What Do Your Employees Deserve When It’s Time to Say Goodbye?

What Do Your Employees Deserve When It’s Time to Say Goodbye?

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For the past three decades, a handful of firms have dominated the outplacement industry. However, it seems that the landscape of the industry is changing. Many industry leaders have openly acknowledged that the expectations of buyers and end-users are changing.  Our team at Barton Career Advisors thinks this shift is related to the fact that relationships have been set aside to manage margins in an increasingly competitive environment. To be clear, the relationships that we speak of are those of the end-user of career transition services, the employee who has been separated from his or her job. These are the relationships that are suffering.

Outplacement, for many corporate buyers, has evolved into a “check the box” kind of offering that is not given a great deal of thought. Many Chief HR Officers, CFOs and Talent Directors relegate their decision process to a singular thought: “We’ve had a relationship with (insert outplacement firm name here) for the last 5 years. That’s who we’ve always used.” We’d like to pose a new question and insert some new criteria in the decision making process. What do your employees deserve when it’s time to say goodbye? It might even be more powerful to ask the following question. Does my outplacement firm have good relationships with my former employees? In our experience, the answer to that last question is likely, and unfortunately, probably not.

We’ve done a significant amount of primary and secondary research with our partners, HR leaders, and academia to develop a model we call the Outplacement Relational Gap™ (see figure 1). This model outlines the evolution of the outplacement industry from the early 80’s until today. Traditional outplacement has been geography specific in its focus with product features like office space, workbooks, adjunct unaffiliated consultants, and classroom delivery. In other words, it is a high fixed cost model of doing business. As the industry has evolved, these cost pressures have led traditional outplacement firms to cut costs where it hurts the end user most. Specifically, they have managed margins by increasing their client to coach ratio. In many cases, these big box firms assign 60 clients per career consultant. They have all but eliminated the importance of a customized, high service relationship with the people that need it most: those that have lost their jobs.

The same commodity-style environment that has placed demands on traditional firms has also spawned a new wave of technology-intensive firms that offer cutthroat pricing and web-based resources. We are the first at Barton Career Advisors to recognize that technology has an important part in a career search. However, we strongly believe this should not come at the expense of critical relationships with clients. When you put together a call center to answer questions from your thousands of clients, it sure does not have the feel of a relationship that is built to last!

In outplacement, one size does not fit all. Barton Career Advisors is on the cutting edge of practices that drive user satisfaction and effectiveness. While we leverage technology to deliver portions of our program all across the country, it does not come at the expense of our clients. We operate on a 20:1 client to coach ratio which ensures that every displaced employee receives highly tailored, personalized attention and tools for their career search. We truly build the outplacement engagement around each individual client. Despite attempts to offer “unlimited” coaching sessions and “personal” service, our competitors simply lack the physical ability to deliver on these expectations.

Today’s work modalities require an innovative career transition program that is not tied to the traditional outplacement paradigm. BCA has structured its business model to focus on premier, hands-on, tailored coaching relationships rather than physical office space. Our low fixed-cost model allows for an investment in expert career coaching services which are customized to the dynamic and changing needs of each client. As a matter of fact, our 2011 research in conjunction with Bush Associates LLC that was presented at the 54th Annual Midwestern Academy of Management Conference reflects:

When candidates were asked to rank 15 “Outplacement Services Features” based on their importance to their overall career transition program “Availability of Outplacement Office Services” ranked 2nd to last in importance in 14th place. The top three factors were-

1. Resume & CV Development
2. Coaching on how to approach the recruitment market
3. Interview skills coaching

Source: Two Perspectives on Outplacement: The End User vs. The Purchasing Executive, (Zongrone, Barton, Bush, Dickinson), October 2011, Presented at The 54th Annual Midwestern Academy of Management Conference, Omaha, NE.

The 2010 Outplacement Industry Benchmark Report published by McFarlan Lane further amplifies the importance of outplacement programs like Barton Career Advisors that focus on three key factors:

1. Ability of the consultant to actively engage with individuals

2. An ability to develop shared understanding of capabilities and strengths in the individual
3. Commercial experience of the consultant
It may be time to ask your outplacement provider, “How strong is your relationship with our former employees?”  It also may be time to reflect on what your hardworking employees deserve when it is time to say “Goodbye”.