How One Employer Used Skills-Based Practices to Improve Retention

Illustration of blackboard, on which a group of light bulbs plus a group of cogs equals a bar graph showing improvement.
Skills-Based Practices, Christine Comer, from the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Finance (also known as HCPF) is standing in front of a glass door with the HCPF logo. The picture is taken from the waist up.
Christine Comer used skills-based practices to lower vacancy and turnover rates, and to improve morale.

When Christine Comer, the Client Services Division Director of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Finance (HCPF) joined the organization, she faced three challenges. Her team, responsible for helping Coloradans navigate the state’s public health care programs (such as Colorado’s Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus programs), struggled with high vacancy rates, high turnover, and low morale.

Christine decided her department needed to reassess the way they recruited, hired, onboarded, and trained employees. After hearing about the advantages of skills-based talent management practices from a colleague at the Department of Labor and Employment, Christine reached out to Skillful to learn more.

After working with Skillful, Christine’s talent management processes now focus on skills rather than background. She reports that this new, skills-based approach has helped her department decrease its vacancy rate from nearly 35% to under 10%. Abandonment rates have plummeted from a high of 60% to less than 8%. And morale is much improved. These changes took place over a short six-month period.

“Skillful opened our eyes to the potential of our workforce,” Christine said.

How did Christine effect such radical changes in so short a time? She laid out for us what made the transition to skills-based talent management successful.

Redefine what success means to your team

When Christine came to HCPF, she noticed that success was measured in number of calls answered rather than number of problems solved. “We operated more as a switchboard than as a problem-solving resource.”

Christine wanted to change how her department measured success. “What was important to me was helping members of our state’s public health care programs find solutions to their problems. I wanted us to help them in very real ways.

“I had lost sight of the forest for the trees,” Christine said. “Skillful opened my eyes to the potential of our workforce.”

Get buy-in from colleagues

In order to get buy-in for the transition from traditional talent management practices to processes that focus on skills, Christine assembled a group of people from management and human resources. She explained what problems she was trying to solve and how a focus on skills could help. This proactive approach ensured that she had buy-in from the start.

“We had one leader, who was trusted and well-liked by the team, serve as a sort of ‘brand ambassador’ for the program, which helped,” said Christine.

Focus on the skills new hires needed to succeed in their roles

Before Christine’s department changed to skills-based practices, they relied on a traditional onboarding process that revolved around documents and a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Our work with Skillful led us to revisit our onboarding process,” Christine said. “Now, we set up new hires for success by knowing precisely what skills they have and what skills they need. Then we train them so they are as prepared as possible to hit the ground running. We then ‘nest’ them, which means when they first start taking calls, they have a lot of support from the team.”

Before the transition to skills-based practices, getting new hires up to speed took months. Now it takes weeks.

Create real career pathways for your employees

“Before we implemented skills-based practices, some other departments were reluctant to hire people from our call center because there was this perception that these employees were ‘just’ call center agents,” Christine said.

To help other departments recognize the value of hiring internally, Christine focused on the skills her call center agents could bring to the table. “Now, other departments realize that these agents have the skills to excel in many roles."

Christine also plans to create an informal internship program for call service agents. She will ask her employees what they’re interested in; if they express a desire to learn more about another department, Christine will work with them to get some exposure and experience in that department.

These efforts, coupled with a clear internal pathway that explicitly ties skills to pay raises, have improved morale considerably. “Providing employees with clear career paths means that they’re more invested and engaged in the work,” she said.

This approach not only helps employees better engage with their work, it also helps the department and the organization as a whole ensure that they will have the skills they need in the future. “By focusing on skills, we’re helping to future-proof our workforce," Christine noted.

Track your results

By switching to talent management processes that focus on skills, Christine has seen employee morale, engagement, and retention improve.

Perhaps most importantly, Christine has seen how the switch to skills-based practices has served HCPF’s clients: Coloradans in search of solutions to their problems. The department has seen an increase in calls handled, improved quality, and improved average speed to answer.

By focusing on what skills candidates have and what skills they can acquire, employees who are not a good fit leave earlier. “I consider this a success,” Christine said. “Before, we’d have people leave after three months. Now, if they realize the job isn’t a good fit for them, they leave after a week. We save money, they save time. And, most importantly, our customers are better served. I don’t want people calling getting someone who doesn’t want to be here. I want people who have a passion to serve.”

To learn more about how you can implement skills-based practices visit our Employer page, where you can also sign up for in-person and online trainings.