One year ago the management team of Callahan & Associates, Inc.
was looking seriously at the culture of our organization and what
we had become. Over the past few years, while the economy was booming
and talent was in short supply, the carefully-crafted entrepreneurial
environment that Callahan's was founded on had begun to erode. We
faced two main challenges. The first was finding talent that could
thrive in the high-accountability, high-reward environment that
drove our success in the early years. Our second challenge was to
knock down the silos that developed between departments as we grew
both the bottom line and the number of employees.
The First Challenge: Changing the Way We Hire Talent
First, we took a look at how we got to where we were and decided
our hiring practices were partly to blame. In the roaring dot-com
era, the company fell into a cycle of hiring people only when we
had a vacancy. That often led to long periods of time where key
positions were unfilled. This also put pressure on us to hire fast
rather to hire the best person to fit in our small company environment.
During the first half our 2002 fiscal year, we spent 20% more on
recruiting than for the entire previous year. This covered only
direct expenses and did not factor in the costs of bringing new
employees up to speed, lost productivity or the effect this was
taking on company morale. It didn't take a consultant to make us
realize that we needed a better way to recruit.
The Second Challenge: Changing the Way We Train Talent
Not only did we need a better way to recruit, but we needed a way
to help our new entry level recruits identify their strengths and
interests. From my own personal experience, I knew that my education
(an undergraduate Japanese Language major and an MA in International
Relations) had not clarified much for me at all. It was my experience
as editor of the graduate school paper that led me to try a position
at Callahans with their publications unit. Six years and four job
descriptions later, I'm still learning about myself.
Looking at the most successful employees in our past and current
organization yielded the same results. Many started with the company
in one position, then changed responsibilities multiple times as
their skills and interests dictated. This made us realize our goal
wasn't just to recruit new employees, but to help them identify
where they were going to be most successful-not something you can
accomplish in an typical interview process.
The Opportunity: A Weak Economy?
While many people viewed the weakening economy as a time to refrain
from further investment in employees, we decided to take the opposite
approach. Students graduating from college were facing the slowest
job market in 10 years. We felt Callahan's had a winning proposition
for the best of these students: a position with real responsibility,
hands-on training and career development potential.
The company was already looking to fill two openings that were
the result of our current hiring practices, reacting to vacancies
rather than growing talent from within. In addition, it was the
time of year we traditionally interviewed students for summer internship
positions. This got us thinking…if there was so much talent
on the market, why not hire a whole fleet of outstanding new college
graduates to be permanent employees? In this way, we would fill
our staffing pipeline with real talent and eliminate the extra effort
of training students for internships that ended as soon as the cool
September weather rolled in.
Our proposed solution: the Callahan Corporate Development Program.
To read a description of the program, click
Many questions were thrown around the boardroom that month, including:
- What would be the impact of bringing 5 new employees into a
company of only 25?
- How much of our managers' time and other resources would need
to be devoted to this project?
- How would our employees react to having a new team member every
- Was there a way to ensure diversified skills across the group
without pigeon-holing the recruits before they had a chance to
explore their strengths?
Next Week: The Results
Tune in next week to learn how the CAs fared; what the impact was
on our culture; and to see the answer to the question ''Would
we do it again?''