A Case Study

Transforming Culture through HR and Leadership for a Middle Market Professional Services Firm

When we started with this firm, revenue had flattened out, people were not communicating and turnover was higher than the industry norm.

Since beginning our work with them two years ago, revenue has increased year over year, and they have the capital to invest to enter new global markets. Communication and leadership have improved and turnover has decreased. Let me tell you the story:

We were referred by one of our strategic partners to the CEO of an 85 employee, middle market professional services firm. He wanted to revamp their performance management system and process. As we talked to the client we realized that they were trying to partially solve for turnover.

Curious, we asked to have focus groups as our initial step. From those we learned that there were issues around communication (with a big C), the link between performance and pay, and the ability to get good performance feedback from the managers was not consistent. Even if they had the courage to voice any of it, employees didn’t feel listened to or heard. Additionally, many leaders had not had any management or leadership development training/coaching when they were promoted from technical specialist over the years.

We worked closely to align with the CEO’s goals, and address the issues that we heard, rather than just giving them what they thought they needed.

Our plan included:

Phase 1

- developing a competency-based performance management system aligned with their values and then conducting training for the entire organization on:
- this new performance management system and process to ensure clarity
- DiSC effective communication to help improve communications
- feedback model to give them a tool to both give and receive feedback

Phase 2

- designing a compensation framework, structure (grades, incentives) and plan aligned to the market
- ensuring the compensation framework linked clearly to performance
- designing a transition plan to help get to their desired place in the market (top 25%)
- developing and implementing a communication plan with all employees around the new compensation framework and incentive pay plan, including administration.

Phase 3

- continuing to align the leadership with company values by designing a custom experiential workshop around “trust” and the 13 behaviors that instill trust; helping them determine strengths and development opportunities - individually and in relationships. We took the opportunity to link this training back to DiSC which the organization had embraced.
- rolling out trust training first to leaders for them to absorb followed in 6 months to employees.

Phase 4

- our amazing coaches engaged with several leaders to improve their leadership effectiveness by helping them gain self awareness with the LCP 360 tool, which allows us to link their reactive and creative tendencies - our roadmap to facilitate targeted coaching for 6 months.
- designing a continued development experience for the leaders by taking trust to the next level - taking honest stock of where they are with the 13 behaviors, and then moving into organizational systems, processes and procedures that need to come into alignment


Metrics were set, and incentives were tied to company performance, their individual performance and the achievement of certain metrics.

To implement this for the first year, we selected simple metrics.

- One was timesheet completion (to bill clients), which historically was a point of frustration and very delinquent. We set the goal to have timesheets completed within three days, and every day after that would detract from their bonus. In 2018, fewer than 50% of timesheets were submitted within three days; in 2019 it was 97%.

- We tied managers’ incentive metrics to completion of the performance management cycle for their employees. In 2018 not all employees got reviews; in 2019, 100% were completed.

The managers and leaders are speaking more openly and addressing issues as a team.

They were all good people who were trying to do their best, but they were not openly communicating the ‘tough stuff’ when we first started working with them. With the new values-based evaluation, they now focus not only on “what gets done” (technical skills and results) but also “how it gets done” (teamwork, respect, communication, values).

People were paid based on performance.

Instead of being paid flat amounts for level and tenure, they saw the link between their incentive, company results and their individual performance goals. It motivated the high achievers that their mediocre peers were not getting the same bonuses - messages were sent, conversations were had, there was much more transparency and clarity.

Positive shift in culture as demonstrated by behaviors

We recently met with 30 employees who were:

- asking for management to be held accountable
- requesting that management provide the employees with information about what they are doing to continue improving trust
- feeling clear about the mission, vision, philosophy, values and their role
being thankful to see all the things the organization has done to help improve things
- and most importantly: feeling heard - that the organization is listening and addressing their concerns.

The leaders of the organization provide feedback like this:

    -  "I can feel our teamwork spirit is increasing each time we hold these semi-annual meetings"

    -  "I am proud of where we are right now, compared to a few years ago"

    -  "We have achieved my '2020 and beyond' goals and are ready to start progress on the 2023 goals!"

    -  "Everyone loves the 'Crothers' training workshops because they learn things they can apply immediately"

As I write this in the summer of 2020, we just engaged in Phase 5 with the 35-person management team over a three-day Zoom session for three hours each day.

We aligned and determined the enablers and inhibitors of taking the firm to 2023 with a clear strategy and vision, focusing on some foundations of the work of Jim Collins in Good to Great.

This partnership is special and my team fights to see who can work on these projects!

From our client's CEO:

Thank you very much for all the things Crothers has contributed to us over the last few years: performance management, compensation and incentive plan design, many training seminars and coaching. I really appreciate all your effort.

 I do not know how to express how grateful I am for your contribution.

Crothers services are always provided in a very professional manner and get results, yet you are also very personal and easy to work with. I always feel Crothers is a team of real professionals.

I can always rely on all of you.

To Laura Crothers Osborn:

I thank you for always thinking about us. You are very kind, responsible, understanding of people’s feelings, and most importantly, you are a very knowledgeable, experienced, and caring professional.

I feel very lucky that we were introduced to you!! 

To Deb Wijnberg:

Thank you very much for your well thought-out Good to Great seminar. 

I am very glad to know another super Crothers professional like you. We ended up with a much better virtual seminar and got results. 

To Isabelle Brennan:

Thank you very much for your support, not only this time but also in the past.

I am glad you participate in the CEO meetings Tuesday morning, so I know you in person. 

To Annette Matheney:

Thank you very much for all of the DiSC training you have conducted the last 3 years. 

Our people enjoy your sessions and are learning communicate more effectively by understanding all the different styles.

As we spin our organization's Success Cycle, I hope you can help us in the future as an EOS expert.

Once again, I really appreciate all of you and look forward to working with you in the future.