What evidence can you share that demonstrates the impact of the engagement?
The response that we got back was phenomenal, not only in terms of the survey and research tools but also that the people we were surveying that we were taking time to understand them and their needs.
One thing I want to highlight is their process. I have talked to them about it on several occasions. First of all, they tell you exactly what they are going to do, and one of their leads, David (Director CX Practice, Highland Solutions), said that they like to pierce mythology with data. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. When you work for a nonprofit organization, particularly a complex one like ours, everything is mythology. It isn’t a strong suit for us as of yet, and so we rely on hearsay, anecdotes, and great stories. A lot of fundraising and nonprofit work is about storytelling, but it doesn’t really make for good decision making. Even coming in and helping us frame out what we’re going to be doing and sharing that helps to communicate why we do this. I think it was such a beautiful small sentiment and I am still getting mileage out of that line.
Their methodology is very organic. On the first day, we didn’t know who we were going to talk to, what we were going to ask about; all we knew was that we needed to talk to people to get a better understanding of how we could move through this massive initiative and avoid pitfalls.
They walk you through a series of questions, and before you know it you’re creating a matrix of who’s most important to the project and who understands the least about it, or who we understand least. You are filling this out after you have had this massive discussion and you have no idea when you enter the room that day where you are going to end up at the end. I had this happen on multiple occasions with them and even had it happen with them in conversation. They would spend a lot of time learning about the challenges we faced and the depth of where to start. The conversations varied, but I always felt like they were using the information to help us with the next step of the research.
They are very open and responsive to feedback as well. As we got closer and closer to building out the final report out, we kept coming back and saying that we needed to refine the report based on the audience that was going to be in the room. They were so open to the feedback that we gave them, and they were there every step of the way. I don’t think I can say anything better. We were all impressed with the way they worked.
How did Highland Solutions perform from a project management standpoint?
They have all the project management tools you could want, and they use a sort of people operating system. We had check-ins three times a week with them, and Glenn (Director, Delivery, Highland Solutions) is a vital part of their team. He is their task manager, their scheduler, and makes sure that things are on track, on time, and on budget. He is like a project manager, but he’s also so much more.
Their operating system is something they take very seriously. I had conversations with them about how they get the right people. Everybody who has worked on our project was really dedicated and loved working on it. When you work with people like that as a vendor, you know you have hit something amazing. A lot of times when you work with vendors, there is an A team, and after the process starts you get something less than the A-team. We always get the A team with Highland. It is a very well-managed organization.
What did you find most impressive about them?
One of the things I found to be super impressive, and I don’t know if there’s a story behind why they do this or if it is just something that works for them, but it was impactful. After they completed the 75-minute interviews with staff members, we were invited back to their offices for a meeting to see where we were going to go from there. They put every quotable moment from those interviews on big bright sticky notes all around the conference room. It was truly immersive to walk into that room and see the amount of work they’d done, the voices they’d heard. It really helped us see how many times the same thing was repeated over and over again. I took a video of it and sent it to some staff members back at our office. I spent about an hour just reading those notes and being a part of them. Maybe it was happenstance that I happened to be there or maybe it was for them to organize; I don’t really know, but it was a moment I know I will not forget.
We have nearly 1200 staff members across every state, including Guam and Puerto Rico, so it was difficult for us to ensure we were being as inclusive as possible. Highland really helped us to do that and set us on the right foot and the right path.
Are there any areas they could improve?
I think they are really committed to making improvements. At one point, we had two constituencies going through different phases of interviews and it did get a little confusing when it came to understanding certain things and how we needed to work with both groups. I understand in retrospect that this was because Highland was letting the research guide the required next steps. If they felt like they didn’t have the right information or enough information to make any kind of conclusion or recommendation, they needed to go one level deeper. Between us and Highland, it was a moment we could have clarified, but now that we understand their methodology, I think it would be a lot different. We simply didn’t know what we didn’t know at the time.
Do you have any advice for potential customers?
To get the most out of the relationship, and they were very clear about this, you have to have someone leading the effort. Don’t just mash a team of people together. You have to have a decision-maker and someone who’s committed to being on calls with Highland, moving the project along, and steering them in the right direction. Having someone veteran that understands the constituency/customer base well would be a good fit. I don’t know how they work with every client, but I can say that we got the most out of the relationship because of how we engaged with them. They were right there with us, and I think they would be right there with any client that hires them.
If you are willing to go even further and deeper with one more conversation or questionnaire, you feel like they are there for you. That is true of any vendor relationship, but I definitely felt it with Highland. If we wanted to have another conversation, they were there for it. I have all their cellphone numbers in my phone now and we are texting back and forth. It was a brief engagement, but it is amazing how when you work through something complex, you get to know people really well. Find the right person on your team who is going to go to the right depth of the organization, and you will get the most out of them.