FarWell restructures to emphasize employee experience

While COVID-19 wasn’t the cause of its internal restructure, Madison-based FarWell's renewed employee focus has helped during the pandemic.

A once-in-a-lifetime event like the COVID-19 pandemic forces every business and organization to take stock of itself and potentially address some harsh realities to emerge stronger.

While the coronavirus has given all organizations that push, prior to the outbreak Madison-based FarWell Project Advisors realized it needed to make some internal changes in order to maximize the potential of everyone at the company.

As a result, FarWell restructured its leadership team in an effort to embody an “employee-experience (EX)-delivers-customer-experience (CX)” mentality. The leadership changes include the promotion of four senior staff along with four senior advisors.

“The latest corporate restructuring is an example of how important we value not only our internal employees but also our customers,” co-founder and CEO Jason Potter says. “For us to deliver meaningful client experiences, it all starts with making sure we’re helping our team members thrive personally and professionally.”

Co-founder Steve McQuin is now president and chief innovation officer, Mel Gillen is the customer experience officer, Nick Lombardino is now director of employee experience, and Mike Maniaci is the director of client solutions.

FarWell's leadership team.

Another way FarWell is focusing on its employee experience is by promoting senior advisors Rachel Breitbach, Dean Giorgetti, Jeff Barutt, and Natalie Droessler to engagement managers (EM). In these support-driven roles, the EMs have the responsibility of leading a team of advisors across multiple different clients, with an emphasis on delivery support, career pathing, and professional development.

“FarWell’s EX vision is to grow an organizational culture that is grounded in shared values and where team members are empowered to flourish personally and professionally,” Gillen says. “When you can help employees achieve a higher level of fulfillment, you also create incredible experiences for your clients.”

“Leaders at FarWell have focused on developing a positive employee culture since we started,” notes McQuin. “Like many, Jason Potter and I have worked for companies [that had] great work environments and others that didn’t. As FarWell grew, it became harder to stay connected with our teammates. We knew that having everyone report to the CEO as a 40-person company was not sustainable and that our teammates were not getting the experience they deserved.”

According to McQuin, the process started in 2019 when the leaders at FarWell dedicated a role to leading employee experience, while also adding focus and time to improving customer experience. Company EX leader Nick Lombardino is following a framework of proven strategies that will provide the best experience possible for the FarWell team, while CX leader Mel Gillen works closely with the entire team on how EX impacts its customers. The EMs give teams someone to go to for support, questions, and guidance, helping company leaders stay connected with everybody and share company values.

“The changes were largely about adding dedicated leadership and support roles to match the size of the company without adding bureaucracy,” explains McQuin. “We realized that we were running too lean to provide the experience our team was expecting.”

McQuin says the role changes have so far been very positive, though it takes time for everyone to learn how to work effectively in the new organization.

“We came across some challenging realizations,” McQuin admits. “The comments from our team drove many of the changes. They were the result of not having enough of a support system, clarity, and consistent communication. When we codified the FarWell values — humility, accountability, and collaboration — we had some team members who weren’t aligned with one or more of the values. Through this, we learned that if we don’t communicate who we are early and often, the entire culture is at risk.

“Keeping the values to three and having them be a description of who we are as a team has been critical,” continues McQuin. “People either connect with those values or decide this company is not for them. We have also emphasized that though we added some structure, we are still the same team and that no matter what your role, you have access to anyone on the team as you need it.”

McQuin says this process can be replicated anywhere, but it takes some honest self-reflection to make it work. “First, have a clear understanding of what you want your workplace culture to be. Then, hire leaders and a team that naturally share your values and desired behaviors. If there is misalignment, it can erode trust quickly. The framework, strategies, and tactics of improving EX can all be figured out, but they won’t be effective unless there is a foundation of trust.

“Communicating the intersection and optimization between EX and CX is an ongoing journey,” McQuin adds. “In principle, we believe that if our employees have a great experience at FarWell, that shines through as they interact with our customers. We get regular feedback from our customers about our team members who are providing amazing CX. We celebrate those actions as we all try to help our internal and external customers succeed.”

FarWell began its internal restructuring long before anyone could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, but McQuin says the new structure already appears to be paying dividends.

“To us, tough or fearful times are exactly why companies need a trusting, positive culture,” says McQuin. “Who we choose to spend our working hours with makes a huge difference when our worlds get turned upside down.

“Each person works through times of stress and fear differently,” McQuin continues. “We support our team by communicating with them at least weekly with updates and guidance. For example, those employees who didn’t have equipment to work remotely, we made purchases to be sure they could be productive at home. We try to be even more diligent about recognizing positive activities of our team, both work and family related. We share information that is data driven so our team can stay informed and are transparent about decisions that impact them. We are confident we will get through this together.”

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