Attitude adjustment Featured

8:00pm EDT October 25, 2007
When Navigant Consulting Inc. acquired Troika (UK) Limited in August, the small, London-based financial services firm’s 40-plus employees were welcomed by Julie Howard, the president and COO of Navigant.

 

Who better to welcome them aboard than Howard? After all, Howard joined Navigant when the company she worked for was bought in 1998. Clearly no stranger to change, Howard draws on her experience as both the acquirer and the acquired as she guides the specialized consulting firm through the challenges of executing a strategy driven equally by organic growth and growth through acquisitions.

“If there’s one thing that we can be certain of, growth creates disruption,” Howard says. “Disruption can discombobulate people, so having an awareness of the expectations of the firm, the expectations that you can have for your peers and the knowledge that things are similar and consistent helps manage that disruption.”

As an organization whose product is intellectual capital, Howard says Navigant’s growth typically means growing by people. And while its employee base has expanded to more than 2,500 worldwide, the firm’s financial growth has also been on the rise. During the past three fiscal years ending in 2006, Navigant recorded annual revenue of $482 million, $575 million and $681 million respectively.

And while Howard says communicating the standards and expectations of the organization to new and existing employees is the first step in successfully executing a strategy, ensuring that Navigant avoids the disruptions and pitfalls of change as it continues its growth requires much more.

“It’s important to probably overcommunicate when you’re trying to instill a new strategy or effectuate change management,” Howard says. “But the other equally important thing is that you need to build your strategy into your infrastructure, the processes you have in place, and the programs you use to measure people’s performance, to evaluate and promote their development and to compensate them.”

Creating flexible goals

Because marketplace conditions are constantly shifting, Howard says a successful strategy is one that can adapt and change over time. As such, she is careful to avoid describing the development of Navigant’s growth strategy as a “process,” a word she feels might give the connotation that at some point the strategy is complete. Though Howard says many businesses, including Navigant, spend time throughout the year working on strategic plans and setting goals, it is imperative that those plans and goals allow room for adjustment.

“I am a strong believer that developing your strategy is something that’s on a continuum and something you’re doing all the time,” Howard says. “Your strategy is evolving based on the information you’re taking in to the organization and what you’re learning as markets change and they react to your business. It’s a constant evolution, and there isn’t any one point in time where you can say, ‘This is our strategy.’”

In fact, Howard might suggest you take your organization’s long-term plan and toss it out the window. While she agrees short- term to midterm overarching goals are helpful in framing a company’s overall direction, Howard says the specific nuts and bolts of how those goals will be achieved are in a state of constant flux.

“I don’t know that there’s any benefit to anybody to have a 10-year goal because the market will evolve and change so much,” Howard says. “One of the major tenants of our strategy is that we’re going to follow the marketplace. I am quite confident that we will not be doing some of the services we do today several years in the future. We will have retooled and evolved our services to match the new opportunities in the marketplace.”

One of the primary information sources that Navigant utilizes while assessing and further developing its strategy is the organization itself. Encouraging what Howard calls a “feedback loop,” key leadership positions across the company are consulted on how to continually update Navigant’s strategy to better reflect the conditions of the market. Additionally, over time, Howard has looked to form relationships with individuals in the firm whose experience and position gives them broad awareness and context from which to offer continued insight. In all, Howard says the more input that can be efficiently gathered, the better.

“There is not one individual that sits in a room somewhere and says, ‘I have developed this strategy for the firm,’” Howard says. “We have a lot of people who are in midlevel, listening-post positions in the organization, people who are out in different regional areas and different practice areas. Those people can feed you information and help you test some of your thoughts and ideas on strategy and how it plays in their local market.”

Howard says everyone in an organization needs to understand and have the ability to articulate the path they’re following. Soliciting input and feedback from multiple layers of the organization not only helps build awareness around a strategy but also inspires employees to buy in, which Howard says is a crucial ingredient to any strategy’s effectiveness.

“There has to be some level of buy-in, and they have to feel like it’s a common goal that they can get on board for,” Howard says. “You need participation in the development of and a willingness to carry out the strategy with senior leadership and with people who have influence in the organization in helping us to define programs, set measurements and help carry it out.”

Developing new leadership

Regardless of its size, no organization can be driven to success on its strategy by one person alone. Every individual at every level up to the highest position on the organizational chart has a different contribution to make. As an organization grows, Howard says it is imperative that its leadership team expands, as well.

“The more you grow and the greater your platform is, the more you’re going to need a larger team of people contributing and bringing different skill sets,” Howard says. “If you don’t have developed leaders in place, it can be the one thing that can seriously impair you from reaching your strategies when you’re growing.”

Identifying and developing future leaders — or as Howard calls them, “high potentials” — requires, first and foremost, that a leader not lose his or her relationships within the organization, regardless of what title he or she holds. Not only will maintaining and deepening that connection help you better understand the inner workings of the company, but it will also allow you the ability to gain perspective on and monitor those individuals who are displaying the potential to eventually assume leadership roles.

At Navigant, Howard says high-potential employees have also been identified with help from a 360-degree evaluation process whereby the peers, staff members and senior team members have had the opportunity to evaluate some top-level practitioners on attributes that have been identified as key leadership indicators.

Howard also gives future leaders a chance to display their talents by allowing them to participate on broader-scope assignments beyond their normal job responsibilities, which she says, is beneficial to the organization as well as the individual.

“Another way to really get at your high potentials is to allow people from all different levels and all different capability sets to participate on firmwide projects and initiatives — things that are normally outside their everyday jobs,” Howard says. “It’s a benefit for the company because you’re getting new perspectives and you’re also helping to form those relationships that otherwise wouldn’t occur. It also allows us a chance to observe young professionals and emerging professionals and the development of their skills.”

Howard says that while Navigant does not have a specific program for developing future leaders, by making space for those identified high potentials to contribute to the organization on specific companywide projects, it allows those individuals the opportunity to perform for a broader group and have their progression be monitored with increasing levels of responsibility. And although a shift in roles and responsibilities within the leadership team can cause some consternation, Howard says the development of new leadership during phases of growth is a natural and necessary evolution.

“It’s natural as a company grows, and you need to widen the leadership net that there are those that were in those positions when you were smaller (who) may feel infringed upon or that they’re giving up certain responsibilities,” Howard says. “But the whole idea is that you’re supposed to be creating opportunities for people and ultimately finding the person who is going to replace you. So it’s really imperative that you expand your leadership team.”

Retention through growth

While it’s no secret that employee retention is a key contributor to the success of an organization, Howard says it is especially so of a company experiencing growth. In an organization like Navigant, where monetary growth is accompanied invariably by employee growth, employee retention creates stability and consistency as new team members are added, be it as individuals or as part of an acquired company.

“It facilitates your strategy,” Howard says. “It stabilizes the framework for people. In our firm, growing means that we’re growing our intellectual capital. Therefore, we are growing by people. We’re humans; we have our own internal motivations and personalities, and by retaining while you’re growing, it stabilizes the framework for on-boarding people into a common culture.”

Howard says that while employee attrition is costly for an organization from a monetary perspective, its negative impacts go far beyond that.

“We lose key intellectual capital that has to be rebuilt, we lose an investment we’ve made in our people to train, mentor and develop them, and others in the organization perhaps have lost a leader or a boss who was allowing them to develop their careers,” Howard says. “On one hand, it’s natural, to be expected. On the other hand, it’s very impactful to the company.”

Understanding how to retain employees means understanding and being conscious of the expectations and motivations of your work force. Whether it is a generational difference or simply a sign of the times, Howard says employees today have different expectations than did employees 20 years ago.

“Younger professionals today want to receive more immediate feedback, recognition and rewards — and probably more frequently than we are used to as an organization,” Howard says. “They’re looking to be challenged and to obtain a rapidly higher education and constantly be developed, so we’ve put a lot of effort into developing more on-time recognition programs, tuition reimbursements and tuition grants.”

While Howard says compensation drives behavior, and therefore, it is necessary that a compensation structure reflects the goals of an organization’s strategy, compensation alone will not keep employees from leaving. In the same way that Navigant strives to be adaptive to the market in adjusting its growth strategy, it likewise makes efforts to ensure the compensation and the environment Navigant offers its employees is on par with what they might find elsewhere, and it makes efforts to better understand employees’ motivations.

“We’re in the midst of a benchmarking study against our competitive environments, both domestic and international, to ensure that we know not only what the competition is paying, but if people are leaving, why they are leaving, and where they are going and for what amount of money or for what intangibles, so that we can adapt our systems and our support structures,” Howard says.

Ultimately, Howard’s ability to shepherd Navigant through its growth initiative, be it by building awareness, developing new leadership, tweaking the organizational framework or adjusting compensation structures, requires that she and her organization be ever-ready to embrace and celebrate change.

“Change management is probably the No. 1 responsibility that I have in the organization,” Howard says. “It’s acknowledging that the solution you applied yesterday will likely not work tomorrow, and that’s the biggest challenge of managing growth.”

HOW TO REACH: Navigant Consulting Inc., (800) 621-8390 or www.navigantconsulting.com