How can businesses move past survival to thriving and beyond—in this tough economy? Since 1988, Strategic Programs, Inc., has listened in-depth to clients’problems, designed and implemented client-centric solutions, and monitored and measured the results to address previously unsolvable problems. New services, created in response to each client’s needs, have later been replicated with others and have created new revenue streams.
Strategic Programs was the first human capital research and consulting firm to offer computerized individual and organizational assessments. Individual 360 multi-rater instruments were in their infancy, and organizational assessments were few. As a start-up, we offered only two fully customizable assessments: 360-degree and employee satisfaction surveys. Our 360-degree design process was proven to work for any job description, and the equally adaptable employee satisfaction survey collected current employees’ opinions on how they experienced the workplace.
Innovation is at the heart of our longevity. In the mid-1990s, three of our clients were losing good employees. Conservatively, they estimated turnover costs at 1.5 times the average compensation for each exited employee. They could not get good information from internally conducted exit interviews, and there was no literature on how to improve their process. Human resource professionals in comparable corporations told our clients that exit interviews were a waste of time.
How could we help, when there was no model to follow? What research had we used effectively before that we could apply to this profit-eating business problem? Strategic Programs co-founder and CEO Rim Yurkus relied on research processes that had proven to be effective in employee satisfaction surveys: quantitative questions; third-party objective administration to avoid auspicious bias (a tendency for a respondent to react more favorable to their survey sponsor when they know who the sponsor is, as opposed to giving candid, honest feedback to a neutral or third party); and user-friendly reporting with accountability for action plans.
Idea! Processes that were reliable for collecting high-quality, actionable data in the present from current employees could be written in the past tense to collect data from former employees. If we collected data over a longer period of time and then aggregated it, clients would see the “exited organization.”
Three organizations partnered with us in research and development. In 1998, Strategic Programs reported the first validated, reliable research with actionable data from exited employees. The data are absolutely reliable for making solid business decisions.
Today, we help organizations not just to reduce turnover, but to manage it by retaining high potentials and cycling out less competent employees—thus evolving to continually higher performance levels.
Recently, a client in a high-turnover industry was not concerned about 15 percent turnover until she learned that more than 20 percent of their exiting employees were top performers. In a tight economy, burdened by working lean, the first people to leave are those who have more skills than merely competent employees.They are valued not only for organizational intelligence and performance but for their tendency to attract good people and improve productivity.
Exit interviews and retention solutions comprise a majority of our business. Today, we conduct them globally in eight languages, and will add others as our clients’ needs expand. Our normative database far exceeds beyond that of our competitors, is unequalled in the marketplace, and has earned a 94 percent client retention rate during the recession.
Why would companies pay for exit interviews when money is tight and turnover is not an issue? Exit data are the best way to learn what is happening inside an organization, information that is too controversial for current employees to report and continue to work there. Former employees report safety violations, integrity issues, illegal behavior and EEOC violations that can result in ultra-expensive lawsuits. Our skilled interviewers also re-recruit valued, exited talent and save clients enough in recruiting costs to cover their annual contract.
Regardless of industry, services companies tend to lose people the first three to six months of employment. This experience led us to create a proactive approach to turnover, the New Hire Check-in, which evaluates the quality and effectiveness of orientation and onboarding and soothes early disappointments and mistrust. Our best clients complement exit interviews with New Hire.
Another adaptation of proven research processes met the needs of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). They wanted to know how some Native American nations perceived their services, as they could not get candid participation through their own efforts. Strategic Programs consultants saw this research design as similar to 360-degree, but on a grander scale, with the BIA treating it as if it were an individual whose performance was rated by various constituencies.
Respondent leaders from each nation were engaged in the process and instrument design to earn the level of trust needed to get candid, quality responses in sufficient quantity to produce a reliable report. Responses were divided and reported by eight nations—the Lakota Sioux, Oglala Sioux, Arapaho, Blackfoot, Crow, Cheyenne, Nez Perce and Navajo.
Results of the research were reported to tribal councils and to BIA leadership. The report showed strengths and opportunities for improvement that were communicated to the BIA by each nation, and an action plan was developed based on recommendations from our consultants, along with follow-up on implementation. We earned a new and highly satisfied client by implementing known elements of the 360-degree process in different ways, by using information, ideas, intelligence and innovation.
A 360-degree hybrid was created for a newly seated chair of the board, who wanted to know how directors perceived the effectiveness of the board as a whole, as well as that of individual directors. The problem was that allies and adversaries on the board would not be objective in rating their peers if the chair were to see their results.
Strategic Programs consultants designed the research as a 360-degree assessment of each director, with each report being delivered by a certified coach, who would assist in outlining a professional development plan. Critical to accessing quality data was that the chair would see none of the directors’ reports. Data from each director’s report were aggregated into a composite board report for the chair, showing strengths and development opportunities for the board. Certified consultants worked with the board to develop their group action plan, which included a timeline for achieving their goals and accountability assigned to each director for participating in the action plan.
An important factor in each director’s motivation for development was the comparison chart, which showed each director’s profile compared to that of the board. This communicated the strengths that each director brought to the board, and where the collective board’s strengths were greater than his own.
By working with a consultant on conflict resolution, adversarial relationships and political alliances were reduced to insignificance, and the board’s subsequent 360-degree report showed measurable improvement in their effectiveness.
Strategic Programs’ growth through three challenging recessions has been driven by caring, intelligent, inquisitive business development and client consultants, interviewers, and data analysts who have expanded our capabilities in intelligent, innovative ways.
A start-up with only two assessments in 1988, our company has earned loyal, long-term clients through listening and creating innovative solutions that met or exceeded our clients’ expectations. As our accountant has said during every recession, “You folks just keep re-inventing yourselves.” It’s simple. We listen, and deliver, to help companies maximize their human capital.
Diane Irvin is the senior vice president and co-founder of Strategic Programs, Inc. For more information, visit www.strategicprogramsinc.com, or call 1.800.800.5476.