Manning, Selvage & Lee’s (MS&L) employee professional development program, “What’s Behind MS&L is You, What’s Behind You is MS&L,” introduced in April 2000, achieved significant, measurable results. MS&L’s annual Roper Starch Employee Satisfaction Survey showed the highest levels ever of employee satisfaction.  Results in 13 key categories, including employee optimism, morale, job satisfaction, training, attitudes towards their work, retention and understanding of and support for the firm’s mission, vision and values were up an average of 20% in a year when the company again grew more than 25%.
In an increasingly competitive workplace environment qualified public relations staff are in short supply.  MS&L’s Corporate Development Group (CDG) was challenged to increase the firm’s focus on employee development and increase retention through a significantly improved professional development and career-planning program.  At the same time, CDG was also charged with creating a new communications program aimed at building MS&L’s external visibility among employees, potential recruits, clients and prospects.
The program’s objectives were linked to the annual MS&L Roper Starch Employee Satisfaction Survey, which measures the success of each MS&L office in building employee teams with high morale and commitment to the firm’s mission, vision and values.  More general objectives of the program were to reduce US domestic employee turnover, increase the average junior employee service time and increase the number of non-solicited applications from junior and middle level professional staff.
Focus group research was conducted in four offices among staff with one to three years service in order to identify factors in their job satisfaction and attitudes to their career and the company as employer.  Findings indicated that in the first year individuals have little concern with their careers or the overall work and success of the firm, but are merely concerned with learning specific daily tasks and building a relationship with their supervisor. 
Later, their understanding of how their work fits into the overall professional work of the agency grows. Only after three years or more do they start to appreciate the wider opportunities that may exist for their careers. When it came to career advice, employees believed they could only get such advice from friends or employment agencies, not colleagues or the company.
MS&L understood that we needed to do more for our employees than create a first class training program. Many of our competitors had a head start in this area.  The opportunity existed to become an employer of choice through offering employees not only first class training, but also a career development program that would enable them to plan and develop their career at a level and intensity suitable to both the employee and the company.
CDG created a multi-pronged career development program that was launched with an interactive presentation to employees, which set out program objectives, introduced the materials, and showed the program as a virtuous circle.
Standardized job descriptions were produced and highlighted the experience and training required at every level for promotion to the next level.  The company’s training programs were gathered into a master syllabus of more than 100 modules, enabling each office to plan their annual training program according to the needs of the office, using centrally created materials.
MS&L Seminars on Leadership and the MS&L Leadership Academy were held for rising stars in the U.S. and Europe.  The MS&L Ambassador Program was expanded to provide more employees opportunities to gain international PR experience working at a MS&L office “across the ocean.”
A state-of-art, 360° employee appraisal system was introduced. MS&L’s 360° system turns the usual performance review on its ear.  Instead of focusing on past performance, the annual review becomes a forward looking, career planning process enabling each employee to chart a personal career plan.  Each employee was given their own personal copy of the MS&L Career Development Manual, containing the materials described above.
An employee leaflet was produced to deliver our key message: “To our clients, you are the visible face of MS&L.  You provide the insights, creativity, programs and public relations skills, which create preference for their products, services and ideas.  To them, “What’s Behind MS&L is You.”   Behind you are the worldwide resources of our agency, and a professional development program helping you build a great career in public relations.  That’s why we say “What’s Behind You is MS&L.“ 
Each employee was given their personalized MS&L Career Passport, including the firm’s mission, vision and values, to be used as a permanent, tangible record of the achievements and milestones of their personal career development.
For the worldwide launch, CDG visited every MS&L office to introduce the program and brief members of each office’s local staff in managing the required activities.  CDG worked with a sister advertising agency to create a highly memorable advertising campaign “What’s Behind MS&L is You.”  Each ad features an individual employee and illustrates how each employee has done great work for clients and has also developed their career because of the support given by MS&L.  A Web site, was created to communicate MS&L’s career development programs to external audiences.
Results from the 2000 MS&L Roper Starch Employee Satisfaction Survey include the following highlights:
job satisfaction is high, 78% up 10%; 90% up 10%, are optimistic about MS&L’s future; morale is very good, 71% up 30%; 83% up 23%, agree MS&L provides training needed; 72% up 28%, agree MS&L rewards achievement; 75% up 29%, agree MS&L enables career life balance; 67% up 31%, agree MS&L has successfully communicated the company’s values.  The career development program was introduced in the second quarter.  Turnover in U.S. offices reduced by 50% from first quarter of 2000 to the fourth quarter