How to create employee evangelists.

It’s 10:55 in the morning and most of the head office employees of 1-800-GOT-JUNK have gathered in the ‘Junktion’ – the company’s headquarters near Granville Island – for what amounts to a revival meeting. There’s almost a cult-like fervour in the room as several employees deliver good news and report on the progress of various divisional tasks to constant applause. The short session ends with a team cheer. At this ‘Daily Huddle’ the employees are reinforcing a vision that every one of them understands. It’s called the ‘Painted Picture,’ a document – a Junkland bible, really – that describes what the company will look like at various points in the future. The Painted Picture concept extends to employees: Everyone is encouraged to develop their own personal Painted Pictures involving 101 life dreams and continually track their progress toward achieving them. It’s one reason why the call-centre-based franchise operation has become the continent’s largest junk removal service, with 196 franchises producing 2005 sales of $75 million. That kind of employee enthusiasm has vaulted 1-800-GOT-JUNK once again into the top spot on this year’s “Best Companies To Work For” survey, a spot it also nailed last year. The company regularly wins favourite and best employer awards throughout North America, including an acknowledgement in October by Fortune Small Business magazine as one of 15 Best Bosses in North America. This true-believer passion isn’t accidental. 1-800-GOT-JUNK is a master of ‘employee evangelism,’ the turning of the system’s 1,200-plus (most of them under 35) employees – known as team members – and franchise partners (most of whom are also under 35) into zealous salespeople for the company. CEO Brian Scudamore and COO Cameron Herold firmly believe that communicating the vision to employees to create enthusiasm is key to achieving their plan of 623 franchises and $420 million in sales by the end of 2009, and $1 billion in sales by 2012. Every employee – chosen for their self motivation after a Survivor-like competition of applicants – has committed The Painted Picture to memory; and to reinforce that memory, inspirational messages from it are written in foot-high letters on every wall of the Junktion. The employee zeal doesn’t stop at the doors of the company’s offices. Each member of the Junk sect is encouraged to talk up the vision to friends and acquaintances in the outside world. Since it’s in the hypergrowth stage – average annual growth tops 50 per cent – and is always in hiring mode, the company also encourages employees to continually recruit new apostles of junk. “1-800-GOT-JUNK is about building something much bigger together than any one of us could create alone,” the Painted Picture asserts, adding that it’s up to every employee to “create, share and become involved” in the company’s expansion. “We are building a global company, so it’s important that we get the right people on the bus” explains Cameron Herold. “Our team members are co-entrepreneurs so we look for strong leaders, self-motivated people who understand they can grow because they own a piece of the company.” To promote those vibes, employees are constantly exhorted to improve themselves and to plan their own futures in the Junk world. Many of the current managers, or ‘leaders,’ as they’re known – you can’t manage people, only lead them, says Herold – began at entry-level jobs and, after showing interest and aptitude, were promoted to higher-levels. The company also provides to all employees an array of job ‘satisfiers’ such as flexible hours, more vacation time than is normal for equivalent jobs in other businesses, group trips to such places as Whistler, an annual private ‘lunch’ and profit sharing, handed out annually and equalling an average of about 12 per cent of an employee’s annual salary. Certainly employees – there are about 135 at the Junktion – have responded with a devotion that would make most companies blush. One call-centre employee was so diligent in his continual recruiting of new employees – he would approach strangers on the street and encourage them to apply – he was given a raise and a full-time job as a recruiter of new talent. Most other employees are like Roland Enriquez, a leader in the commercial sales division who worked his way up from the call centre. Whenever he is making a transaction in a store, he looks for potential new missionaries for the cause. “I often act like a mystery shopper,” he explains. “If I have an awesome experience in a store with someone, I’ll try to convince them to come over because we need people like that.”