How T.A. Cook Uses Grow to Improve Internal Development Awareness
T.A. Cook is a not-so-typical asset performance management firm that swaps out stuffy, buttoned-up suits for creative and unique consulting solutions.
With a background in upscale hospitality, Maren knows exactly how important building a positive customer experience is. Now, since joining at T.A. Cook nearly five years ago, Maren leads the consultancy’s four-person HR department and oversees the well-being of her employees, rather than guests. Maren is a highly experienced and enthusiastic HR generalist in the global environment and has strong experience in corporate and people development.
“Lattice’s feedback function has been very rewarding for us. In Germany, not receiving feedback means you’re doing your job right, but now with Lattice, our employees feel like their managers really care and it's helping improve our manager-employee relationships.”
T.A. Cook is Berlin-based consultancy specializing in asset performance management. With its global team of expert consultants, engineers, and development coaches, the company helps its clients develop and implement programs to increase and sustain their profitability.
But, T.A. Cook’s Director of HR Maren Stieler promises the company isn’t your typical buttoned-up consultant firm. “When most people think about consultancies they imagine a bunch of guys in suits coming into their business thinking they know better than everyone else, but we're completely different,” shares Maren. “Our corporate culture is based on strong values, like humanity, honesty, and authenticity. A saying we like to use a lot is, ‘Stay unique.’ We respect people the way they are and don’t believe they have to change to fit in,” she says.
For Maren, who has a background in upscale hospitality, putting people first is everything. “We believe if we empower and enable our employees, they will be happy and serve our clients better. In turn, that makes our clients happy and helps them reach their goals quicker,” says Maren. “That cycle is the power of a client-oriented consultancy.”
Over the last five years, T.A. Cook team has ruthlessly prioritized the employee experience and invested in building the tools, structure, and support their employees need to grow and reach their professional goals. When Maren first joined the company, its HR team was using an Excel spreadsheet to create and store consultant career tracks and managers rarely met or shared feedback with their direct reports. In Germany, no feedback is typically good feedback, but Maren felt her employees were missing out on the valuable advice that could help them grow in their careers. She wanted to build a new feedback culture at T.A. Cook and create a workplace where managers more regularly share feedback and praise with their teams.
“We decided we wanted and needed more than one annual engagement survey so we could be closer to our employees throughout the year,” explains Maren. “So, we started looking for a new engagement platform that could do it all.”
Maren had big plans for digitizing the company’s people practices and fostering a culture of continuous feedback and she knew Lattice was the one engagement platform that could do it all. “I tried to avoid having 10 different platforms to manage our employees and there is no other platform that combines engagement, growth, and feedback like Lattice does. That was a final driver for our decision to make the switch,” explains Maren.
Specifically, Lattice’s Grow or Performance products were what initially caught Maren’s eye. Thanks to Grow, the T.A. Cook team could say goodbye to their Excel-bound career paths and easily scale their professional development plans, while Performance allowed the company to easily scale from annual to bi-annual performance reviews and allow managers to more easily give and receive constructive feedback to their teams.
While Maren initially didn’t expect her workforce to adopt Lattice’s 1-on-1s tool, she was pleasantly surprised to see many managers had found and picked it up on their own. “We have some departments who do monthly or even weekly 1-on-1s using Lattice. Managers can easily check the tool to review to-do lists, share goal progress updates, and have meaningful growth conversations with their direct reports,” says Maren.
But, the main reason the T.A. Cook team went shopping for a new engagement tool was that their previous vendors hadn’t been able to give them meaningful insights into the employee experience. Maren wanted the ability to go beyond an annual engagement survey and introduce more frequent pulse surveys to properly measure changes in sentiment and stay in touch with her employees’ needs. “We had always had high engagement scores within the top 5% of service industries and we were winning all these rewards, but we knew what was more important was really knowing what our employees want and what kind of concerns they have,” explains Maren.
The company’s switch to Lattice couldn’t have come at a better time. Having Lattice during the pandemic gave the T.A. Cook HR team unprecedented insights into how their employees were feeling and what they needed from their employer during such challenging times. “Our Lattice survey data helped us realize our employees were under a lot of stress. Using that information, we were able to partner with an institute that offers professional coaching and counseling sessions, so our employees could make a free appointment and talk about how COVID was affecting them—whether it be overcoming the loss of a family member or friend, feelings of isolation, dealing with homeschooling, etc.,” explains Maren. “Thanks to Lattice, we were able to get our employees professional support when they needed it most.”
On top of more frequent engagement surveys, the T.A. Cook team was also able to develop additional employee career paths, build an ongoing feedback model, and increase internal development awareness using Lattice.
First things first, with Lattice Grow, Maren and her team were able to develop additional career paths for non-consultant employees—a long term goal for the small HR department. “What excites me the most is seeing the growth matrixes and tracks in Lattice,” explains Maren. “While we originally only had career paths for our consulting business line, we’ve been able to add additional ones for our engineers and shared services. Now, we have around 12-15 individual tracks divided by functional skills and knowledge in Lattice.” Maren hopes the new career paths will not only help the organization retain top talent, but also help their employees better understand their career options within the company.
In Maren’s opinion, the biggest achievement Lattice has brought her team has been improving internal awareness for the career development opportunities offered at T.A. Cook. “While that familiarity with career progression opportunities already existed amongst our consultants, we wanted that level of awareness for all of our employees and now we have it,” says Maren. “Thanks to Lattice, we’ve reached that level and I’ve been able to prove the importance of the HR department’s work.”
Career paths aren’t the only way the T.A. Cook team has leveraged Lattice to invest in employee development. Maren has trained her managers to use Lattice’s Feedback tool to share valuable and actionable feedback with their teams. “Lattice’s feedback function has been very rewarding for us. In Germany, not receiving feedback means you’re doing your job right, but now with Lattice, our employees feel like their managers really care and it's helping improve our manager-employee relationships,” shares Maren.
This improved feedback culture wasn’t just reserved for employees, it’s also taken root in T.A. Cook’s executive team. “Using Lattice also made our leadership team become more transparent,” she says. “Since each of our employees can tie their personal goals to our operational targets and organizational goals, our leaders are more forthcoming about how the business is performing and how we’re progressing towards our growth plans.” The company’s also seen an increase in employees sharing that they feel more connected to overall business performance thanks to these changes.
Since Maren and her team have already proved the value Lattice brings to their organization, she’s actually planning to hire two new employees this year to help her team leverage the platform even more. “We have a new recruiter and people development manager starting in a month, which will help us put more resources into being able to use Lattice better,” she says. “It’s a logical next step since being able to use the platform to its full potential is very important for us.”