Charter Urges Staffers to KO Competition

Boxing stars Sugar Ray Leonard and John Ruiz recently helped Charter Communications Inc.'s national region kick off its new "Knockout" employee-incentive program, designed to help instill a competitive spirit and a sense of team building.

Last month in Palm Springs, Calif., 75 local managers were sworn in as "deputies" for the new program. Their charge: taking the "Knockout" mission back to their system-level employees.

Some local Charter staffers learned about the program over the past week or two at system-level launch parties.

The yearlong effort provides employees in the 12-state region with some monetary and other rewards for meeting company-set goals for basic-cable installations, churn reduction and competitive win-backs, as well as growth in digital-cable penetration, premium-channel subscriptions and cable-modem service.

"We wanted a way for front-line employees to understand the goals of the company," said Knockout program administrator Anna Kuhn.

Charter's national region is the largest of the MSO's decentralized operations. It was formed last June from two groups based in Denver and Houston that collectively served more than 450,000 customers.

"We saw the need to develop unity, to bring together the region," said national region director of marketing Mike Hoffey. Because of its wide geographic area-and the fact that many of its systems were acquired over just the past two years-the region faced cultural challenges, he said.

"It was an attempt to 'Charter-ize' them to our company," Hoffey said of the Palm Springs event.

Showtime Event Television sponsored the Ruiz visit, Hoffey said. Charter contacted Leonard's agent, who arranged a motivational speech from the boxing legend.

In keeping with the pugilistic theme, Charter employees at the Palm Springs event were asked to don boxing trunks and gloves.

"We really threw them a curveball," Hoffey said. Although some employees were initially shy to wear shorts in the dead of winter, everybody eventually had a good laugh, he added.

One of the new program's biggest goals is to "knock out the competition," Hoffey said. Charter's national region has some of the highest rates of direct-broadcast satellite penetration in the country, he said-upwards of 30 percent in some markets.

Cash incentives are available to full- and part-time employees who are members of groups that meet their goals in any of the six categories, Kuhn said. In addition, each system is encouraged to come up with its own incentives tailored to their individual markets.

Gift certificates for Wal-Mart stores or the local gas station might appeal in some markets, while complimentary spa treatments may be more appropriate in others, Kuhn suggested.

Leaders of 11 teams from Nebraska to South Texas are charged with feeding system managers with tips on team building and employee incentives throughout the year.

"Because this is a 12-month program, you could see how this could get stale" otherwise, Hoffey said.

All of the region's 1,200 employees are included in the program. In fact, each employee gets a new title: Customer-service representatives become fighters, sales managers are announcers and supervisors are personal trainers, for example.

"We recognize the need for visual aids and job aids," Hoffey said, adding that seven different motivational posters were created for the program.

System-level employees and their bosses have already taken the new program to heart.

At one system, for example, employees are greeted each morning with a compact disc of fight-related songs, such as the theme from Rocky, Kuhn said.

Elsewhere, system managers dressed up as Saturday Night Live
characters Hans and Franz, asking employees to "pump up" their sales numbers.