HR Management & Compliance

WAHOO Wins Kudos for HR Department

WAHOO—Work At Home Office Opportunity—is just one example of employee-centered thinking that has helped Mitchell International achieve success. Today’s Advisor looks at how they do it.

With an HR mission statement that says, “…we exist to support the organization in achieving its strategic objectives and to ensure that we continue to attract, motivate, and retain the very best people,” it’s no wonder that Mitchell International, Inc. has a turnover rate of less than 10 percent.

And it’s no surprise that the Mitchell Human Resources Department achieved the highest honor—Grand Prize Winner—given by the San Diego Society for Human Resource Management a few years back, and that Jack Farnan, senior vice president of HR, was named HR Professional of the Year by the San Diego Business Journal last year.

Mitchell (, a provider of information, workflow, and performance management solutions to the property and casualty claims and collision repair industries, has approximately 1,000 employees located in 36 states in the United States and six provinces in Canada.

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WAHOO Was a Win-Win

“With a great diversity in our workforce today, we are constantly working at attracting people to the workforce: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y,” says Farnan. “The generations are all motivated and challenged by different things. We help leadership and management understand, value, and cherish the diversity and differences, coming up with different concepts and implementing them into the organization.”

Farnan offers WAHOO as a good example. Some of the younger (and lower-paid) staffers found the cost of housing in San Diego too high. They were able to find affordable housing, but it was far away from the office and the employees were finding the long daily commute too much to handle.

So Farnan went to work on the problem. Two years ago, he created a steering committee of managers from different departments whose employees could be considered candidates for a proposed Work at Home Office Opportunity program (WAHOO). “A pilot program was set up for 12 employees with processes and procedures put in place to help manage them,” he explains.

The pilot program was so successful that now 50 employees are participating. “It has become part of our culture,” Farnan emphasizes. The employees have their own support system with others in the WAHOO program, and WAHOO participants are required to commute in for periodic meetings in their departments.

Having employees in the WAHOO program also frees up office space for Mitchell to hire more employees without having to expand facilities. Mitchell also has a separate telecommuting program for employees that go into the office a few days a week and work from home a few days as well.

The Mitchell Culture

The Mitchell work culture and environment are an important part of its ability to attract and retain staff. Open communication and participation in community initiatives are part of that culture.

A meeting for all employees is held each quarter in a theater and begins with music playing and a montage of employee photos on the screen, says Farnan. Company financial information is shared; employee recognition awards given, employee anniversaries honored, and new employees welcomed, notes Farnan. The meeting is taped for employees in remote locations to view later. There’s also an electronic employee newsletter that goes out every other month with such features as “From the Top,” a column written by different members of senior leadership, he explains.

Mitchell and its employees give back to the community by creating the curriculum for a collision repair training program for at-risk high school students that is taught by the city college, Farnan says. Employees from Mitchell that want to participate in this effort set up student internships with local collision repair centers, adjust the curriculum, plan field trips, and coordinate graduation ceremonies.

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Partnering with Leadership

Leadership training for new managers and continuing education for all managers help Mitchell manage and retain the diverse workforce. Mitchell’s employee turnover rate is under 10 percent in an industry that averages 25 percent turnover.

Farnan explains his HR success for others: “Half is about the ideas, the initiatives, and half is about how you implement them in your organization. Every organization is unique.”

His advice to other HR executives is, “You need to manage people the way that they want to be managed. What motivates one person doesn’t motivate another. That’s the excitement in HR today.”

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll look at some things to consider before you establish a WAHOO program, and we’ll tell you about a resource that can help you with your homeworkers/telecommuting—and all other—HR needs.