The Rewards of the Corporate Development Program (part 2)

Last week, I discussed some challenges Callahan & Associates faced during the dot-com boom. The first was finding talent that could thrive in the high-accountability, high-reward environment that drove our success in the early years. Our second challenge was to knock down the silos that developed between departments as we grew both the bottom line and the number of employees. (read Part 1)

 
 

Last week, I discussed some challenges Callahan & Associates faced during the dot-com boom. The first was finding talent that could thrive in the high-accountability, high-reward environment that drove our success in the early years. Our second challenge was to knock down the silos that developed between departments as we grew both the bottom line and the number of employees. (read Part 1)

Our proposed solution was the Callahan Corporate Development Program. To read a description of the program, click here. This week, learn how our program fared; what the impact was on our culture; and to see the answer to the question ''Would we do it again?''

Our Solution: The Corporate Development Program
With the single investment of a $300 MonsterTrak listing at 20 top colleges around the country, along with a few on-site campus visits (which we organized around other sales initiatives), we developed a pool of 30 exceptional college students from which to choose five new Corporate Associates (CAs).

Unlike many training programs where new employees shadow a mentor or do ''grunt work'' (aka filing, stuffing envelopes,etc) while learning the ropes, each CA was given very specific objectives including direct revenue accountability, client support responsibilities, and company-wide support goals (ie. writing articles like this one for CreditUnions.com!) This is not to say they didn't get stuck stuffing envelopes at times, but our objective was to balance that work with real hands-on experience.

Although we did not retain all our new hires for the duration of the program, we viewed it as a great success. Here's why:

Reward #1: A Ready Made Network
The Corporate Associates began this 6-month program by spending a week together in our conference room, set-up to enable lecture-style training and hands-on computer work. This had a two-fold effect. First, its impact on the company was profound since they developed a team bond, distinct from our business units. It was them against the world! When someone needed help with a direct mail marketing or another large project, they all rally to their aid, whether they are working in the same division or not. Second, since only one was from the DC area originally, it helped them all adapt to a new city by providing an instant support network of others who were looking for friends.

Reward #2: Breaking Down the Silos
Our most important company-wide goal was to break down the silos between business units. Our orientation and rotation plan was designed to show the Corporate Associates the inherent synergies between departments. By teaching them the responsibilities and importance of each unit to the company as a whole, rather than focus their training on a single product line, they were better equipped to recognize opportunities to enhance the performance of the entire company. Now, since they have all experienced the pressures and rewards of each unit, they are more supportive of each other's work.

Reward #3: Improved Customer Service
An important effect on our clients is the depth of knowledge developed across the company. The cross-training efforts tripled the number of internal employees able to answer the most difficult questions about our company's core products. Now, clients do not have to wait until our two ''Peer Experts'' are available. Any of the Corporate Associates, and many of their colleagues (see Reward #4), can provide expert-level advice.

Reward #4a: Restructuring the Company, Part 1
I can look back and say honestly that the CAs were being judged on a higher standard than current employees-not because they were more capable but because of the way the program was structured. They were being asked to learn the responsibilities of all four company units, rather than just one. And, although they couldn't cover everything in a 6-week rotation, they were at least exposed to much more than employees brought in to fill a set job description. Once we realized the system was working, we didn't stop at just cross-training the CAs. We changed the way our products and services units were structured to enhance the responsibilities of all employees and provide greater skill training. We were able to broaden the product knowledge (Yearbooks, Peer-to-Peer, research surveys) of our entire staff, while having them focus on a more specific skill (marketing, production, financial analysis, etc) at the same time.

To reward this change, the management staff rewrote our evaluation forms to recognize that many employees were now expanding their contributions to the company's bottom line.

Reward #4b: Restructuring the Company, Part 2
We restructured our physical office space as well. Our lease expired in December and the new landlords were raising the rent by a significant amount. We decided to renegotiate the size of our existing space and used the savings to revamp the entire office. We purchased new furniture in an open-layout; knocked out all solid walls and replaced with full panes of glass; and moved the managers out of their offices to be more in touch with the employees. This brought home the reality that we weren't just hiring new employees but changing the way Callahans did business.

Would We Do It Again?
Absolutely! We are in the process of hiring our second ''class'' of Corporate Associates right now. With the same $300 MonsterTrak investment, a visit to a local university career fair, and word-of-mouth networking, we are evaluating another group of extremely talented candidates for the program.

Changes for This Year
This year, we started almost two months earlier in the recruiting process to tap into a wider pool of candidates. We are also evaluating additional features of the program including on-site training at local credit unions (Interested in participating? Let me know by sending me an email at alix@creditunions.com) and the addition of team project to keep the CAs working closely together throughout the six months (something most have been exposed to in their business school coursework).

Be sure to look for their impact on CreditUnions.com, our core products and customer support starting in July this year! We'll keep you updated on how things are going.

 

 

 

March 24, 2003


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