“Better talent is worth fighting for” was the first sentence of an article published by McKinsey in 1998.[i] The statement still rings true today as organizations continue to face stiff competition for talent, and employees leave in large numbers. LinkedIn reported the share of their members who changed jobs between August and October 2021 increased 25% globally, and a whopping 60% in Asia, compared with the same period in 2019.[ii]
To sustain competitive advantage and business continuity as our world changes more than most of us have previously experienced, talent selection, onboarding, and hiring gain priority in many organizations. However, the impact of programs designed to promote these areas is often unclear.
Implementing a Results-Based Program
In a complex adaptive world, where elements interact unpredictably, it is critical to step back and assess the talent patterns, define the most important objectives, and deliberately choose solutions. Some initiatives will work better in your context and maximize outcomes. Here, we will review lessons learned from an ROI evaluation study that drove impact,[iii] and the importance of performing a needs assessment, prioritizing objectives, setting clear expectations, and having a continuous improvement mindset.
An Undesirable Level of Turnover
A global bank faced high turnover rates of MBAs recruited via a selection and onboarding program. The Management, Talent Management, and HR teams went back to the basics to address the problem – understand the root causes, design a solution for these root causes, and track the effectiveness of the revamped program to deliver results. They selected the ROI Methodology for their measurement and evaluation purpose.
The learnings from this case study apply to program design, measurement, implementation, and impact and are summarized below.
1. Finding the Root Cause
Uncovering the root cause may seem obvious, but many programs do not adequately find it. The organizational will to discover the problem’s cause is lacking, or executives may believe they “know” what is causing challenges based on their own conclusions. However, a needs analysis that finds the facts improves the odds of success, particularly where the stakes are high.
Facing disappointing turnover numbers, the Bank’s Management, Talent, and HR teams focused first on uncovering the root cause of high turnover. They ran focus groups with recent recruits and reviewed data of successful MBA hires. Remarkably, they spoke to recruits who had left the Bank to understand how they could have been retained. As the last step, they reviewed the selection process for improvements. These in-depth investigations and candid discussions yielded rich insights on improvement opportunities. Three problem areas were identified,
- The need for a distinct career path,
- A lack of meaningful assignments in rotational areas, and
- Placements do not occur as quickly as they should be.
2. Prioritizing Key Objectives and Tracking Them
The program’s goal was to retain these individuals, assign them to key positions, and have them perform exceptionally. Of these, retention was identified as the most important metric to target.
The first step in designing a results-based program is to align it with business outcomes. Following the ROI Methodology, the Bank’s HR and Talent teams set five cascading levels of objectives. This process brought focus to the most important priorities to resolve. Intermediate and ultimate success metrics were defined in a cogent chain of impact.[iv] When juggling many needs, objectives, and possible solutions, it is imperative to select what is most important and put unwavering focus on those outcomes. After the key objectives have been decided, continuously tracking them is essential to not accidentally steer off course during the implementation.
3. Implementing the Right Solution
Based on needs assessment findings, several improvement changes were made:
- The selection process was refocused on three main areas: Eagerness to learn, willingness to assume responsibility and accountability, and a value-culture fit. Accordingly, interviews were changed, and the program was updated with an assessment tool. Additionally, recruitment was limited to schools with a stronger focus on leadership as their graduates had traditionally performed better in the Bank.
- Rotational placements were amended. The assignment time became negotiable from being fixed. Recruits joined a rotation to fill a current role and were expected to recommend improvement changes on the assignment.
- The participants were to complete several assignments before assuming a permanent leadership role within a year of employment. The assignments were designed to prepare them for a general leadership position while exposing them to in-demand areas.
- A two-week formal training program covered all areas of banking and critical soft skills training since all recruits did not have a banking background.
4. Tracking Progress and Outcomes to Deliver Impact
The ROI evaluation of the revamped program showed that it successfully met its objectives. The voluntary turnover rate fell from 22% to 4%, and 84% of recruits secured permanent assignments in one year.
The thorough needs assessment had resulted in a robust solution. An early assignment, detailed training, and improved rotational assignments supported recruits to learn the job and achieve success. Results also showed the importance of training to build capability, knowledge, and thinking in the Bank.
Further improvement areas were identified. For example, to improve the impact of process improvement projects or bring more leaders in alignment with the program, some managers still did not view MBA graduates as critical to the organization’s success.
Lessons That Apply to Current Trends
Our case reminds us of back-to-basics best practices for impactful programs, specifically:
- A needs assessment defines what is needed for success. In the discussed case, the principal problem was excessive turnover. The techniques used to uncover insights revealed key issues causing the high turnover rates. This enabled a very focused solution that worked exceptionally well.
- Prioritized objectives kept the program on target. Today’s program leaders similarly must decide which of their many objectives to focus on first.
- Clear expectations should be in place for participants involved in a program. MBA graduates in the discussed program knew they would be evaluated at each rotational assignment and met those expectations.
- A continuous improvement mindset was a consistent feature of the team’s approach to generating impact. When the results were suboptimal, they worked hard to know why, tried to develop a new solution in line with their findings, and held themselves to a standard by systematically measuring and judging the implementation to identify other opportunities for improvement.
Organizations simultaneously address remote onboarding, culture shifts, work from home and flex work needs, human-centered employee value proposition, and evolving employer-employee relationships. However, at their core, selection programs still aim to pick out the best and most suited employees. Onboarding programs wish for a quick transition to cultural assimilation, desired productivity, and exceptional employee performance. Retention programs strive for happy, productive employees to become the basis of an organization’s future. Remembering the fundamentals of designing for results will keep you on track for impact.
Appendix A: Five Level Objectives of the Bank’s Selection and Onboarding Program
Level 1: Reaction and Planned Action looked for perceptions of the program for participants and managers of the rotational assignments. This measures participant perception of the program or project and is the first link of the chain of impact.
Level 2: Learning Objectives assessed participants’ knowledge and skills after a two-week program on twelve areas of banking after each rotational assignment. Learning outcomes measure the extent to which principles, facts, processes, procedures, techniques, and skills are learned during the program.
Level 3: Application Objectives were set for rotational assignments during the program. Participants were expected to achieve average performance in two months and submit a process improvement project on the assignment. At least four assignments were to be completed. Application metrics measure on-the-job behavior change, which underpins the actual change in KPI metrics and indicators.
Level 4: Business Impact Objectives were set for the percentage of graduates in permanent assignments within a year and turnover thresholds to achieve within one or two years. The improvement projects run by the program participants were expected to generate a specific minimum value for the Bank. Level 4 metrics indicate changes in business impact variables. A previous ROI research study has shown that executives overwhelmingly want to see business metric changes of learning programs.
Level 5: Return on Investment Objectives were set at 20% for this program. This metric compares project benefits to the costs.
For more information or details of this case, please contact Aartha.
[i] The War for Talent, January 1998 McKinsey Quarterly 3(3): 44-57.
[ii] 2022 Global Talent Trends, The Reinvention of Company Culture, LinkedIn Talent Solutions.
[iii] Measuring ROI In Selection and Boarding, Global Bank Inc. Patti P. Phillips. Ch 16 of Value for Money, ROI Case Studies, Volume I, by Patricia Pulliam Phillips and Jack J. Phillips.
[iv] The Chain of Impact is the theory of change; the connection between a program activities and the ultimate business outcomes it delivers. To learn more about the chain of impact, please download the ROI Mini Application Guide here.