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January 12, 2006

News & Opinion: A Case Study: A Business Literacy Transformation

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 7:28 PM – Filed under: Current Events & Public Affairs

Joe and I are owners of a consulting firm called the Business Literacy Institute. We work with mostly large companies, providing business literacy consulting and training products and services. All of our work is customized, so every program we deliver is different. The topics we teach, and the numbers we focus on, are based on the needs of the client. For some clients, we are in their catalog of courses, teaching Finance for Non Financial Managers once a quarter or so. For others, we develop programs for specific needs within an organization. In some cases, we help create a business literate workforce, creating programs for every level in the organization.
The work we did for one particular client was especially interesting because it resulted in an organizational transformation. The name of the company has been changed.
In the early 1990's a new regional vice president arrived on the west coast for ODS, Inc. She had worked in smaller regions and assumed that the work she did there would apply to this larger region. She quickly learned, however, that she couldn't connect with each individual, there were just too many. And then came the biggest shock of alla union attempt. Although the union was not voted in, the vice president took it as a message from employees that they felt disenfranchised. Yet she knew that their teamwork and commitment were keys to long-term success. She came across the idea of business literacy, which fit with her philosophy that employees should be partners in success, and fit with ODS Inc.'s philosophy that employees are a competitive advantage. ODS Inc. already offered a strong salary and benefits package (including profit sharing). However she knew that creating a company of business people meant more than pay and benefits.
The first step at ODS Inc. was to conduct an assessment to determine employees' current level of understanding of the business. The assessment revealed, among other things, that:
  • Employees didn't understand the information already being shared, although management assumed they did.

  • Employees believed that their work had little impact on the success of the company.

  • Middle management couldn't identify or define the organization's key numbers.

These and other findings informed the development of a business literacy program entitled "You Are the Difference," consisting of a classroom training program, Money Maps, and a communication and reinforcement process. Everyone in the organization attended a day training session that included ODS Inc.'s philosophy, strategy, income statement, and key measures. After the training, managers began holding weekly meetings, setting short-term "line of sight" team goals, and posting and discussing financial results.
Today, ODS Inc. is a different organization. The word "employee" is no longer used. Everyone is a business partner. (At one branch the employees took it upon themselves to order new parking signs so that the word "employee" effectively disappeared from the facility.) Customers send e-mails to managers, using the phrase "business partner" as they describe the high level of customer service and professionalism. Profitability has risen without an increase in sales. EVA (economic value added) results have jumped to new levels. Vehicle and worker compensation costs are down. Profit sharing is at its highest ever. And, just as important, trust has increased, turnover decreased, and morale improved.