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Consulting Case Studies

Getting Software Engineers to Sell Services and Provide Outstanding Customer Support

Situation

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. 

Analysis 

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.

Intervention 

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.

Outcome

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.

Do you want to motivate your employees to advance your organization’s priorities?

We can help. Get in touch with us today!

Improving Decision-Making in an Auto Original Equipment Manufacturer

Situation

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.

Analysis

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.

Intervention

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. 

Outcome

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.

Does your organization struggle with projects missing deadlines or running over budget?

Are there challenges with making good decisions? We can help. Contact us today!

Employee Engagement and Motivation in a Hospital

Situation

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. 

Analysis

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. 

Intervention

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. 

Outcome

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.

Want to increase retention, decrease sick days, and improve employee satisfaction?

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Avoiding Disasters in Performance Management Evaluation in a Software Firm

Situation

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 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.

Analysis

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. 

Intervention

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, including issues with diversity 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.

Outcome

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, and had 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.

Want to prevent problems as you implement changes to internal evaluation structures?

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Addressing Threats and Seizing Opportunities in an Engineering Firm

Situation

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.

Analysis

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.

Intervention

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.

Outcome

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.

Want to stop worrying about missing opportunities or failing to address unexpected threats?

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Preventing Costly Judgment Errors in a Financial Services Firm

Situation

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.

Analysis

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.

Intervention

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.

Outcome

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.

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