By: Mitch Isaacs—
Muncie, IN—Pop quiz, people managers: What is the most critical ingredient for a successful company culture when you’ve gone from a local operation to having employees in 28 states?
Did you answer, “Training?” You’re getting warm.
Let’s add in the fact that you’ve already invested heavily in training your people to become specialists in proprietary software and that the quit rate (of job-hopping employees) is on the rise.
If you said, “Retention,” you agree with Shannon Stroud. She is the Director of People Success & Career Lifecycle Management for Ontario Systems, a Presidential Member of Shafer Leadership Academy.
A Dramatic Expansion
Ontario Systems is a software developer specializing in revenue cycle management. Their software is used by five of the 15 largest hospital networks in North America. They also serve state and municipal governments across the U.S.
The company has come a long way since Ron Fauquher and Wil Davis founded it in Muncie in 1980. While the company headquarters remains in Muncie and most of its employees live there, Ontario Systems today has top talent living in 28 states.
Stroud has witnessed a dramatic expansion of personnel since she came on board in 2013. The growing company offered her leadership opportunities for which she utilized a broad skill set in marketing and events management. Then, in 2017, she began her new role helping others develop those skills.
It was no small task.
The Challenge: Employee Retention Today Is Easier Said Than Done
“For about 10 years, we did not have a training and development group. Managers did this within their own teams,” Stroud said. “So, we started the enterprise organizational development and learning team.”
The goal was to retain the talent hiring managers were working so hard to onboard by developing in-house training focused on professional development.
Stroud understood that employees want to grow. She recognized people in the organization were more than workers. Like she had once been, they were future leaders. Her first challenge was to serve that need within the organization so Ontario’s people didn’t feel they had to fulfill it elsewhere.
She was up against a sharp increase in job-hopping among U.S. workers that by 2018 would reach a 17-year high. The economy was booming, enticing 51 percent of currently employed adults to search for new opportunities. If that same statistic held true for Ontario Systems, failing to address the human need to grow and develop could cost Ontario their staff. Managers were doing their best. But how could they serve that need consistently among all local and remote workers?
The Solution: One Part Platform, One Part Content
Ontario got to work on what they did best: software that fulfills critical business needs.
“We began dipping our toe into a training lab where we can deliver everything virtually,” Stroud said.
They were developing a method for the delivery of interactive leadership development content. But what would that content be? And how would they acquire it in a cost-effective way?
For that, Stroud turned to a partner with whom Ontario had a relationship for many years. Shafer Leadership Academy was the obvious solution.
Employees had long taken advantage of Shafer programs like Emergence. This is an eight-week course designed to equip participants to lead the change they want to see in the organizations they represent.
The next step was to take the classroom model and adapt it for the digital space across Ontario Systems’ network.
A Company Culture of Personal Growth
Stroud describes more than just a vendor-client relationship with Shafer. Other sources of leadership development content exist, but partnerships like this are unique.
“People who have gone and attended classes always say it’s time well-spent,” Stroud said.
To Stroud, the value of this partnership is not only in the quality of the programming, but the commitment to ongoing improvement.
For example, Shafer once utilized Ball State University students for a lunch and learn seminar about communication and technology. Some of Stroud’s people remarked afterward that they would have preferred the session be led by someone with experience in a professional environment.
“Both Tisha and Mitch were all over it,” Stroud said, referring to Program Director Tisha Gierhart and Executive Director Mitch Isaacs. “They responded to those people individually and apologized. They said ‘You’re right, we should have positioned it differently.’ We really appreciated that proactive approach.”
Isaacs explained how mistakes like this are teaching opportunities in the culture Ontario and Shafer are co-promoting.
“We believe in practicing what we preach at Shafer Leadership Academy, and one of the things we preach is that leaders, being human, are imperfect,” Isaacs said. “Leaders aren’t flawless, but they do understand how to leverage people’s strengths and weakness into nearly flawless results.”
Unique Partnership, Impressive Employee Retention
Stroud reports the initiative to develop and retain talent is working. Ontario’s commitment to employee success has made it one of the best places to work in Indiana for five consecutive years.
From the thousand-foot level, that means associates as a group retain more specialized knowledge, serve customers better, and keep the company profitable. The partnership with Shafer keeps the focus on each individual.
“Shafer has been an amazing resource to help people from entry- or mid-level to become the right type of leaders for us,” Stroud said.
Taking this resource into the virtual space is an imperative. Stroud’s colleagues have looked for the equivalent of Shafer Leadership Academy in other locations where they have brick-and-mortar buildings, such as Albuquerque, New Mexico and Vancouver, Washington. They haven’t found it.
“The amount of time we touch an associate and the number we can touch – it’s money well invested. Show me where I can get classes delivered at that caliber for the price paid and the partnership we have,” Stroud said.
“There is no other Shafer.”
About Shafer Leadership Academy
Shafer Leadership Academy is a Muncie non-profit that provides people of all ages, backgrounds and interests access to the tools necessary to develop and enhance their leadership skills. Go to www.shaferleadership.com for a full overview of its programs, scholarships and impact on the community. Annual members of Shafer Leadership Academy gain access to our full range of leadership development strategies in one packaged price and receive marketing and publicity benefits exclusively offered to members of the academy. Invest in your people. Invest in your community. Become a member of Shafer Leadership Academy today.
Shafer Leadership Academy
1208 W. White River Blvd. Muncie, IN 47303