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HR Magazine, July 2005 - Cultural Consistency Amid Change at Analytical Graphics

By Leon Rubis   7/1/2005

HR Magazine, July 2005

Vol. 50, No. 7

#1 Small Company

Cultural Consistency Amid Change at Analytical Graphics

Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI) of Exton, Pa., held its position as the No. 1 Small Company on the Best Small & Medium Companies to Work for in America list—a major accomplishment given that the company retained its family feel and collaborative culture while increasing staff by 40 percent.

International tensions and resulting defense and intelligence industry demand propelled growth at AGI, which hired many recent college grads to backfill positions vacated by 30 percent of the existing workforce, which took on new roles with the company. And yet in spite of these changes, the organization’s culture remains healthy and intact.

“The culture here is very open, very friendly,” says Jim Schwabenbauer, a sales representative who started April 11. “Everyone is really willing to help you get ramped up and up to speed.”

“There’s a family mentality here as opposed to just being another number,” says Andrew Smith, an accountant who joined AGI on Jan. 2. “That trickles down from the top,” he says. Smith adds that he often sees CEO Paul Graziani during morning workouts in the gym. “He knows everyone’s name and says ‘hi’ every day.”

Maintaining AGI’s cordial atmosphere amid rapid growth is “a personal mission,” says HR Director Lisa Velte, SPHR. “That is one of my key areas of focus—to make sure that we are doing everything we can to retain the culture.”

That culture includes a generous array of benefits—such as daily breakfasts, lunches and dinners as well as on-site laundry rooms and workout rooms—that smooth the way for the complex work done by a staff of aerospace, electrical and software engineers. The company designs high-tech navigation software for jet planes, missiles, rockets and satellites.

“The management team is very focused on making sure that the lines of communication are open, [and that] the new folks are being listened to and are on the right track,” says Velte.

Among its methods of initiating new employees into the AGI way of working is an elaborate and lengthy orientation process. Over long lunches, small groups of recent hires meet with the founders, COO and CFO to learn about the company’s history, markets, products and plans, says Velte.

Further, before they begin working in their own jobs, new employees are appointed “buddies” and spend a half-day in each department “to make connections and build relationships with people in other areas,” says Velte.

“I really got a flavor [of] exactly what the process was—how people work with one another and to what level I would need to work with them,” says Schwabenbauer. “The training I’ve received on different modules we sell has been in-depth and very useful.”

Even with all the focus on integrating new hires, AGI hasn’t neglected the need for continuing communications among all staff. Everyone meets on Fridays for a buffet lunch and to receive updates on company performance and activities. Field office employees in Colorado, California and the Washington, D.C., area join in via videoconferencing. The staff also meets annually in April for an extended recap of its sales year and a look forward to the next.

The company also communicates to employees through its personalized HR style. With a technology-savvy workforce, one might expect AGI to use self-service systems for HR functions. But that’s not in keeping with the company’s friendly, collegial atmosphere, says Velte, a proponent of “high-touch” HR practices that help employees in person with paperwork and other needs.

“We definitely feel that’s extremely important—especially with the new folks,” says Velte. “That’s how you overcome any prior conception about companies that don’t care or aren’t going to be helpful. We’re actually being the role model for the culture and the value system by showing employees that if you’ve got a problem, I’m going to help you.”

—Leon Rubis

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