“How are we doing?” That is a question CEO managers and staff are frequently asking our key stakeholders, especially participants and the employers who hire them for full-time jobs. Systematically soliciting input from these key constituents has driven significant program and operational changes over the years at CEO. This method of learning complements external and internal evaluation and is critical to improving the overall quality and efficacy of our employment model. In striving to deliver top-flight customer service, hearing from—and responding to—those we work with daily is essential.
How We Use Feedback: The Rapid Rewards Story
Quantitative and qualitative data can often be used hand-in-hand to effect program change as is the case with the formation and evolution of CEO’s Rapid Rewards program. Rapid Rewards is an incentive-based program that provides monthly payments to participants placed in jobs who attain job retention milestones. Participants who bring in monthly pay stubs to verify that they are working receive a gift check or gift certificate. The program helps us keep contact with participants over the long term and motivates their progress in the workforce. It is a voluntary program; not everyone who is placed in a job by CEO or finds their own job after attending CEO chooses to participate.
An unintended benefit of non-universal participation, though, is that it creates a built-in treatment and comparison group for the study—those that chose Rapid Rewards and those that did not. CEO’s internal analyses showed the groups to have similar socio-demographic characteristics, but the Rapid Rewards group used more of CEO services—they used more transitional work, and had more job coach and job developer encounters.
The evaluation found that receiving at least one Rapid Reward was a statistically significant independent predictor of still being employed 90, 180 and 365 days after initial job placement. This means that receiving Rapid Rewards emerged as such a predictor even after controlling for the differences between the groups, such as the increased use of CEO services among the Rapid Rewards group.
There are two explanations for this effect: (1) the rewards themselves entice people to remain in the workforce, and/or (2) the rewards bring in paystubs, which enable CEO to better track retention outcomes for the people in the Rapid Rewards group. As they are not mutually exclusive, both explanations argue for the benefit of having a retention incentive system.
In addition to this quantitative evidence of the program’s impact on measureable retention, the study interviewed several Rapid Rewards participants to deepen our understanding of why the rewards helped them stay employed. For some, they “came in handy” in making ends meet, for others they helped the participants feel recognized and appreciated and kept the participants within the orbit of CEO staff who could spot red flags for situations that might lead to job loss (family troubles, conflict at work) and intervene to help before job loss occurred.
In sum, the internal CEO evaluation found that the Rapid Rewards program was playing an important role in improving CEO’s measurable job retention. CEO wrote up the findings and shared them in a report disseminated to the field “Using Incentives to Promote Retention for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals” published in August of 2007. This report has been cited by policymakers and practitioners since its release. Armed with the study results, CEO has been able to secure resources for these incentives from public and private funders, which have themselves been open to using incentives as an important tool for creating better job retention outcomes.
And the program is not static. Drawing on feedback from the participants in the study, CEO changed the format of its rewards from grocery vouchers and transit cards to more flexible gift cards or gift checks. Today, the Rapid Rewards program offers a participant a chance to earn $1,000 over the course of a year of bringing in paystubs; at the time of the study it was $615.
Employer Feedback: The Follow-Up Unit
A unique component of CEO’s job development practices is our Follow-Up Unit—a group of employees who independently confirm and track every one of CEO’s full-time job placements. Not only does this unit verify if someone is working or not, their interaction with employers places them in a unique customer service role. Their monthly check-in with an employer provides a valuable forum for inquiring about their satisfaction with the program and the participant. The Follow-Up Unit will often be the first to hear about new job openings at a company or issues they may have arisen with a specific participant. In the latter instance, quickly sharing this information can be key to preventing job loss.