Consulting Case Studies
Hybrid and Remote Work Transition for Regional Insurance Company
The company wanted to determine how to best collaborate internally in the post-pandemic world.
The company’s leadership wasn’t sure how to proceed: some large insurance companies, such as Nationwide, allowed fully remote work, while others, such as AIG, decided to be office-centric in the post-pandemic environment. The C-suite brought in DAE to help the company determine its approach to this issue. We did some internal surveys, which found that productivity, engagement, and retention was overall better with remote work, but connection and collaboration suffered. To address this problem, we helped this company adopt a team-led approach to hybrid and remote work, meaning each team leader determined what worked best for their team. Thus, sales teams came to the office two or three days a week, because their leaders found the experience of everyone coming together to make sales calls a motivating experience, and motivation was important for sales call success. However, many customer service teams decided to work fully remotely or come in once a week. To help address some of the challenges with connection and collaboration in remote and hybrid teams, we offered evidence-based best practices such as virtual water coolers and virtual coworking. We also helped the company with the change management challenges required to adapt these techniques to the needs of each department and team.
Impact: Over 12 months:
- 27% increase in connection between team members
- 29% increase in trust among team members
- 22% boost in collaboration
- 14% improvement in retention
- 19% improvement in employee satisfaction overall
- 33% increase in satisfaction with hybrid and remote work policy in particular
Back to Office Transition for Middle-Market Financial Investment Company
The company wanted to transition to a 60% office and 40% remote weekly schedule, to ensure high-quality customer service and financial stewardship. However, its leadership felt worried about the potential negative reactions from staff members, which would imperil its goal of providing strong risk-adjusted returns for its clients.
DAE conducted an internal survey and discovered four major obstacles to making the return to office: employee resistance, attrition, quiet quitting, and loss of DEI. To address employee resistance and attrition, we focused on the biggest concern among staff about returning to the office: the commute and related costs. Thus, we got the company to pay for IRS per diem costs of employee travel to the office, office lunches, dry cleaning, childcare, and related costs. To minimize quiet quitting, we worked on cultivating a sense of culture, belonging, and connectedness through in-person events, along with providing in-person well-being benefits and professional development. Finally, since underrepresented groups felt most concerned about returning to the office, we specifically addressed their needs by creating a formal in-person mentoring program for underrepresented employees.
Impact: 6 months after initiating the return to office transition:
- 56% of employee work time spent in the office, meaning that resistance was minimized
- 4% increase in attrition, which was much lower than the initial concerns of the leadership team
- 8% increase in attrition among underrepresented groups in particular, again substantially lower than the leadership feared
- 3% drop in employee engagement, which indicates a much lower proportion of quiet quitting than feared by the C-suite
- 27% improvement in sense of connection to coworkers
- 21% boost in connection to company culture
- 12% increase in customer satisfaction
Hybrid and Remote Work Transition for Mid-Size Fintech Company
The company wanted to transition to a new model of work arrangements in the post-pandemic environment.
The company’s leadership was divided. Some looked backward and felt that the office-centric model worked well, while others looked forward to a future of more hybrid and remote-style work. The leadership brought in DAE to determine what their approach should be. After running some internal surveys, we determined that retention and productivity would be best served by having a combination of hybrid and remote teams. However, a major concern was how to integrate junior staff hired during the pandemic who had never even met their colleagues. To facilitate on-the-job training and integration of junior staff into company culture, we provided the evidence-based best practice of remote mentoring, which involves assigning one mentor from the staff members’ own team and another from a different business unit. Over the next few months, this technique helped address the challenges experienced by junior staff, improving their ability to perform through on-the-job training, helping them feel more connected to their teammates and company culture, and boosting their cross-functional connections. With this evidence, the more traditionalist faction of the leadership eventually endorsed the DAE recommendation of a team-led approach to hybrid and remote work, with each team leader determining what worked best for their team. We then worked with business unit leaders to help them adapt this approach to their business units and individual teams in these units.
Impact: Over 12 months:
- 21% increase in productivity by junior staff
- 31% in sense of connection to coworkers by junior staff
- 27% sense of integration into company culture by junior staff
- 24% increase in retention of junior staff
- 22% increase in employee satisfaction by junior staff
- 18% improvement in retention of all staff
- 18% improvement in employee satisfaction overall
- 28% increase in satisfaction with hybrid and remote work policy in particular
Hybrid and Remote Work Transition for Mid-Size Professional Services Company
The company was trying to determine its work arrangements in a post-pandemic environment.
The leadership was uncertain of how to proceed: its internal surveys showed that a whopping 83% of their staff wanted full-time remote work, with an option of coming to the office for meetings only. They invited DAE to help them figure out its work arrangements. We further investigated the reasoning for staff desires through surveys and focus groups. We found that the professional service providers rarely needed to collaborate intensely with each other, and that Zoom and Slack worked well for the vast majority of their collaboration. We also learned that the company’s clients got used to virtual service provision during the pandemic and felt no need to ever meet their service providers in person. Given that situation, we recommended and the leadership adopted a home-centric model, with employees working from home as a default and only coming to the office for meetings and training. Since the vast majority of the work by employees was going to be done from home, we strongly encouraged the leadership to provide funding for home offices and substantially reduce their office space while changing this space to focus on collaboration. We also encouraged team leaders to adopt virtual collaboration techniques such as virtual water coolers and virtual coworking. The company adopted this new approach and we supported the company in the change management needed to integrate it in their work.
Impact: Over 12 months:
- 48% improvement in satisfaction with workspace (combining home and office workspaces)
- 27% improvement in productivity
- 24% boost in retention
- 19% improvement in employee satisfaction overall
- 31% increase in satisfaction with hybrid and remote work policy in particular
Hybrid and Remote Work Transition for Late-Stage B2B SaaS Startup
The company was looking to expand rapidly as vaccines became widely available and demand for its SaaS grew quickly, and was deciding on its permanent post-pandemic work arrangements.
Before DAE’s intervention, the company wanted to focus its hiring around its three existing offices, two in the US and one in Europe, as it intended to eventually bring everyone back to the office following the example of Apple and Google. DAE examined the situation, both running surveys internally within the company and examining the external labor market. What we found surprised the executive team: many current staff – at least those hired later and thus without significant equity stakes – were strongly dissatisfied with the idea of being an office-centric company. The startup’s business boomed during the pandemic, and they felt they could do their work well remotely. Moreover, the labor pool around the three offices was expensive, whereas if the company cast a wider net and hired all-remote workers, it would have much better options. The leadership’s main concern with permitting a sizable portion of its employees to work remotely proved to be innovation. They felt that the company, which created and currently dominated a new niche through an innovative product, would get outcompeted by either new companies or established ones entering this new niche. DAE offered solutions such as virtual asynchronous brainstorming, a proven best practice for remote and hybrid innovation that results in more ideas and more innovative ideas than traditional brainstorming. DAE supported a series of facilitated virtual asynchronous brainstorming sessions in different departments, with a particular focus on the product team. Despite some initial skepticism, the teams found it to be surprisingly effective. With this issue addressed, DAE supported the C-suite company in making a decision to allow those employees who wanted to work remotely and proved productive to do so, as well as in hiring anyone within two time zones of one of its offices for fully remote work.
Impact: Over 12 months:
- The company succeeded in achieving its goal of increasing its staff by over 20%
- 17% improvement in retention
- 21% improvement in employee satisfaction overall
- 23% improvement in number of innovative ideas
- 35% increase in satisfaction with hybrid and remote work policy in particular
Hybrid and Remote Work Transition for Fortune 500 High-Tech Manufacturing Company
The company was struggling to figure out its back-to-office strategy and new styles of hybrid and remote collaboration in the post-pandemic world.
Before DAE’s intervention, the company intended to be mostly office-centric, with all employees spending 4 or more days in the office. DAE conveyed external research and did internal surveys that convinced the leadership such policies would harm retention, recruitment, productivity, innovation, and engagement. Instead, DAE offered the best practice of a team-led approach to hybrid and remote work, meaning each team leader determined what worked best for their team. After the company adopted this policy, DAE identified four critical areas where the company required assistance in the form of best practices for adapting its leadership style to the hybrid and remote future of work: day-to-day management of staff, improving hybrid meeting experience, facilitating innovation in hybrid and remote teams, and determining office space policies. DAE then supported the company in getting buy-in across the 400-people global leadership team for these policies, experimenting with and adapting them to the needs of the different business units, and providing advice on the change management required to implement these policies.
22% improvement in retention over 12 months, 29% increase in recruitment referrals from current employees, 14% improvement in productivity during the time hybrid and fully remote employees worked remotely, 27% improvement in employee satisfaction overall, 43% increase in satisfaction with hybrid and remote work policy in particular, 59% increase in satisfaction with hybrid meetings, 26% improvement in number of innovative ideas.
Getting Software Engineers to Sell Services and Provide Outstanding Customer Support
A company providing a range of B2B software solutions saw its sales numbers and customer satisfaction scores gradually decreasing and wanted its software engineers to do more both to sell the services of the company and to provide outstanding customer service after the sale. The company tried offering its software engineers more money to do selling and customer support, but these financial incentives did not result in substantial improvement in internal indicators of software engineers’ involvement in sales and customer service. The company also tried to motivate software engineers by talking about how their improved performance in these areas would result in greater profitability and client retention by the company, but that also failed to move the needle.
The company brought in Disaster Avoidance Experts, and after interviewing and observing the software engineers, it became clear that what they found most emotionally rewarding was writing code and solving technical problems, not doing sales and customer service. The financial incentives were not nearly enough to motivate software engineers to do more selling and provide better customer service, and the messages about company needs were not resonating with them emotionally.
When our CEO, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, presented this information to the C-suite, the Vice President of Sales responded with surprise: “software engineers have emotions?” He was only semi-joking. The company had a large number of sales personnel who were quite extroverted and displayed emotions easily. However, sales staff did not interact much with software engineers, who tended to be introverted and avoid public emotional expression. We explained to him and others who did not have day-to-day interactions with software engineers that because the latter generally do not display strong emotions in the workplace, it’s easy to ignore their underlying motivations and believe they only follow logical and rational incentives. However, forgetting that software engineers, like all people, are driven primarily by emotional incentives, made it difficult for this company to motivate them both to sell their expertise to potential customers and to provide outstanding customer service after the sale.
To motivate software engineers to engage in sales and customer service required using research-based emotional and social intelligence strategies to align employee incentives with organizational priorities. Our observations of and conversations with the engineers revealed two promising emotional drivers: they desire (1) positive personal reputation outside the company, and (2) social status through peer recognition from fellow software engineers within the company.
To address the engineers’ goal to increase their personal reputation in the industry, our advice led the company to change its messaging to software engineers about the goal of selling their services. Instead of making it about the company getting additional revenue, the communication became about individual software engineers getting a higher reputation and gaining the status of thought leaders through writing expert blogs and presenting at industry conferences (with the latter being the main way that the company wanted software engineers to sell its services). The company also provided software engineers with paid time off for doing these activities.
To address the desire for social status from peers within the company, our advice led the company to undertake several steps. First, the weekly company newsletter and other internal communications began to highlight software engineers who excelled in customer service as rated by customer satisfaction surveys, as well as those who excelled in marketing their services by writing blog posts and presenting at industry conferences. The company also changed the “employee of the month” awards to highlight these accomplishments, as opposed to rewarding those who resolved complicated technical challenges. These short-term, easier changes were accompanied by more fundamental ones, such as transforming the promotion process to put more weight on excellence in customer service and marketing. This change tapped into status as much as money and was effective in helping motivate software engineers.
Over the course of 15 months the firm more than doubled their internal indicators of software engineers’ involvement in sales and customer service. These changes resulted in an increase in customer inquiries of over 28 percent, about 24 percent more sales volume, and a boost of more than 26 percent in current customer satisfaction. The Marketing VP estimated that over these 15 months, the company gained at least $11.8 million as a result of this intervention.
Improving Decision-Making in an Auto Original Equipment Manufacturer
A unit within an auto original equipment manufacturer had a tendency to make decisions very slowly in comparison to other units. Even worse, the outcomes of decisions were poor in comparison to other units of similar size. This negatively impacted the performance of this unit, and thus the whole company.
Disaster Avoidance Experts was asked to evaluate the situation, and our observation of team decision-making and interviews with stakeholders revealed a series of flawed decision-making patterns. First, employees within this unit suffered from information bias, the tendency to seek much more information than needed before making decisions, which slowed decision-making to a crawl and hindered delivery of outcomes. Second, they tended to fall into planning fallacy, a flawed pattern of thinking and feeling where we assume that all of our plans would go perfectly and do not build in extra resources of money and time to address unforeseen events. These two issues built on each other, with plans going wrong and leading managers to seek even more information when making future decisions to help avoid failures, instead of seeking only sufficient information to make the decision and building in additional resources to deal with unexpected events.
After identifying these problems, we collaborated with the unit’s senior management to optimize their decision-making processes to account for these errors. We taught managers methods that addressed the planning fallacy through comparing future decisions to previous ones and implementing the ”Failure Proofing” technique, a research-based strategy to avoid project failure.
As a result, over the next 18 months the unit made up over 30 percent of the gap in performance it had to similar departments of its size. The improvement was estimated to have brought the company over $1.7 million in net profits.
Employee Engagement and Motivation in a Hospital
A hospital CEO wanted to improve the motivation and engagement of her staff by improving the meaning and purpose employees experienced in the workplace. She did so based on research showing that organizations that cultivate strong emotions of meaning and purpose among their employees have higher employee motivation, better employee engagement, improved productivity, less turnover, better employee physical and mental health and thus fewer sick days, less team conflict, and better integration into the organizational culture – all leading to lower costs and higher profits.
The CEO brought in Disaster Avoidance Experts due to our CEO Dr. Gleb Tsipursky’s well-known work on improving meaning and purpose in the workplace. As this work shows, even a small investment in this area can lead to a large pay-off, and it’s relatively simple to do. Scholars find that a combination of aligning one’s goals with the organization’s priorities, a practice of workplace self-reflection, a sense of community belonging, and an orientation toward serving others leads to a strengthened sense of meaning and purpose.
The hospital’s biggest challenge in implementing these interventions was the complex relationship hierarchies of medical and non-medical staff in a variety of units, which often had tense inter- and intra-unit interactions. These relationship dynamics inhibited a sense of community belonging, so we focused our efforts on this area.
We started with an assessment of meaning and purpose using our research-based questionnaire. Next, we implemented a variety of policies meant to improve community belonging, such as staff picnics, paying for employees from different units and different levels of the hierarchy to have lunch together, and implementing a volunteering program with a local Habitat for Humanity.
We did before-and-after testing using the same questionnaire and found a 19% increase in the sense of meaning and purpose experienced by employees after the 5-month project. Contacting the hospital CEO a year after the project, she told us that the hospital reported 17 percent fewer staff sick days, 19 percent lower turnover, and 22 percent higher employee satisfaction on internal surveys, along with anecdotal evidence of less team conflict. The CEO estimated that the hospital gained at least $2.2 million as a result.
Avoiding Disasters Due to Unconscious Bias in Performance Management Evaluation in a Software Firm
A software consulting company wanted to transition to a new performance management system, from one where software engineers are evaluated based on hours billed to a team-based, peer review evaluation system. The goal of the transition was to improve teamwork and collaboration. The leader of the transition project was the Vice-President in charge of Human Resources. Being aware of potential dangers due to unconscious (implicit) bias and having attended a talk on addressing personnel evaluations by Disaster Avoidance Experts CEO Dr. Gleb Tsipursky at an HR conference, she brought us in to help address any preventable issues.
We conducted an analysis of the situation, including assessing team dynamics in the company through focus groups and individual interviews. We found that the software engineers generally welcomed the new employee evaluation policy, but there was some concern about this transition from minority groups within the largely white and male employee pool.
To address this and other potential problems, we used the Failure-Proofing technique. This approach helps identify and address any potential problems with a project or process by exploring potential reasons for failure and helping address these reasons. We gathered important stakeholders in the room: the HR VP, the CEO, the Finances VP, two mid-level managers in charge of engineers, and two engineers, one who is typical of the majority of white males in the company and one Hispanic woman who led the Diversity committee in the company. We presented the information we gathered, and then brainstormed potential reasons for failure and how to address them.
A number of concerns were highlighted with the transition. These included issues with diversity and unconscious bias but also others, such as concerns about team members exchanging favors with each other to give each other inflated reviews even if the team did not meet client needs, and several others. We brainstormed a variety of solutions. For instance, the group decided to give managers a bigger role in evaluating team performance to make sure team performance addressed client needs. Also, the group decided to empower the Diversity committee to review the scores given in the team-based peer evaluation system for signs of systematic bias. The latter turned out to be a particularly healthy conversation, as one outcome of the peer review system would be to make explicit any implicit bias, and thus enable the team to address such bias proactively. Likewise, the leadership could use the Diversity committee’s evaluations to assess the need for any adjustment upward of minority scores.
The organization implemented the performance management transition, and monitored its implementation. They did find the need to adjust scores of minorities by around 10 percent upward. Such uncovering of unconscious bias resulted in some meaningful conversations around that issue. The 12-month evaluation afterward showed an increase in productivity by 24 percent. The HR VP estimated a resultant annualized gain of at least $5.4 million as a result.
Addressing Threats and Seizing Opportunities in an Engineering Firm
An engineering firm’s CEO wanted to set up the organization for long-term success. While the organization was experiencing a period of overall stability and steady growth, he knew this was the best time to boost the organization’s future performance. Having heard Disaster Avoidance Experts CEO Dr. Gleb Tsipursky on a business radio program discussing how to develop a plan to protect an organization from unexpected threats and take advantage of potential opportunities, he was intrigued and decided to retain us for that service.
We analyzed the firm’s existing business plan and saw that it was written assuming that everything would work out as planned. This problematic approach to strategic planning is common and inevitably sets up excessively high expectations that undermine future performance by failing to consider and address potential threats or look for and seize opportunities.
To address this situation, we implemented the “Defend Your Future” technique. First, we gathered information through interviews and focus groups with employees about potential threats and opportunities in the next five years. We also conducted some interviews with and surveys of customers, vendors, and financiers about their relationship with the company and plans for the next five years. Next, we conducted a leadership retreat where we presented the information to the leadership, using this time to identify and discuss how to mitigate potential threats, as well as to identify and discuss how to seize potential opportunities. We developed a plan with specific next steps for how the organization will look out for threats and opportunities, including assigning roles and accountability and deciding on how many resources the company will dedicate to these efforts. We also got the leaders to commit to revising the plan for addressing threats and maximizing opportunities every six months.
The company gained a great deal of security and safety, and its leadership much peace-of-mind, as a result of this intervention. When we came back to help them revise the plan in 6 months, we found out that while no major threats materialized, two of the potential opportunities did. It was only because the company implemented the “Defend Your Future” technique that it was able to identify these opportunities and take advantage of them, resulting in a $1.3 million profit. In another 6 months, when the company revised the plan without our assistance, the leadership shared with us that the exercise helped them address three unexpected threats that otherwise would have cost them $2.3 million. Altogether, the 12-month gain to the company was $3.6 million, and they remain determined to revise this plan every 6 months.
Preventing Costly Judgment Errors in a Financial Services Firm
The head of a department in a financial services firm attended a workshop led by Disaster Avoidance Experts CEO Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, where Gleb had all participants take the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace. As a result of the assessment, the department head recognized that his department was losing a substantial amount to costly mistakes due to staff making a series of judgment errors, especially in project implementation and execution.
The department head asked Disaster Avoidance Experts to help address this issue. The first step we took was conduct a needs analysis, including everyone in the department taking the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace and a series of focus groups. We identified a series of judgment errors that caused systematic problems with project cost overruns and delays, insufficient preparation for challenges when launching new projects, and failure to cut losses and stop projects that were clearly ineffective. Together with the department head, we estimated that a 20% reduction in such judgment errors would save the department at least $2.8 million in the next year through a combination of direct cost savings of money and time and indirect opportunity cost savings of those resources being invested into better opportunities.
The intervention we devised combined education and policy changes. First, we trained all the staff on how to recognize when judgment errors will lead them astray in situations typical for the department. Then, we taught easy and effective methods to address these problems. We also developed structures to ensure specific and clear responsibility for staff to support each other and hold each other accountable for enacting these methods in their individual activities.
We changed group decision-making processes to integrate proprietary strategies developed by Disaster Avoidance Experts to help organizations address judgment errors. Specifically, we changed processes for planning, making decisions among multiple options, and implementing projects. Every month during the implementation process, we had staff take the assessment to measure progress.
At the end of the six-month consulting project, staff showed a 23 percent improvement in scores on the assessment. Over the next year, the department realized direct cost savings of $2.2 million, and the department head estimated that the additional money freed up for investing into more effective projects resulted in a gain of $900,000. The department’s total annualized gain of $3.1 million was expected to continue in future years.