Program Management

Designing an Employee Supports Program: Goals and Strategies

Introduction

In our overview of employee supports learning guide, we outlined why employee supports are a critical component of an effective social enterprise. Building an effective employee supports program for your social enterprise is an essential component of delivering the supports and services that help workers secure, succeed, and advance in employment and get on the pathway to self-sufficiency.

Designing an employee supports program is a multi-phase process. In this learning guide, we will cover the first two steps of the process:

The first step is defining the goals and strategies that your employee supports program is trying to achieve. The second is configuring which employee supports you will offer, determining the most promising and relevant ones in order to achieve key goals. In subsequent learning guides we will cover the further stages of employee support program design.

 

1. Define Goals and Strategies

There is no single model for employee supports. Your social enterprise’s programming should be designed to achieve certain key goals unique to your social enterprise, taking into consideration all of the idiosyncratic factors affecting your organization and target population. The first step in doing so, is defining your social enterprise’s goals.

Define Goals

The first step of designing an employee supports program for your social enterprise is to define the overarching goals for your program. In doing this, you will want to think holistically about your social mission and your target population, building on an understanding of the goals and needs of your employees. Learning the common challenges that affect your employees is, unsurprisingly, done best by talking directly to current and former employees of your social enterprise. Consider conducting interviews, focus groups, and/or surveys, as they can be a useful way to conduct this research.

Some important questions to consider are:

  • What barriers do they have?
  • What skills should be developed or enhanced?
  • What outcomes do you want to see them achieve during or after social enterprise employment?
  • What will motivate employees to be successful?

By building an understanding of your employees’ needs, you can begin to craft overarching goals for your social enterprise and identify what your social enterprise can do to support these goals. It is also worth considering what your social enterprise can’t do. Realistically, your employee supports programming can’t do everything, so stick to clear and attainable goals.

For example, a social enterprise might identify four key goals for it’s programming:

  1. Demonstrate employability in the social enterprise
  2. Build towards a better future
  3. Transition to external employment
  4. Succeed in the labor market

Once you have developed the overarching goals for your social enterprise, it is helpful to align them along the workforce development continuum. This will help provide the necessary context in order to develop appropriate strategies to meet these goals.

Aligning your goals along the workforce development continuum clearly shows which are more relevant to employees earlier on in, or even before, the social enterprise experience. Others may be more relevant to those later on in, or after, the social enterprise employment. You can now begin to identify specific strategies to meet the goals you identified.

 

Define Strategies

Second, articulate what strategies and beliefs underlie your goals. This helps begin to articulate how you will achieve success.

While there is no single model for employee supports and each social enterprise is different, there are some common themes that emerge among many social enterprises. REDF has identified six key strategies for employee supports programming that apply to many social enterprises’ goals:

Get and keep benefits and earnings

Ensuring that your employees are reaping the benefits of work

Level the playing field

Removing your employees’ barriers so they are not at a disadvantage compared to other applicants for jobs outside the social enterprise

Connect to employment

Helping your employees succeed in the workplace outside of social enterprise employment

 

Prevent backtracking

Ensuring that the gains made during social enterprise employment are permanent

Incentivize success

Providing incentives for success, beyond a paycheck

Build toward a better future

Providing opportunities for your employees to achieve long term stability

 

 

Next, identify the strategies to support each of the goals. Continuing our example from earlier, the social enterprise would identify the following strategies as supporting the relevant goals:

 

Goals Strategies
Demonstrate employability in the social enterprise Help employees get and keep benefits and earnings
Transition to external employment Level the playing field
Connect with employers
Succeed in the labor market Prevent backtracking
Incentivize success
Build toward a better future Develop transferable skills
Promote and facilitate savings

 

2. Configure Support Offerings

Now that you have identified your social enterprise’s key goals, you can now begin configuring your employee support offerings. If the key goals are the overarching strategies for your social enterprise, think of the identifying support offerings as the specific tactics needed to achieve success.

This process will help you and your team determine the right employee supports for your target population’s needs. As you do so, determine the most promising and relevant supports to offer to achieve key goals.

 

Goals Strategies Priority Employee Supports
Demonstrate employability in SE Help employees get and keep benefits and earnings Free tax preparation
Benefits application and planning assistance
Transition to external employment Level the playing field Barrier removal fund
Record expungement
Connect with employment Quality job placement
Succeed in the labor market Prevent backtracking Retention case management
Work site trouble-shooting
Incentivize success Retention incentives

 

Finally, identify the strategies that support each of the goals. Continuing our example from earlier, the social enterprise would identify the following strategies as supporting the relevant goals:

 

Goals Strategies
Demonstrate employability in the social enterprise Help employees get and keep benefits and earnings
Transition to external employment Level the playing field
Connect with employers
Succeed in the labor market Prevent backtracking
Incentivize success
Build toward a better future Develop transferable skills
Promote and facilitate savings

 

2. Configure Support Offerings

Now that you have identified your social enterprise’s key goals, you can now begin configuring your employee support offerings. If the key goals are the overarching strategies for your social enterprise, think of the identifying support offerings as the specific tactics needed to achieve success.

This process will help you and your team determine the right employee supports for your target population’s needs. As you do so, determine the most promising and relevant supports to offer to achieve key goals.

 

Goals Strategies Priority Employee Supports
Demonstrate employability in SE Help employees get and keep benefits and earnings Free tax preparation
Benefits application and planning assistance
Transition to external employment Level the playing field Barrier removal fund
Record expungement
Connect with employment Quality job placement
Succeed in the labor market Prevent backtracking Retention case management
Work site trouble-shooting
Incentivize success Retention incentives

Identify Metrics

The final piece is determining which metrics will demonstrate the success of your employee supports offerings, and in turn the success of your employees. There are many metrics that you can track along the employment continuum, so it is important to determine which metrics are most meaningful for your program operations. This should be developed as part of a wider impact measurement strategy for your social enterprise.

Be sure to include metrics that measure employee progress over time (e.g. % in job after one year), as well as key accomplishments related to supports offerings (e.g. driver’s licenses obtained, % enrolled in direct deposit).

Examples of metrics include:

  • % complying with program requirement
  • % working X hours per week
  • % assessed as job/transition ready
  • % program exit into employment
  • % retaining employment for X months

Continuing our example from earlier, the social enterprise could identify the following metrics for its goals:

 

Goal Metrics
Demonstrate employability in social enterprise % of social enterprise workforce that achieves part time status with benefits
Transition to external employment % of employees secure driver’s licenses prior to concluding social enterprise employment
% of transitioning employees gain unsubsidized employment within 2 months of exit
Succeed in the labor market % of social enterprise hires are still in jobs one year later
% of social enterprise hires have secured promotions one year later
Build towards a better future % of social enterprise employees obtain industry credential

 

Be sure to match metrics to specific goals, using a proper tracking tool to capture the relevant information. If you do not currently capture the metric, decide how you will do so, thinking about the implications of staffing, time-frame etc. In order to successfully measure your success, you will need to foster a metrics-driven culture among all employees.

Conclusion

Program design is a delicate and complex process, so be intentional with each decision you make. It is not wise to blindly replicate another social enterprise’s program design. When developing your goals, strategies, and employee supports offerings, be sure to consider all the idiosyncratic factors affecting your organization, such as your industry, target population, and internal capacity.

In our next learning guide, we will begin the second phase of employee supports program design: designing the delivery structure and relevant internal policies.

 

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