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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.