative Shannon Lee led us through a series of workshops based on The Power of Moments, a best-seller by Chip and Dan Heath that explores why certain brief experiences can jolt, elevate and change us.
One of the moments explored in the book was the first day experience at a new job. That first day is, all too often, a non-event—when it should be a “moment of elevation” people remember for years.
A bunch of us decided to create that kind of first day experience at StudioNorth, and that effort has actually changed the culture for everyone working here—whether they’ve been here 30 days or 30 years.
Helping SNewbies™ feel welcomed
Starting with ideas brainstormed during Shannon’s workshop, the all-volunteer Welcome Committee spent the better part of a year coming up with ways to not only improve the first day for new employees, but to make it a lasting, unique, memorable moment for them. Something better than what we’d done before. Something we could all be proud of. Something amazing.
We had conversations, brainstorms and unruly, unwieldy committee meetings. We researched and debated. We generated a ton of ideas and eventually had to decide which were the best to pursue—and in what order.
The first priority in welcoming new employees was to, well, help them feel welcomed. So, starting in mid-2019, we soft-launched our first day experience:
- We sent an email to each new employee — or SNewbie™ — a week before their first day to ask some basic questions about them.
- Then, on their first day, we sent an email to everyone at The Studio sharing that background and encouraging them to greet the SNewbie. Later that day, when the SNewbie opened their email for the first time, they found a fun chain of welcoming messages and GIFs.
- We also created a custom welcome sign for each SNewbie and literally rolled out an orange carpet for them when they arrived, along with newly created maps—one of the building, and another of restaurants and other points of interest in and around lively North Chicago, Illinois.
- Finally, a snack club at the end of their first day, when everyone in the building could gather, share the SNewbie’s favorite snack and personally say hello.
It was a start, but we had bigger ideas in mind.
A club where you know you belong
If you had walked into our office on the morning of November 6, 2019, you may have thought you’d entered a malfunctioning time machine. There was silver tinsel hanging from the doors of our largest conference room, the doors were blocked by an orange velvet rope, 70s music was playing, and a sign read “Welcome to Club 78.”
Everyone found Club 78 membership cards on their desks, which came in handy because our bouncer—in paisley flare pants, a mustard turtleneck and a purple corduroy blazer—wasn’t admitting anyone without one.
What on earth was Club 78?
Club 78—named after 1978, the year StudioNorth was founded—was our grand plan to expand the first day experience, extend it to everyone at The Studio, and make it the cornerstone of our internal culture. A club, after all, is something people belong to, and we wanted everyone to enjoy that great feeling of knowing they belonged to a place where people were social, friendly and helpful.
Our message to everyone was Today we’re all new inductees into Club 78 and everyone’s getting their own First Day Experience. Welcome to the Club!
Swag and beyond
With membership, of course, comes branded swag, and every Club 78 member received a StudioNorth backpack stuffed with:
- Short- and long-sleeved t-shirts
- A fleece blanket
- A ski cap and fleece pullover
- A “Make It Matter” notebook set
- A water bottle and travel mug
- Laptop stickers and other items
(These items helped Club 78 win the Brand Introduction Award at BrandSmart 2020, hosted by AMA Chicago.)
During the Club 78 intro party, we also introduced new elements that fleshed out the first day experience. SNewbies would now enjoy a work-free first day that included a meeting with CEO Mark Mohr, an orientation with human resources, a full IT set-up meeting, lunch with their entire team and a loosely structured day to give them plenty of time to get comfortable.
Since it was a true 70s party, we had to include a Pet Rock, too—a little guy later named Skip (get it?) via an online contest. Once a month, we announced, Skip would be awarded (by the previous month’s winner) to a StudioNorth team member who had displayed extraordinary awesomeness.
The party also introduced a crucial new element for SNewbies: The Buddy Program.
A Buddy for comfort and confidence
At any organization, having a “buddy” at work can help a new recruit settle into their role, their department and the company much more easily. Just knowing there’s someone there who is genuinely interested in helping them can make new team members perform better.
Our Buddy Program puts someone in place for each SNewbie who’s not their boss or responsible for training them — someone who can purely act as a friendly face, an informal source of information and a pillar of emotional support.
The Welcome Committee selected and trained eight people to be pioneer Buddies and gave them a toolkit of assets (including a training deck and tour checklist) to help them perform their duties. Their main goal is to help SNewbies feel welcome, comfortable and confident that they made the right decision joining StudioNorth.
The Club 78 party was a smash, and a handful of SNewbies who joined in late 2019 and early 2020 gave their first day experience rave reviews. What could go wrong?
And then the pandemic happened
It was always our intent for Club 78 to continue doing things any good club does—engage people socially year-round and host events where everyone can have a good time.
When COVID-19 sent us all into home isolation, that role became more crucial. While lots of us still connected several times a day for meetings, there were whole sections of The Studio who almost never chatted with people who worked in other departments or on other clients.
Club 78 was one solution to that problem. We developed a series of off-the-wall online events that included team members from Vermont to Seattle — weird competitions requiring little or no preparation and awarding nearly worthless prizes:
- A SNavenger Hunt for items like toilet paper, empty liquor bottles and grandparents (photos accepted, bonus points for actual people)
- You Ain’t Scene Nothin’ Yet, featuring unrehearsed team skits and lip syncs (although the winning team designed their own sets)
- Dirty Little SNecrets, a bingo game featuring unauthorized facts and face pics from everyone at The Studio
- Murder at 1616: An Event without a Clue, a whodunit based on the famous board game featuring all SN employees as suspects
- Tales of SNuspense, with Mad Libs-style horror movie parodies executed in real time
Since Skip the Pet Rock was also quarantined, he’s been rewarding our monthly extraordinarily awesome StudioNorth team members with visits from his “cousins” Pomegranite, Rocky Balboulder and Guy Fossileri.
Has Club 78 helped maintain morale during this unprecedented disruption? We like to think so. People who joined The Studio in late 2019 and early 2020 weren’t in the same building as the rest of us for very long, but they still feel just as much a part of the team as people who have been here for years.
We have big plans to expand the Club 78 experience past the first day and further integrate Club 78 into the StudioNorth culture. It’s pretty cool what happens when you set out to create one memorable moment!