Princeton Leadership Group, LLC was engaged by a leading financial services firm to assist the company’s senior management. The firm faced a serious and sudden deterioration of employee morale resulting from a change in senior executive leadership and a simultaneous merger with another firm. The client operated internationally, with headquarters in London. The U.S. operations were based in New Jersey and employed approximately 250 people. Employee morale was further stressed by recent downsizings in the U.S. operations. The firm’s new CEO for U.S. operations, who had been on the job less than a year, was concerned that productivity and profits were suffering as a result of a lack of effective communication between executives and employees, and anxiety among rank and file workers about the company’s mission and future.
Princeton Leadership Group Founding Principal Dr. Sharon Rose Powell headed the team we assembled for the assignment. Dr. Powell and her team had several meetings with the CEO and his senior management group to determine their vision and goals for the company, and to pinpoint the specific challenges they believed they faced with employees as a result of the transitions the firm was navigating.
Within several weeks of the intervention, Dr. Powell and her associates worked with the client’s executive team to identify 30 managers at the firm who were trained by PLG in the skills needed to run focus groups with all employees. Focus groups were organized throughout the company consisting of two group leaders trained by PLG and approximately 12 - 13 employees in each group. A set of protocols was developed to help the group leaders create the proper environment within the focus groups to encourage good listening, constructive suggestions and honest feedback from the employees about what was working well within the company and what areas needed significant improvement.
The focus group process was completed within a month of implementation. The data was collected and analyzed by the company managers running the focus groups with assistance from PLG staff.
Following completion of the focus groups, the executive team and top managers attended a leadership development retreat led by Dr. Powell and her PLG colleagues. Members of the company’s executive team were briefed on the focus group results. They learned a number of healthy communication practices they could start implementing immediately in their respective departments. They also learned how they could create and implement action teams that would address the major problems identified during focus group conversations.
A town hall meeting was then held in which all company employees at the NJ operations center were invited to attend, including senior management (and the CEO). At the town hall meeting, nine key themes emerged from this process of listening to employees’ concerns. As part of the reporting on these results, the executives running the meeting cited verbatim comments (anonymously collected) from the group discussions, and all these results were presented at the town hall meeting in a series of PowerPoint presentations. A copy of the focus group report was given to every employee.
Here are several of the themes presented from the focus groups, along with verbatim comments which were reported:
Theme: Our group felt that the corporate vision was top-down and unclear.
Theme: People work well together within departments, and experience a sense of collegiality.
Theme: Employees have questions about the company’s leadership and are worried about the company’s future.
Theme: Morale is low right now, and people are concerned about it.
Dr. Powell had coached the CEO and his executive team to follow the presentation by summarizing the highlights they heard and the insights they received. There was no defensive posturing, and the employees felt validated and respected.
Within six months, action teams had been formed, met regularly, and made recommendations for change. The overall morale, sense of trust and mutual respect among employees and executives were rated high. The CEO reported a clear sense of increased productivity, the streamlining of inefficient practices and procedures, and increased creativity on the part of middle management throughout the company. The company had a vision statement everyone knew and could identify with. The new CEO felt his collaborative leadership style, developed through one-on-one coaching with PLG principals, made him more effective both within the company and with customers.
• • • • •This case study is presented for illustration purposes only. Our approach always begins with an initial discussion with a client’s senior management about the specific challenges the company is facing and the history and circumstances that have given rise to these challenges. Only after we have completed this initial assessment will we develop a specific and customized strategy and course of action to address the challenges the company is facing.