Sometimes, the hardest part of creating organizational change is getting your people to feel the change.
I saw how true this can be shortly after I joined Early Learning Indiana in early 2016. Although a process of evolution was underway when I arrived – in part because of a new, big contract and in part because our leaders recognized the need for change – I heard and saw things that told me that not everyone was feeling the difference.
I heard teachers talking about saving money to buy crayons for their classrooms. I heard employees talking about benefits in ways that showed they didn’t value them. I saw a salary structure that put us at a disadvantage when it came to competing for the best teachers.
The problem wasn’t that we couldn’t afford crayons. It wasn’t that employees didn’t want decent benefits. And it wasn’t that we didn’t value teachers. The problem was a sort of scarcity mentality that affects so many nonprofits but that needed to be rooted out at Early Learning Indiana if we were to strive toward our potential.
Before I go on, here’s a little backstory: Early Learning Indiana (which operated for more than a century as Day Nursery before changing its name in 2014), has for the last few years been evolving from an organization providing childcare in Central Indiana into an organization that serves as a statewide model for the delivery of childcare services. We still provide care to more than 1,000 children each year, but now we also coach and train childcare professionals throughout Indiana and educate policymakers about quality childcare.
In other words, Early Learning Indiana has transformed into an organization with a broader mission and impact. The challenge has been getting our operations and people to catch up with that transformation. We needed people to get out of the scarcity mentality without abandoning a stewardship mindset. We needed to be an employer of choice. We needed to compete for the best teachers – and not just against other childcare providers, but against schools. And we needed to do this without breaking the bank.
This process has been underway for about 18 months, and we’re already seeing results. Here’s an oversimplification of what we’ve done, and the impact we’ve seen.
Tap into expertise
We started by finding a partner who could guide us through this process. We brought FirstPerson on board, and they provided the information and products we needed to make big steps forward.
Next we shifted our mindset. We stopped treating pay and benefits as separate entities and started viewing them as balanced parts of a total compensation philosophy that operates from a context of who we are and what we want to achieve. We talk about benefits and compensation differently, and employees perceive them differently.
Take time to do it right
We didn’t try to fix everything at once. FirstPerson helped us develop a three-year process that moves us toward that employer-of-choice status we want.
- Year One focused on creating stability and identifying opportunities for improvement in our employee brand. A compensation study allowed us to benchmark our salary structure against similar organizations, both nonprofit and for-profit. A review of our benefits program helped us understand its strengths and weaknesses.
- Year Two was about redesigning our total compensation program, a process that included a change in our benefits provider. We found a provider that could, for about the same cost, give our 350 employees better tools for making decisions, better information about their benefits, and a better customer experience. Now our employees value their benefits more, use them more and have fewer problems.
- Year Three will focus on creating wellness incentives and creating a program that promotes the overall wellness of our employees.
Communicate the difference
We communicated overtly about everything we did, ensuring that everybody understands the changes being made, why they’re being made, and how everyone benefits.
Enjoy the progress
As changes were made, we saw an immediate boost to center staff retention, performance management, and salary-planning activities. The compensation strategy worked in tandem with a new benefits package to give Early Learning Indiana the increase in employee engagement we were looking for. One demonstration of that engagement: In the past, we assumed we would have 13% participation in workplace surveys; today that number has increased to nearly 86%. Meanwhile, employee turnover has dropped dramatically, customer retention is up, and the bottom line is looking better than ever.
Perhaps most important, that scarcity mentality is almost completely a thing of the past, which means our employees can focus more than ever on making a difference in the state of Indiana childcare.