Yoh Services was a boutique shop in a bind.
Nearly three years ago, when Lori Schultz joined Yoh Services LLC as its president, the company was enduring the hardships of the recession, like just about every business in America. But the work force solutions company — a 5,200-employee subsidiary of Day & Zimmerman — was dealing with another layer of inefficiency on top of the recession’s effects.
“Yoh had 12 different brands, operating very fragmented out into the service delivery model,” Schultz says. “We were operating very much in a boutique fashion. So, for example, IT ran separate, engineering ran separate, health care ran separate. They all ran under separate leadership, no synergies between any of the groups.”
It was a model that had worked at one time, but the market started changing in the first years of the new millennium, and the recession accelerated the pace of change to warp speed.
“The boutique model was very much a model that made sense in the ’90s, with higher margins and delivery service to the client,” Schultz says. “However, a lot of the transformation in our business really led to having more bundled services, more streamlined. Specialization still existed, but you still had a very streamlined delivery model to clients.”
Schultz had to spearhead an effort to consolidate Yoh from 12 specialized brands to one full-service brand containing a number of product and service offerings. Conceptually, it all made sense. In practice, it wasn’t nearly as clean of a transition. Schultz and her leadership team had to convince 5,200 people that the old system was outdated, the new system was the way of the future, and the time was right to make the change.
“That was the biggest challenge on my plate,” she says. “To get the buy-in at the management level, make sure we had the right teams in place, and that this was something that we had to do; then, to take that and get buy-in throughout the whole organization.”
Learn the process
Before Schultz could change anything, she needed to understand how Yoh’s system worked — or didn’t work. She needed to understand the inconsistencies and inefficiencies in the boutique operating system in order to sit down with her management team and build a system that better addressed the needs of the current marketplace.
Gaining that understanding meant getting out of the office. Schultz traveled throughout Yoh’s footprint, talking with associates and gaining a better knowledge of the company’s product and service delivery model to its clients.
“I needed to understand some of the unique challenges our people in the field faced,” Schultz says. “That was step one.”
The second step was to identify areas in which Yoh could build synergies among various operating entities. To comprehend that, she needed to develop relationships with the managers leading the various operating units.
“Part of the dynamics is making sure I have the right leadership team in place,” she says. “I can’t get this done without having the right leadership team in place. As all of this transformation is happening at the same time, I’m looking at my leadership team, making changes in some cases, and in other cases, bringing in new talent from the outside.”
Schultz needed a leadership team with excellent communication skills and complete buy-in with the new company direction, and she needed the entire leadership team in place, empowered and on board before anyone at Yoh corporate headquarters could even think about rolling out the new vision to the company at large.
Lead your leadership
Schultz didn’t change the composition of her leadership team all that much. But she did make major changes to how the people in place operated.
“The key was really spending some time with them and learning, No. 1, what their level of competency was, and then where they had been with the company, then how they fit into the new direction of the organization,” Schultz says. “We got a lot of feedback from them, too, about their history and what they wanted in terms of a future.”
As Schultz spoke to her leaders, she began to form an idea of how her leadership team could be constructed to provide the best possible leadership framework for the reconstructed Yoh organization.
“With some of our leaders, we made some dramatic changes to their existing roles,” she says. “We needed to put them in a role that I felt best suited them for the new organization. At the same time, we still left some of the team in their existing roles.”
The alterations to the leadership team cascaded down to the field leadership, where the dynamics needed to change in order to better respond to client needs in a comprehensive fashion.
“In the field, we made major changes because we were a very strong delivery model organization,” Schultz says. “We were very good at serving our clients, but we were not a sales organization. So we had to change the dynamic in terms of delivery and sales. We brought in new people to serve in some of those roles. The result, and what I have today, is a kind of hybrid leadership team. I have a mix of existing people who were here when I joined Yoh and some new talent as well. I would say it’s about a 50-50 mix now.”
With a blend of new and established leaders, Schultz faced another challenge: developing cohesion among leaders who were either used to the old way of doing things or completely unfamiliar with the internal workings of Yoh. It was a battle that Schultz had to fight simultaneously on two fronts.
“Getting the new people engaged in the new vision and strategy is easy, because they came to work for you because of that very reason,” Schultz says. “You lay out the strategy, vision and direction, and that is why they come to work for you.
“The biggest challenge was really changing the direction of my existing team, because for about a year, we really had to oversee a change management issue. When you change an organization, you really blow it up and start from scratch. You are changing everything about the direction of the organization, and if you have an existing team, you need to get buy-in regardless of what you do.”
With an existing team that has to be convinced that the new way of doing business is going to be better than the old way, getting them to a point where they completely accept the new direction and mesh with new team members is a process governed by time. It takes communication, persuasion and patience to get your existing team members on board.
“Change management takes time,” Schultz says. “You have to really recognize that some of your people need more time from you to really understand the vision and the direction. You need to listen to them, listen to how they feel about being a part of a new direction.
“Then you need to be able to continuously communicate where we’re going and what is in it for them. Even then, you end up having people who revert back to the old way, and you have to come back and try to refocus them on the future and what is in front of them, not what is in the past.”
If you encounter reluctant adopters, the level of patience you show with them will likely be in direct proportion to their importance to the organization. But if a person has been in a significant role for a long time and is well-known and respected throughout the company, the extra effort will be worth it.
“If you think this is going to be a leader who is vital to the future of your organization, then you’re going to need to spend the time because it is a trust situation,” Schultz says. “If you’re coming in as a new president or CEO, and the person has been in the organization, say, 17 years, you need to build that relationship and trust. If you’re in that person’s position, trust is a difficult thing to have when a new leader is coming in and doing all these transformational things.
“You need to remember that it’s not just about you talking to them and trying to get them over the fence. You need to understand where they are coming from, too. It will benefit everyone if you can build that trust because the information they can provide to you with regard to history is important.”
Roll it out
Once Schultz developed a satisfactory level of cohesion among the leaders at Yoh, she then had to turn her attention to rolling out the new direction to the company at large.
When dealing with thousands of employees, you can’t concern yourself with the adoption of the plan by every individual. What you want is to hit for the highest possible average.
Schultz attempted to improve her batting stats by holding companywide calls to brief all employees on the progress of the transition.
“I would use those calls to communicate the direction and the vision, and how it impacted them,” Schultz says. “Moving forward, I’ve found that also has to be carried through on a quarterly basis. If you don’t continue to carry that message to the leadership team, it starts to lose a lot of value.”
Yoh’s training modules also became important buy-in tools to use on the company at large. The leadership staff at corporate headquarters initially went through a 3.5-day training session that covered the future strategic direction of the company, along with breakout sessions on the company’s new business models. From there, management worked together to build training programs for the company at large.
Though the training process is going to depend largely on the type of organization you want to build, Schultz says there is almost always a need to implement some form of a cascading training program that successively engages each level of the organization.
“It does depend a lot on where you are financially as an organization, but if you are starting with a flat organization as we were, you have to look at the leader and the people who are doing really well to put together a committee to build some of the training programs for you. Then, you look to execute and implement the training.”
Any time you can implement training in a peer-to-peer format, it’s another way you can help the buy-in process when training for a new organizational direction.
“That is one of the reasons that I think we had the most buy-in,” Schultz says. “In a lot of cases, the training was done by peer groups, and people who are recognized throughout the organization as having excelled in the field in which they are training. It was really about training that was more reality-based versus training that was more or less fluff. We were able to leverage relationships that already existed in the organization and roll it out regionally, versus having to spend a lot of money on having a few people travel everywhere and do all the training.
“The key is, if you want to do something like this, it is all built internally and rolled out through internal processes.”
How to reach: Yoh Services LLC, (215) 656-2650 or www.yoh.com
The Schultz file
Education: Psychology and business degrees from California State University, Northridge
Previous position: Senior vice president for Ajilon Consulting and for Adecco’s Engineering & Technical and Medical & Science divisions for the western U.S., responsible for overseeing all field sales and operations and developing and executing new growth strategies to sustain and increase revenue within both lines of business.
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
The best lesson I’ve learned is that when you come into a new organization, you want to come in and make an impact quickly, and have success quickly. But you also want to do a reality check and make sure that you’re not outpacing the rest of your team as you’re trying to get things done. Because then, you might not be listening as much as you should as you’re just trying to keep up. At times, you need to maybe slow down and recalibrate your expectations a bit.
What is your definition of success?
To get genuinely excited about contributing. I think excitement drives your success. And when that happens, you can spread the excitement around and find other people who want to contribute and want to be heard. That means success for the entire company.