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February 2007
Navigating The Winds Of Change
By Janet Kropinak

      Change can come in countless forms and the effects on a company can be long lasting. Whether it is through downsizing or reorganization, transition weighs heavily on all those involved. When a company is in the midst of a difficult transition, it is sometimes hard to know where to turn.

      Enter Bill and Robyn Crigger, who have made a career out of guiding people through these often challenging times.
    
In 1994 the Criggers started The Transition Team, an outplacement and human resources-consulting firm. Bill himself had faced displacement in his career and they decided to use their experience to help others who found themselves in this difficult situation.
     
But by October 2002, Bill and Robyn realized they had outgrown their franchise and made the decision to go into business independently. Although a risky decision, they both agreed it was the only way they could meet the demands of their customers.

When Bill and Robyn opened Compass Career Management Solutions later that year, it was their clients who steered them toward their new name; remarking that in addition to problem solving, a large part of what they do is help people in gaining direction within their careers.
    
Along with the change came new challenges and new opportunities, but Bill and Robyn have managed to stay true to their core values and have remained a client-focused company.

 

Steering Through Change

One of the changes the Criggers have seen in recent years is a drop in the demand for outplacement services. In 1994 it was 100 percent of their business, but today has shifted down to 65 percent. The demand for large group outplacement has also shifted to focus more on executives and individuals or small groups.

     Although starting Compass Career allowed the Criggers to broaden their service offerings, they weren’t looking to become ‘jacks of all trades’ but instead, worked to carve out their niche.
    
“We decided that what we were doing was right. Our customers were just asking us to expand on it a little bit,” Robyn explains.
    
And expand on it is what they did. Bill and Robyn listened to their clients and used their input in creating new divisions and services for their business. They stayed under the change management and career development umbrella but offered more services.
    
In addition to continuing their work with outplacement services, they offered coaching and training seminars and began developing their consulting skills. Compass Career started to morph into a human resources consulting firm specializing in outplacement career transition assistance, organizational development and executive search.
    
Amidst these changes Bill and Robyn made a point of continuing to use personalization and customization to distinguish themselves from other firms.
    
“Clients asked us to take the personalization and customization that we had done in outplacement and apply it to exit interviews and training so they knew they could count on us,” Bill says. “That is what ultimately happens, they count on us for what they know we can deliver.”
    
Organizational development, training and leadership development, executive coaching and assessment and exit interviews, which are customized for each client to address retention within a company are predominant among the services Compass Career now offers to their clients.
    
Organizational development helps companies cultivate their talent by taking a group of individuals and creating a climate where they can be the most effective. Compass Career strives to teach people how to be effective within their cultures.

One thing Bill feels strongly about is putting the focus back on the employees. His team is working to give people the skills they need to become effective in the workplace by giving them the tools they need to educate themselves and communicate their needs and ambitions.
    
Compass Career has a partnership with OI Partners, Inc., a national organization made up of independent human resource firms, that allows them access to a wide array of resources that would otherwise be unavailable as independent owners.
    
OI Partners has also helped in cutting down travel demands for Bill and his staff. If they are talking to a company in Denver about training seminars, they are able to put them in touch with a group out there to avoid Bill having to make the trip and, at the same time, saving the company the cost of travel expenses.
    
Though staying true to their focus of establishing partnerships with their clients, they are always available upon request, whether that means traveling or not.

Making themselves available to their clients extends past the willingness to travel. Bill and Robyn and their consultants give out their home phone numbers to their clients in case an emergency comes up outside of working hours.
    
Their dedication is evident: Bill recalls getting a phone call on December 26th while visiting family, but was happy to take the call and assist his client. “It would have been terrible if she had to wait until the next week to get answers to her questions. We aren’t 24/7 but you can reach us when you need to get a hold of us,” he says.

     In addition to making themselves readily available to their clients, Bill and Robyn are always finding ways to connect with people. Whether it is hosting roundtable discussions or small group seminars, Compass Career is always willing to go the extra mile. And Bill insists that these groups are also a great learning experience for them.

 

Staying True to Course

Robyn says their competitors often refer to them as a boutique firm because of the special TLC they offer their clients that you aren’t likely to find in large corporations.

“It really is a partnership, and we are learning as much from our clients as they are learning from us,” Bill notes.
     
Bill and Robyn have focused their executive search on the Carolinas because it allows them to spend time doing one-on-one interviews, a process Bill says is important to them. Making the time to personalize and customize the services they are providing is what gives Compass Career the reputation they have today.
    
Oftentimes, people don’t know what they want. So for Compass Career, an important part of their job is to identify not only what they want but what they need and assist them accordingly. Customization plays a large role in this.
    
Partnering with OI Partners has strengthened their ability to serve their clients by creating a larger network of associates to help assist their clients. And if a client comes to them with a need they can’t fill, they find someone who can.
    
“If someone comes to us and wants something that we don’t do, we are glad to give them the name of someone we would trust to do a good job,” says Robyn. “But at the same time, we are very selective about who we recommend.”
    
When it comes to selecting people for their own team, Bill and Robyn have very high standards. Although their consultants are independent contractors, they are looking for people with whom they can build long-term relationships. “We are looking for people who have the same philosophies as us,” confirms Robyn.
    
The Criggers’ extensive community and organizational involvement have only enhanced their relationship building. Through these involvements they have forged countless relationships and developed a large network of contacts benefiting their business and their clients.
    
Both are filling rather prominent roles this year: Bill is president of the Charlotte chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management in addition to being on the Board of the Charlotte Manufacturers Alliance. And Robyn is the president of the National Association of Women Business Owners and a member of the Metropolitan Business and Professional Women.
     
This is only scratching the surface of their community involvement and Robyn is the first to admit that their plates are full, “We definitely pick and choose where we spend our time. But we are doing are things that we believe in and things that are going to benefit our clients.”
    
When asked if Bill and Robyn have the same approach to their work, Bill replies, “We have the same approach but with different functionalities.”

     Since Bill has a history in human resources and corporate America and Robyn has a background in organization skills and communications, they balance each other out in terms of their strengths. “We are on the same page, but we use our different strengths to accomplish the goal,” Bill affirms.
    
Bill and Robyn also agree on the importance of letting yourself have a little fun and learning to laugh at your own mistakes. “You need to plan to have some fun and release some of the stress and tension that people have when they are job hunting,” Bill says with a smile.
     
Having been through displacement themselves in the past,

Bill and Robyn often offer personal stories to help others avoid some of the mistakes they made.

 

Full Speed Ahead

Having worked hard over the past 13 years to carve out their niche, Compass Career is now on course for a prosperous future.

Bill says he would like to see an expansion into Raleigh in the near future. Currently, they have consultants throughout North Carolina and Virginia who help service those clients.
      
Since 1994 Compass Career has offered educational financial planning workshops for those in transition, retirement decision-making and pre-retirement planning and will continue to expand on these services in the coming year. But Bill is quick to point out, “We don’t sell products—we sell the knowledge and the training needed to assist people in these areas.”
   
Another area they will be focusing on more is succession planning, something that has been pushed to the back burner and is now becoming a concern to many employers.
    
This is where executive coaching comes in; it is designed to help younger, less experienced employees learn what is necessary to fill the shoes of the employees preparing to retire.
    
The Criggers believe that it is their combination of knowledge and passion that makes them effective. “I’m not a salesman. If I am able to talk about what we do, and you can see that I believe in it strongly and I’m passionate about it, that is really what we have to offer,” he says.
    
There is no doubt that Bill and Robyn love what they do. Their enthusiasm is contagious and their energy is envious. “We believe in what we do. We made the choice to get into our line of work. And we make a choice everyday to continue to do it and so we work hard to design our systems to support what we believe in,” Bill comments.
     
In addition to having the knowledge needed to assist their clients, Bill and Robyn and their consultants are really in the business to help people, which is something not all their competitors can claim. Though Bill is quick to give credit where credit is due, “They do a good job, if they didn’t they wouldn’t be in business. We just choose to do things differently.”
     
Wherever the winds of change take Compass Career, one thing is certain; Bill and Robyn will continue to service their clients with their knowledge and passion and continue to grow and offer new services while staying true to themselves and their clients.

Janet Kropinak is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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