Case Study: AmeriCorps Turnover
Leveling up Leadership Development
Ameri-Corps was experiencing 70% turnover of line level managers. They were also running into challenges recruiting new employees because of poor reviews on websites like Glassdoor. High turnover rates are costly to the organization because it typically takes 1-2 years before the organization has a positive ROI from an employee, considering all the costs of recruiting, onboarding, and training.
After holding Focus Groups, spending weeks observing managers at work, observing meetings and holding one-on-one interviews of people in those meetings, I could identify some patterns in interaction.
One main pattern I observed was that in a meeting of a group of people, one person would dominate while the others would remain quiet. When I asked individuals about the interactions, I commonly received responses such as, “I was friends with the main speaker in the room. I trusted her so I didn’t feel like I needed to talk,” or, “She always talks over me,” or, “It’s not worth me sharing my thoughts because I’m not heard anyway.” The dominant person’s reasoning was that others trusted them to make decisions and didn’t have opinions about things.
It was helpful for them to have an external person come in to listen, observe, and offer objective perspective. It was a younger organization and many employees had little experience in the work force or management training. Stress was often caused by first-time people managers not managing their tasks properly.
Some issues I discovered through the process included lack of trust, lack of accountability structure, and a general lack of listening from leaders in the organization.
To garner buy-in from the team, we held an All-hands meeting with 45 management staff where I shared my observations. Beginning with Appreciative Inquiry, I honored what they were doing well; they scored high on industry benchmarks of teamwork, collaboration, and getting things done. “It seems like you may dislike each other,” I told them, “but you get the project done.” It was refreshing and validating for them to hear positive feedback. Because I saw them holistically and expressed that there aren’t “bad people,” only people making undesirable choices, they felt more confident about possible improvement.
I offered several recommendations to address their concerns:
- Tools for carrying better conversations (I was licensed to train everyone in “Crucial Conversations”)
- Project Management education – Managers needed to be taught that project management is not time management
- Some people needed better systems to remedy daily work dysfunctions (eg, using Outlook instead of sticky notes)
- Closing the loop for Town Hall Meetings – In the past, leaders would ask for feedback but fail to follow up and close the loop
I received a lot of good response from the meeting, many nodding heads, “yesses,” and people coming up to me afterward.
To bring about change, I established a budget and secured funding for a permanent Learning & Development role so that training like Crucial Conversations and Project Management could be provided to current and future managers.
After changes were put into effect, the turnover rate dropped to 50% in the first year. The net promoter score increased by 20, a significant increase in how likely employees would recommend working there to a friend. In Focus Groups, better working conditions and better relationships with management were reported, along with improved ability to handle tasks. When I left, many people came to me privately and told me what kind of impact I had on their workplace. They were glad the company invested in someone like me because they were happier coming into work and didn’t dread coming to work anymore.