Peeling Back the Layers: How Banana Republic Brings Onboarding to Life

Posted in Talent & Onboarding

Banana Republic is one of the most well-known global apparel retailers, with a strong presence in North America and Japan, and franchise stores throughout the world. As a company they are proud of their heritage of innovation and entrepreneurship, which was started in 1978 by a couple in the Bay Area as a travel and safari clothing company.

When Dan Leavitt, Director of Talent Development for Banana Republic, looked at revitalising the internal onboarding program, he wanted to make sure their people would be able to relate with that history.

“We really wanted to connect people to our story and that sense of travel and adventure.”

Three months, 200 new hires? No problem.

The organization recently moved its New York corporate office to San Francisco. As part of that move, Banana Republic hired around 200 people, about one third of its entire corporate population, over the course of three months.

“We knew we needed to have our ducks in a row to get that huge infusion of people off on a great start.”

Banana Republic’s team began thinking about how new hires would experience the brand, even before day one.

“Being a consumer-facing brand, we have great assets, whether it’s marketing, or historical product, television spots, SNL skits, all of the different cultural places where our brand showed up over the years.”

Working with the company archivist, they created a digital history and timeline, effectively delivering an interactive digital experience for new hires during the preboarding period.


Living and breathing the brand culture

Banana Republic shares many of the same values of its parent company, Gap Inc.

“Things like social responsibility and volunteerism are important across Gap Inc. and the importance of leadership and having a very respectful environment is something I love about working here,” Dan said.

The first day experience for a new hire is an organization-wide orientation experience by Gap Inc. The day ends with a cocktail hour where the new hires can mingle and connect with their hiring managers, recruiters and HR people.

“If you want a more informal, fun, interactive culture, then don’t let your meetings be boring, stiff, really formal onboarding experiences.”


BRB, on safari

The Banana Republic Brand Immersion Experience sees new hires taken on a kind of safari, or a walking tour of the building.

“They’re moving around each floor of our building, meeting different teams, interacting with a product.”

“The idea is to really build out that cultural connection, giving people a sense of how work is done, and to really drive energy and experience by exploring the company and meet people, rather than sitting in a classroom going through a Powerpoint.”

New hires get to see practical parts of the business, like the sewing room and the design studio, and end their safari by walking over to an actual retail store for a tour.

“It’s a pretty fun business we’re in – retail, clothes – and we don’t want it to feel like a stuffy place to work.”

The team created a big sign that said “Onboarding in Motion”, as a marker for the Brand Immersion Experience, which the group carries around during the experience.

“People look for the sign, see it, come up, introduce themselves. So it’s a little bit of a symbol of our brand immersion onboarding experience, and a great way to meet people too.”

Banana Republic’s three biggest lessons about onboarding

  1. Think outside the box: “This doesn’t have to be a huge, formal type of experience, but it can be something that happens out on the floor, outside of the confines of traditional classrooms.”
  2. Iterate, rinse, and repeat: “Be willing to experiment with new approaches, get feedback, talk about what works and be able to kind of ditch things that don’t work and move on quickly.”
  3. Keep it human: “It’s really important to build interpersonal human connections, like what we do with our Brand Immersion Day. It’s about blending the high tech and new, while carving out the time to bring people together, and have them meet people within the brand and the company.”

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