Case Studies

The following case studies illustrate the work I’ve done with clients:

1. Getting the right hire the first time
2. Reducing the turnover of employees — and customers
3. Maintaining commitment and buy-in during times of transition
4. Compensation that motivates excellence
5. Performance accountability — not liability
6. Coaching and Developing Your HR Team
7. Resolving Conflict and Building Relationships
8. Getting Dysfunctional Teams on Track for Success

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Case Study #1: Getting the right hire the first time

The Challenge:
Reduce the likelihood of future bad hiring decisions that can cost the company up to 2- or 3-times the salary for the position to rectify.

The Solution:
This sales management company hires sales professionals to work in client sites around the country to sell the clients’ high-value services. The company recently experienced two separate “bad” hires, serving two different clients. Each of these situations created a high potential for losing the client’s business and, at a minimum, losing significant sales generation even if the client relationship were maintained. Company owners wanted to reduce the likelihood of a bad hire in the future.

Assessment of hiring practices currently in place revealed a somewhat ad hoc “intuitive” selection process, candidly described by the Sales Director as based on “gut instinct.”

The solution was to implement a more structured selection process that uncovered candidate attitudes, working styles, and cultural fit to the organization to assure better alignment. The techniques we introduced and trained this sales management company to apply included a pre-hire assessment and a more effective interview process. These new tools and process allowed the company to identify whether a candidate would be a better motivational fit for both the job and the company culture.

The Outcome:
A focused candidate selection process that improves the match of candidates for success in the position and to the company’s culture. The process implemented had the added benefit of reducing top executive time spent interviewing. On average, the process determined the number of best qualified candidates to be six, instead of twelve for each position. Evaluation of results is ongoing, but shows promise in the initial stages.

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Case Study #2: Reducing the turnover of employees — and customers

The Challenge:
To reduce monthly teller turnover at a retail bank from over 50% per month in its retail branch banking offices. This would contribute to improved customer satisfaction and increase customer retention.

The Solution:
The bank had moved through multiple mergers and restructurings with significant changes in operating procedures and in expectations of employees in the branch banking offices. Leadership was challenged by turnover among its leaders and by expectations for sales growth and production. The solution was to: a) change the hiring process to ensure new hires were more appropriately matched to the job in skills, interest and motivational fit; b) establish new employee on-boarding and mentoring to ensure they rapidly understood the culture and expectations, not just the technical steps; and c) increase the skill of leaders to set mutually understood performance objectives, coach for success, hold employees accountable for achieving expected outcomes, and reward success.

The Outcome:
After 7 months, teller turnover was reduced by 48%, to under 26%. Analysis showed this reduced the costs associated with employee turnover by over 50%, increased customer satisfaction by over 76%, and effectively resulted in 100% customer retention.

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Case Study #3: Maintaining commitment and buy-in during times of transition

The Challenge:
After an acquisition, the new company needed to “capture the hearts and minds” of employees to develop a higher level of employee engagement and alignment. Employee morale had seen a setback as a result of the transition.

The Solution:
Multiple mergers had expanded this company by combining multiple in-market competitors over a number of years. As of the most recent merger, many employees identified with their original company from 2 or 3 mergers prior, not with the current one. The culture was highly fragmented. Employee understanding of expectations, as well as their commitment to achieving those expectations, was extremely low.

Compounding the situation, many employees distrusted the current company based on their perception of how the company had handled (or mishandled) acquisitions in other markets.

The solution was to implement a strategy to:

  • Engage employees in building a shared vision of core values and business objectives
  • Improve dialog and communications
  • Increase leadership effectiveness by improving leaders’ skills in:
    • Building trust
    • Setting objectives
    • Coaching for success and managing performance
    • Establishing accountability and commitment to excellence

The Outcome:
Employee engagement improved over 200% (defined as willingness of employees to give discretionary effort to accomplishing goals) and customer loyalty improved by over 27%.

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Case Study #4: Compensation that motivates excellence

The Challenge:
Establish a compensation program that rewards and retains top contributors, is understood by both employees and managers, is perceived as equitable, and uses the company’s available budget most effectively.

The Solution:
A large national law firm had implemented a series of alternative salary structures over the years in a continuing and largely unsuccessful effort to find a process that allowed the firm to reward for performance but not overreach its available budget.

For lawyers, the practice had consistently been a “lockstep” compensation structure that paid all Associates of the same class year the same salary. As a result, the firm was being priced out of the market for top talent. The firm simply could not afford to pay all Associates at the top rates being offered by wealthier firms.

For administrative staff, the practice had been a grade and salary structure that seemed increasingly arbitrary and incapable of adjusting to an inevitable “compensation creep.” Longtime administrative staff employees were being exceedingly well paid based on years of consecutive pay increases. At the same time, budget constraints were preventing new high-performing employees from receiving the increases necessary to keep them from being hired away by competitors.

The key challenges were:

  • Recognition that lawyers should not be compensated based on tenure, but on performance
  • Acceptance that already highly-compensated employees should not continue to receive annual raises which elevated their salaries far above a competitive market wage for their positions
  • A commitment that supervisors could make meaningful, objective judgments about relative performance and contributions among both attorneys and staff.

The solution was to strengthen the performance management and evaluation process and then to create a compensation philosophy and structure grounded in performance and contribution, not tenure, and based on competitive market pricing for each job.

The Outcome:
The solution created a basis for clear communication about compensation decisions and future expectations. Managers embraced the ability to reward top performers with competitive pay that reflected contribution to the firm. At the same time, managers gained the confidence to have direct candid conversations with individuals about total compensation and how their compensation aligned to the competitive marketplace because they felt they now had realistic tools to support those conversations. Employees understood the alignment of performance and contribution to pay, and employee surveys demonstrated employee understanding of the structure and how they participated.

After completion of two annual pay review cycles, compensation was demonstrably aligned to performance and not tenure. More significantly, the firm was able to match and even exceed market prices to retain the top performers critical to continuing business success while maintaining a sustainable compensation budget.

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Case Study #5: Performance accountability — not liability

The Challenge:
A regional employer was experiencing legal expenses in excess of $600,000 per year in connection with employee-filed complaints with the EEOC and civil lawsuits. Lawyers representing plaintiffs had identified the firm as an “easy target.” Regulators were inclined to fully investigate every complaint filed because of the firm’s poor track record.

The Solution:
The solution was to completely redesign the company’s performance management process, disciplinary process, and termination decision process. Managers were trained in setting performance objectives, in coaching for success and in delivering counseling. This developed high-performing employees and facilitated low- performing staff to leave the firm on their own. This was accomplished while enhancing a culture of high performance and high accountability.

The Outcome:
After three months, no new claims were filed with the EEOC and did not reoccur during the next five years. Existing employee lawsuits were all resolved within six months and no new charges were brought against the company in the following five years of tracking.

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Case Study #6: Coaching and Developing Your HR Team

The Challenge:
A mid-sized company lost its HR Director at a critical time with performance appraisals, compensation review and benefits annual enrollment all pending. The remaining members of the HR team were a recruiter with some HR Generalist experience and an administrative assistant.

The CEO needed immediate management support and additionally wanted a recommendation on what future HR structure to put in place. The CEO wanted to change how HR supported the organization. In the past, HR operated as a policy enforcer and was viewed by the management team as an obstruction. The CEO wanted a collaborative partner to improving business performance.

The Solution:
I stepped in to provide immediate overall direction to the HR efforts and ensure that critical tasks were completed while coaching the remaining HR team members. In working with the HR team, my focus included demonstrating by example how to engage with managers and executives in the company as a consultative business partner focused on finding workable solutions.

After reviewing the company’s structure, operating practices and culture, the recommendation adopted by the CEO for the company’s future HR direction was to: 1) outsource non-strategic HR activities like recruiting candidate sourcing (but not hiring selection); 2) not replace at the HR Director level due to the current size of the company but instead replace with an HR Manager who could be consultative to the executive team and provide very hands-on coaching to managers and supervisors; and 3) engage a third-party HR consultant to provide strategic guidance and support. The company chose to give the existing HR Generalist an opportunity to develop into the HR Manager role and to engage my coaching support in that development.

The Outcome:
Overall cost savings of $30,000 per year achieved over prior structure, even with the new costs of out-sourcing recruiting and engaging a third-party consultant. After 18 months of development/coaching, the existing HR Recruiter/Generalist attained her Professional Human Resources (PHR) certification, is valued by the executive team as a trusted business partner from whom they actively seek advice, and has been promoted to HR Manager. The Recruiting process is now streamlined, faster to fill openings with better candidates, and is far more highly resilient in meeting variable hiring needs. HR is now delivering added value to the business as a trusted advisor working to drive improved business performance. I eased out of my close engagement as the third-party consultant as the company become more self-sufficient, but continued to be available as needed for consultation and strategic planning. The CEO and I  accomplished our stated mission of increasing the internal capacity of our client’s organization by transferring knowledge and skills.

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Case Study #7: Resolving Conflict and Building Relationships

The Challenge:
The founding partners of a regional professional services firm were angry and frustrated with each other. After 25 years, they argued continuously and no longer trusted one another. Their conflict had brought them to threatening to dissolve the firm.

The Solution:
Speaking with each partner in confidence revealed a shared goal: both deeply wished for the firm’s continued existence. They just didn’t see any way forward given their inability to work together over the past few years. Further conversations identified that the partners fundamentally failed to recognize that they were not just complementary in their personalities, they were polar opposites in how they solved problems, thought through issues, and engaged with others. Their respective behavioral styles were destined to most greatly irritate the other in the absence of greater awareness and skill in how they adapted to meet each other’s needs to be heard and understood.

The saving grace over the 25 years they’d worked together had been a third founding partner who two years previously retired from the firm. This third member of the founding partners was the intermediate “glue” that allowed everyone to work together so effectively. Without that third founding partner as buffer and facilitator, the remaining two partners were crashing headlong into each other.

Over several months of individual and team coaching, and using the DISC behavior style assessment, the partners learned how to flex their styles to meet the other’s need. In one joint working session, I interrupted to point out exactly what they were doing to each other that was creating the conflict, and a flash of understanding emerged. Over the following months, we worked together to develop the skills they needed to re-engage with each other constructively.

The Outcome:
By applying the skills and understanding the partners developed during our work together, they have continued to lead the firm successfully and re-build their trust in each other. The working relationship continues to be a bit rocky from time to time, but they now recognize that as communication style differences and they work to assume good intention and find ways to talk through those occasional rocky moments.

Related Services: Executive Coaching, Shadow Coaching, Team Building

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Case Study #8: Getting Dysfunctional Teams on Track for Success

The Challenge:
A new CEO inherited a senior management team that did not work well together, carried stories behind each other’s backs, did not directly engage with each other to address differences of opinion or direction, agreed in group meetings then promptly distanced themselves from the decision. In short, this team was about as dysfunctional a team as she or I had encountered. I was engaged by the CEO to this team get on track.

The Solution:
Confidential interviews with the team members confirmed the dysfunctional behavior and identified a deep lack of trust within the team. This had been compounded by a distrust of the new CEO’s motivations and the shift in decision-making style. The team also held a strong desire to “go back to the way things were.” Interestingly, most members of the team were very aware of the negative behaviors and most wanted to get out of the disaster they’d built for themselves over the 16 months since the new CEO arrived.

The foundation needed to turning this situation around lay in building some level of trust, and this was our starting point.

I worked first with the CEO on her contribution to the problem: a lack of transparency, the appearance of having a hidden agenda, and a lack of clarity around decision making. With my support, she engaged in an open exploration of issues the team had with her, her leadership style and her mandate from the governing board. I facilitated the exchange as the team’s agreed advocate for voicing their issues in a way that maintained individual confidentiality while getting the issues on the table to the CEO could answer them openly in a group setting.

In a day long workshop, I then worked with this team to identified shared values and shared expectations for behaviors. We built team norms to which each member of the team agreed. My challenge to them was consistently: What are you willing to commit to doing that will move you out of the unpleasant working relationship you’ve created for yourselves? And, to what  are you willing to hold each other accountable?

They asked, “How will these be enforced?” The answer was and continues to be, these are behaviors to which all of you have agreed. The enforcement comes from each of you stepping forward to identify behavior that is not consistent and to engage each other on that issue.

The Outcome:
As of the end of the first week, conversations were materially more open and direct consistent with the behavior the team had identified they wanted. Over the next 60-days, team meetings and interactions were tested, behaviors challenged and peer pressure exerted. At the end of this period, the team reviewed the norms for the first time to consider changes. Two minor tweaks were made for clarification. A year later, the team is hitting goals, making crisp decisions and speaking to the organization with one voice as a senior leadership team on the same page.

Related Services: Team Building

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Human Resources Consulting in Richmond VA delivering practical, effective business results.

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