Allison O’Kelly is founder and CEO of Mom Corps, an organization that she describes as one “that enables companies to work smarter and professionals to align work and life.” In a recent interview, O’Kelly described her company and how it satisfies the needs of today’s businesses. “
Q: What is the nature of Mom Corps and why has the organization been so successful?
Mom Corps is a national professional staffing firm with a focus on flexible work that enables companies to work smarter and professionals to align work and life. Our original mission of finding jobs for moms has evolved and continues to do so. Workplace flexibility is integral to the fundamental shift in how businesses operate today. Professionals in all demographics—Boomers and Millennials, men and women, parents, and new graduates—are voicing strong preferences for work/life alignment.
As the need for talent reaches critical mass, we offer companies a unique solution—direct access to an exclusive pool of hard-to-reach talent. Staffing through Mom Corps is a proven way for organizations to hire the professionals they need, and simultaneously boost productivity and profits while reducing expenses, thereby leveraging their HR function. Our team and franchise owners help impart the view that flexibility is a benefit to not only professionals but to the companies that employ them.
Q: Where did the idea for this industry-first model company come from?
After earning my MBA from Harvard Business School, I went to work in Corporate America. I loved the fast track, but once I had children, I discovered new challenges around making it all come together—work and family. My obstacles were commonplace, but no one was offering an alternative. I decided I needed a change and left to begin consulting as a CPA to gain more flexibility. During that time, I saw many women who wanted to stay in the workforce but couldn’t find opportunities that would allow them some symmetry in their lives. Because of this obstacle, many very talented, experienced professionals left the workforce. At the same time, I noticed corporations were struggling to find high-caliber employees.
In 2005, I had the idea to build a business that brought meaningful opportunities for a large community of professionals raising families and fundamentally change the way companies approached their human capital strategies. From there, Mom Corps was born.
Q: Can you share with Leader’s Edge some of the more encouraging stories from organizations that have found success with flexibility?
We’ve partnered with companies of all sizes—from large corporations to small businesses—many of which had no interest in a flexible workforce when we first met. One particular scenario that comes to mind is a consulting company from Dallas that said they were absolutely traditional and were not interested in workplace flexibility. However, once they learned about the high-caliber talent they could bring on the team if they allowed a minor amount of flexibility, they were open to hearing more. Through Mom Corps, they ended up hiring two part-time HR benefits specialists who were contractors with very specific skills—the type of people they thought they couldn’t afford. The company spent significantly less money with these two professionals than they would have with one less-qualified full-time employee. They now see the value in being open to alternative work options.
Q: What feedback do you typically receive when you introduce flexibility into an organization?
Initially, we find that some senior managers push back due to concerns around abuse of policy, reaction of customers or clients, equal treatment of employees, and loss of productivity. But more often than not, once a company tests flexible work within a department or among a number of employees, they are pleasantly surprised by increased productivity and retention. We love to watch as our clients begin to realize over time how much overhead they save and productivity they gain. The workplace is changing and flex is a critical strategy for creating an agile workforce and retaining top talent.
Conversely, we encounter companies where the senior management team champions workplace flexibility and offers more work options to employees. Many employees, however, are hesitant to take advantage of those programs for fear that it will make them appear less driven to their colleagues and managers. There is an example of this with one of our investment banking clients. The senior management team began to hire midlevel managers from outside the company to model responsible flexibility from the top-down. By championing this cultural shift, the managers were able to positively impact the workplace while continuing to attract and retain leading talent within their teams.
Q: What is it like for a CEO managing a 100% virtual workforce? What’s the most important aspect of your corporate culture?
We have deliberately created a work environment built on trust and accountability that allows us to identify very quickly those people who are not a culture fit for Mom Corps. All our staff is remote and we employ the concept of a results-only work environment or ROWE. ROWE is a management strategy where the focus is on the work product and employees are evaluated on performance. Our employees can work whenever and however they want as long as they meet their objectives.
Often when companies hear about ROWE, they worry about losing control. But ROWE is not about relinquishing control, rather it is a shift in focus from controlling when, where, and how people work to holding people accountable for results. Our corporate culture has thrived in this environment for several years now and as we continue to grow in size, I know that our strong and successful foundation as a remote work team will continue down that path.
Q: The organization follows a franchise model. What are the pros and cons of operating such a model?
We have found much success in growing as a franchise system. People are generally more risk-adverse during a down economy, and a franchise can mitigate the risks of starting a business by offering a proven formula and a ready-made business concept. Our particular model is a home-based business with no inventory needs, so a franchise owner can be up and running with considerably less cash outlay than other franchise models. Like anything, there are pros and cons, but here are a couple things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Surround yourself with franchising experts: a franchise attorney, franchise sales person, CPA, and so on. It will cost a lot more if you don't do it right the first time.
2. Document all of the company’s procedures so franchisees will keep the brand you have built intact.
3. Be flexible when starting a franchise program; you might find that some things don't work as planned. Listen to your franchisees and make changes when appropriate.
4. Don't accept anyone and everyone who wants to buy a franchise. Make sure they have the business skills, will represent the brand well, and provide long-term growth for your company.
Q: What is the greatest leadership lesson you have learned since you opened Mom Corps in 2005?
At one point early in my career, when I didn't yet have children, I felt critical of women who left work early to take care of their children. If I had opened my eyes, I would have realized that they were probably working harder than many of the other people at the office. Having had this experience helps me better understand and educate employers who don't understand the kinds of talent that they might be missing out on by not allowing for a little flexibility within their work environment.
One of the core values of Mom Corps is "responsible flexibility," and as I work with my long-tenured senior staff, I tell them that I don’t need to know when they take family time and personal time, just as long as they get the job done. I’ve changed my mindset to focus on output and results, not so much process and timing, and help employer clients understand the value of allowing flexibility to employees who will then show them great loyalty.
Q: What is the most innovative aspect of Mom Corps?
I’ve mentioned our corporate culture is a 100% virtual workforce, which is likely one of our most innovative aspects. However, another unique aspect of our company is the idea that we put into practice what we “sell.” Companies on a larger scale are asking how to implement flexibility, how to manage a remote workforce, how to execute with minimal disruption. While we can point to any number of examples, we also have our own company as a successful case study.
Q: What are your personal and leadership development goals for the next year?
On a personal level, I am working to become a thought leader and advocate for flexibility in the workplace nationally. Through my platform as CEO of Mom Corps, I want to share all that we are seeing and learning through hundreds of companies across the country about the benefits that flexible work options brings to organizations and professionals alike.
As far as leadership development, my goal is to continue to grow as a strategic leader of Mom Corps and as a businesswoman. I was recently named to Ernst & Young’s 2012/2013 class of Entrepreneurial Winning Women and have learned a great deal about many perspectives of running a successful business. My ultimate goal is to position Mom Corps as a highly-respected and sought after franchise organization.
Q. What is your biggest corporate challenge?
Because we are a 100% virtual workforce, consistency is one of our challenges as a company. Managing a mobile team requires some fundamental changes in how we measure and reward work outcomes. We define what the parameters are, then communicate those to our management team. We then teach our leaders to manage their remote employees in a way that enables and empowers both parties. Consistency has built trust among our ranks and kept workflow and growth steady.
The balance between work life and personal life can be difficult to maintain. Sign up for our free webcast to learn tips on how to successfully balance your work and personal life.