Technology as a Catalyst for Employee Engagement

“Networks are the new companies.”

–Harold Jarche

Employee engagement is the measure of an employee’s connection to the mission of their organization and commitment to bringing their best every day. Strong engagement means employees feel they have a say in the business of the organization and they feel they are a part of something larger than themselves. Engaged employees are essential to the growth and success of an organization. They will drive innovation, they will be motivated to stretch beyond their limits, and they will act as owners of the business, deeply invested in its impact and success.

Sadly, research reflects that only 30% of employees feel actively engaged with their organization. Fifty percent are passively engaged, and 20% reported that they are “actively disengaged.” A business cannot thrive, and certainly cannot make an impact if these are its employee statistics.

For an employee to feel engaged, they must enjoy ongoing interaction and collaboration with their colleagues. They must be consistently motivated—and challenged—by their colleagues and their leaders. They must feel safe and comfortable in their work environment. They must receive recognition in a way that truly makes them feel as if they are making a difference, and they must feel they can express themselves authentically and make mistakes without fear of reprisal.

The Fedcap Group is comprised of 17 different companies—each with its own mission, and each with its own unique history and culture. Our geographic footprint stretches—for now—across the United States and the United Kingdom. And yet, we all are united in a common mission to improve the long-term self-sufficiency and social well-being of the impoverished and disadvantaged. Underscoring our united mission is a structure so sturdy that no matter where our employees are geographically or where they sit within the company, mechanisms are in place to shrink time and distance so that there is intentional collaboration and interaction—cornerstones of employee engagement.

Technology is obviously an integral part of most businesses. At The Fedcap Group, we are intentional about using it specifically to enhance employee engagement. The choices we make to grow our technology are always made with the caveat that whatever we choose will support collaboration, interaction, innovation, and drive. Salesforce™ tells the story of our relationships with contractors and stakeholders. Oracle unites our employees with a common language around financials, procurement, and human capital management. Our intranet is a consistent point of outreach to engage employees in questions and opportunities for recognition and topics relevant to our mission.

As we have become more and more intentional about using technology as a tool for employee engagement, there has been a marked increase in employee retention, learning, and professional growth. The result is more innovation, more drive, and more solutions to tough problems. Communication, collaboration, integration, and common language all culminate in an environment where we are better united in our mission and active support—not only of those we serve, but also each other, resulting in strong engagement across the organization.


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Employment is the First Step In Climbing the Career Ladder

At The Fedcap Group, we are committed to improving the long-term self-sufficiency and social well-being of the disadvantaged and vulnerable.

The first step to economic self-sufficiency is employment.  For many of those we serve, finding a job that pays minimum wage is cause for great celebration as it is the first time many have held a job at all.   I have been privileged to observe the remarkable sense of accomplishment in the faces of those holding their first paycheck.  Our expectation is that the first job is the first step on the career ladder—where ultimately those we serve are able to own a home, support their family and send their kids to college.   We work to imbue the sense of possibilities that comes from joining the workforce.

That said, staying at minimum wage is never the goal.  We at The Fedcap Group know that most individuals making minimum wage cannot afford a one-bedroom home and struggle to pay for food, child care, clothing and health care.  We understand that many of these workers are supplementing their income by taking second and third jobs and tapping into a variety of federal, state and local benefits.  We work closely with individuals to access SNAP, HUD and other government benefits because we know that they can make all of the difference in feeding a family.

We also understand that when a worker is offered a raise, they can lose eligibility for these benefits and actually be worse off than before the raise.  This phenomenon is known as the “cliff effect.”

At The Fedcap Group we spend a lot of time talking about how to innovate our programming to address these stark realities.   We consider all of the ways we can help advance how rapidly individuals climb the career ladder, thereby reducing their need for government benefits and eliminating the cliff effect.   We study job sector information from the Department of Labor and build partnerships with employers in industries where there are significant growth projections.  Our Career Design School trains workers and offers certifications in fields where there is significant demand for employees – resulting in promotional opportunities.  We work with business to develop employer-based training so that individuals we place in these businesses can “hit the ground running” and thereby earn raises more rapidly.

We offer Job Clubs, where individuals who have obtained employment can join with others recently employed, to discuss issues on the job, ways to advance their success and resolve conflict.  We push out suggestions via text and e-mail for online learning, classes at community colleges, our own ongoing training opportunities—seeking to underscore the importance of continuous learning as part of the pathway to long term self-sufficiency.

We have designed web-based curriculum including PrepNOW!  and Get Ready! to promote college attendance—creating another pathway to long term self-sufficiency.

We have spent time examining the characteristics of individuals who are able to move past minimum wage to a salary that can result in self-sufficiency—and we intentionally find ways to integrate the building of these characteristics into our work readiness skill building activities.

And we evaluate our impact.  Do these activities make a difference?  Are we seeing changes in long term self-sufficiency?

Our results are promising.  We see that training in high-growth sectors, smartly designed work readiness activities, creative business relationships, and accessible online college readiness curricula are resulting in higher salaries, savings accounts and food and housing security.

The climb to long term economic well-being for the chronically unemployed or people with disabilities is not easy.  At the Fedcap Group, we believe that success is the shared responsibility of the individual served and the systems that serve them.

Do you have additional thoughts on how to help the impoverished climb the career ladder?

Scalability, Structure, and International Expansion

In December of 2018, we added a new chapter in The Fedcap Group’s distinguished history. We pushed our boundaries beyond the United States to include a partnership with Kennedy-Scott, a 30-year-old social services agency dedicated to putting people to work. Since then we established Fedcap Employment and Fedcap Scotland—all part of Fedcap UK—created to expand our proven model for assisting the chronically unemployed obtain employment in high-growth sectors with strong career ladders.

We have spent considerable time honing the precise interventions within this model of service, collecting data, evaluating outcomes and refining as indicated.  We have expanded these services in diverse locations across the country.  Scaling our models and replicating them for an international market is an important next step in our long-term vision.

That said, scaling any model of intervention is challenging, ensuring model fidelity even more so, and doing both “across the pond” demands strategic and detailed planning and execution.  In any international expansion there are cultural barriers, tax code and compliance issues,  and complexities associated with shared infrastructure and communication.   Our advisors were in agreement that it was  crucial to establish a local office and team that understand the market and language , ensuring we were in compliance with local regulations.

First, we found organizations that had similar missions and histories of delivering effective services. These critical relationships allowed us to hit the ground running while at the same time, avoiding pitfalls that can occur without “boots on the ground” knowledge.  Having a local country manager has been tremendously effective in ensuring that we are compliant and competitive within the new market.

Second, working in partnership with local funders and providers, we evaluated our human, technical, and organizational resources—filling critical gaps as identified.  This focus on structure was advanced by our decade-long commitment to building robust structure, systems and processes.  We already had experience in putting management teams in place that effectively delivered services in very different jurisdictions across the US.   We had worked through which business decisions can be made on a local level and which need to be made centrally.  We had tested our capabilities to set up IT systems that ensured secure data sharing.  Effective structure has been essential in our success to date, allowing us to recruit top talent, ensure ease of international communications and provide real time outcome and financial reporting.

Third, we created scenarios to test our proposed structure, ensuring the systems were in place to support our high standards for service delivery.   We understand that it is the “known unknowns” that we are preparing for.

Expanding internationally takes a lot of time, testing, and hard work.  To date, we have provided services to over 7000 individuals through Fedcap UK.  We are convinced of the value of these efforts, and the importance of making our service model available to individuals with barriers to economic well-being—changing lives one person, one community and one country at a time.

Challenging Conversations: A Pathway to Innovation

At The Fedcap Group, we are committed to finding precise interventions that will alter the status quo and create lasting and sustainable change in the lives of those we serve.

Our growth—and our success—depends on our staff coming to work each day with this innovator’s way of thinking. As a leader, I know that a big part of my job—and that of all of our leaders—is to create the conditions that allow for the open flow of ideas—good, bad, or impossible.

To create these conditions, as leaders, we must be intentional about establishing a common understanding that we can—and will—make mistakes, engage in generative dialogue, and appreciate the essential role that conflict plays in arriving at breakthrough solutions. The root of the word “conflict” is “striking together.” It is only by pushing each other to think beyond our immediate understanding and by challenging each other to see things we haven’t thought of that we will find not just good solutions, but the right solutions.

Many people do what they can to avoid conflict. Instead of challenging their peers or their superiors, they say yes or they stay quiet, hoping to stay “under the radar.” Part of the reason for our success is that we encourage our staff—no matter what the level—to speak up with their insights and ideas. I never want staff to agree with me if they see something I haven’t seen. I want to be challenged, I want us to challenge each other, because I want to get it right.

This environment requires that we have built a solid foundation of trust.  If we don’t trust each other, and if we don’t engage in challenging conversations, we simply will not innovate. It is my job to ensure the conditions are right for truly striking together to ignite powerful solutions to society’s toughest problems.

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Leadership and Learning Are a Way of Life

As leaders, we all know that leadership is not simply a job title. It is not a nine-to-five job that you turn on when you walk into the office and turn off when you leave.  Leadership is a way of life that requires constant learning, nurturing, and stretching. It is how you show up in the world, every day. It is a discipline that requires time and practice.

As a leader of a large, growing, multi-company organization, I am driven by the need for continual learning and this takes time and discipline.  I intentionally spend time each day reading, writing, considering, and ultimately, translating the learning into action.  Learning sets the tone for the organization. It enhances by ability to be agile in my responses to the ever-changing marketplace and business climate. Reading allows me the space to challenge my own assumptions and bring more knowledge to the table in discussions with my board and team. I share articles that interest me with my leadership team and am always intrigued by the responses I receive.  Weekly, I share articles of interest with all 4500 staff of The Fedcap Group—and find the responses equally as inspiring.

In addition, I spend as much time as I can with leaders in diverse and disparate industries inviting them to share their perspectives with me and their approaches to the things that are essential to smooth organizational development and management: structure, innovation, corporate health, and stakeholder and staff engagement. I always walk away with new insight.

This carries over to the kind of employee I look for to bring into our organization.  When interviewing potential new employees, I always ask the question “Tell me something you’ve learned recently.’   I want to understand if the person I am talking to has the intellectual curiosity required in today’s environment, required to succeed in our company.

For me, leading and learning do not feel like “work.” They are inextricably connected, and I am continuously energized and stimulated by what I learn.

Leading from the Front: Guest Blog from Ret. Colonel David Sutherland

Memorial Day is just a week away, and while we pause to remember and honor those who have fallen in service to our country, I am also moved by lessons learned from military leaders who have faced the most difficult and high-stakes challenges and crises imaginable.

Ret. Colonel David Sutherland, Chairman of Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services, an organization that is an essential part of The Fedcap Group, is a leader whose wisdom and insight I value.

I thank Col. Sutherland for his great insight.  And, as always, I welcome your thoughts.




Ret. Colonel David Sutherland

Lead from the Front is a philosophy for team-building based on years of real-life experience in the field, culminating in Iraq.   One of the four traits of a leader is knowledge.

Say knowledge and people think “intelligence” and “information.”  True, it does mean that, but the main deliverable of knowledge is structure.  Think about it.  What do people really want to know before they begin a task and while they are completing it?

  1. What am I doing?
  2. Why is it important that I do it?
  3. How is this going to make a difference?
  4. How well am I doing it?

It’s such a simple concept, yet you’d be surprised how many people don’t operate under these principles.  And when leaders do answer these questions?  People will follow them places you couldn’t imagine.

Take Ted, one of the Troop Commanders who served with me in Iraq.  During the initial part of our 15-month deployment, his Troop First Sergeant was killed in action.  The Troops’ next First Sergeant was shot and wounded in action.  Ted himself was engaged directly or within proximity of his convoy by as many as 70 IEDs.  And yet his troop accomplished more than I ever thought possible.  How?  Ted explained every task and didn’t overreact.  His troops understood the job that needed to get done and why they were doing it.  He put structure where it was needed and ensured standards were understood.

General George Patton once said, “Don’t tell someone how to do it, tell them what to do and they’ll surprise you.”

Follow that advice and you’ll have workers who are both competent and confident.

Leadership is Action, Not Position

Recently, in a conversation during our Leadership Academy, one of our faculty shared the quote from  Donald H. McGannon, who ran Westinghouse Broadcasting Corporation and served as President of the National Urban League,  “Leadership is action, not position.”  This resonated with me.

Countless books have been written about what makes a good leader. Certainly being inspirational,  driven, having a vision, and being a strong communicator are all characteristics of leaders. But for me, at the heart of leadership is the willingness to act.  I believe that the best leaders are those who take in information, distill and analyze it, and then use it to do somethingThe most effective leaders build bridges between knowledge and action and they act quickly when it is required.  They understand that non-action can place the company at risk.  They generate trust because of their willingness to act.  They are not limited by fear or by making a mistake.

These leaders are not defined by their position.  They may have official authority, or they may not. Their leadership is marked by purpose — to improve things, to be better.  Their style is one of candor.  They see issues and they talk about them.   My experience suggests that leaders willing to act have a strong commitment to mission and a disdain for complacency.  They see the value in producing outcomes.   They do not settle.

Leaders garner the respect of their colleagues because they bring with them the integrity and the courage to do the right thing when it matters.

As we continue to build our talent across the agency—we look for people who have a history of acting—of doing something meaningful and with integrity, and who have been able to demonstrate that bridge between knowledge and action.

Relevance, Sustainability, Impact

In 2009, Fedcap adopted a framework that has served us well over the past decade:  Sustainability, Relevance and impact.  These three drivers influence the way we think, plan and implement. They are foundational to the culture of our organization, and they guide how we measure success.

Sustainability: A commitment to long-term financial health.

None of our work is possible if we don’t remain financially healthy. Sustainability requires that we establish our core indicators of corporate health, that we report against those indicators, and we build strategies and accompanying structures to ensure we remain financially healthy.

Sustainability advances our ability to innovate and stay relevant.

Relevance: A commitment to continuous innovation and modernization.

An organization must remain ahead of the curve—understanding the emerging trends in practice, funding and technology and how they impact service design and delivery. We simply cannot do what we have always done. We talk a lot about looking forward in our agency.  What is next…and what comes after that?  These are questions that we explore in detail during our corporate weeks together.

Relevance means that the organization is positioned to thrive regardless of the inevitable twists and turns of the marketplace.

Impact: A commitment to measurable improvements.

Because we are committed to solving (not just serving) problems, we have set bold goals to improve the long-term outcomes for vulnerable populations.  We are doing this by changing our own practice and by working with government and private partners to change how systems design, fund and deliver services.  We measure our success by tracking the national outcomes of these groups, not just those who walk through our door.

We are embedding research into our program models to ensure the efficacy of our program design and then replicating and scaling our evidence-based interventions.

This very precise frame is one that we can apply throughout our companies, programs, and our services. It is simple, and it is direct, and it is the foundation for our structure and for our plans for growth.

What frame do you use for your planning and implementation?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

The Emerging Role of Community-based Agencies in the Managed Care Environment

The term managed care or managed healthcare is used in the United States to describe a group of activities ostensibly intended to reduce the cost of providing for profit health care and providing health insurance while improving the quality of that care (“managed care techniques”).  It has become the essentially exclusive system of delivering and receiving American health care since its implementation in the early 1980s.  Over the past thirty years managed care has continued evolve.  According to the trade association America’s Health Insurance Plans, 90 percent of insured Americans are now enrolled in plans with some form of managed care.  While state government have mostly “carved out” vulnerable populations from managed care arrangements, 26 states have contracts with managed care organizations to manage long-term care services for the elderly and individuals with disabilities.

Today, as part of a national trend, this is changing.  States are slowly starting to move vulnerable populations such as children and adults with disabilities and individuals with mental health issues, into managed care systems. This far-reaching change has significant implications.  Managed Care companies are been reaching out to the traditional providers of care to these populations, creating partnerships that will, I believe change the provider landscape.

As the Fedcap Group is immersed in preparation for these changes, we are also advocating for the way that they unfold.   The populations that will be moved into managed care arrangement often face social barriers and have chronic, complex conditions. Effective care coordination is imperative to meet the needs of these individuals and requires strong relationships between medical providers, insurance companies, social service agencies, and individuals and families.

Further, we are interested in exploring the social determinants of health, which research suggests are the “secret sauce” of truly improving population health, patient experience, and the cost of care. These social determinants include such things as:

  • Availability of resources to meet daily needs (food, transportation, housing);
  • Access to affordable education;
  • Access to job training and employment opportunities;
  • Availability of community-based resources;
  • Social supports; and
  • Socioeconomic conditions (concentrated poverty and the stress that accompanies it).

Comprehensive solutions are needed as vulnerable populations shift  to managed care. With a person-centered focus, state-of-the-art technology, expertise in helping people access benefits, and data to quantify our intervention and prove our impact, we look forward to being part of that solution.