CragRats Ltd describes itself as 'a learning organisation' - with the emphasis on 'learning' rather than 'teaching' - because everything the company does is about engaging people in two-way communication rather than preaching from on high. In the course of a year, CragRats collects some 340,000 pieces of feedback from end-users who attend its events; these are carefully compiled and used to measure the effectiveness of the event in delivering its key messages.
CragRats even feeds the feedback back to customers on a web gallery - cragratsgetalife.com - where they can see what they said and download pictures. And in the past year, it has introduced new web-based ways for its main client-customers to feed back immediately after an event (Telling Tales) or to tell CragRats when they've recommended the firm (Pass It On). To find out how customers wanted to communicate with CragRats, it sent each one a Valentine's Card entitled 'How do you want to be loved?'. The story of how CragRats began has already passed into legend. Two disillusioned teachers, Mark Greenop and Dave Bradley, were taking a break from climbing (hence the name) on a boat on a lake when they started thinking about the values of the organisation they'd like to run, before they'd even thought about what it would do. Those values have remained paramount ever since; they're about realising abilities, enriching lives and encouraging self-esteem, all while communicating effectively and with style.
Today, CragRats has evolved into a small group of companies, on the one hand offering learning events - largely theatre-based - to groups such as businesses, schools and young people, and on the other hand including catering, theatre and conference services. What unifies them are the people - typically fun, passionate, empowered and highly enthusiastic.
But although the CragRats culture has never been in doubt, the organisation can now demonstrate its effectiveness in a way that was previously elusive. It has initiated a new emphasis on measurement, born, says Greenop, 'out of our customers' requirement. Their modus operandi is based around measurement, so we have to do the same. At the same time, it has brought a new rigour to our work.'
CragRats is taking the challenge of demonstrating effectiveness a step further. Explains Claire Gardner, a member of the team: 'Our customers often know they have an issue and we know we can help them, but proving it is more difficult. So we need to sell our approach to the people who hold the purse-strings.'
In the construction industry, CragRats developed a 'calculator' that worked out the real cost of injuries due to accidents; this was in turn linked to the proven reduction in injuries at BlueStone that resulted from a CragRats intervention. In another case study, CragRats has been working with West Yorkshire Police to show the cost-effectiveness of a training programme aimed at alleviating stress, which led to greatly reduced levels of absence - the evidence has been entered for the National Training Awards.
The organisation certainly looks after its own people. Says Nick Payne, an actor who took his first audition with CragRats 18 months ago and joined in a customer service capacity: 'I was originally an export sales manager for a carpet company, until one day I dropped out. But here I have been accepted for what I am. They really do cultivate you here - they find your best points and nurture them.' In the Sunday Times 'Best Places to Work' awards, based on an anonymous staff survey, CragRats rose from 66th to 36th position.
Some 53% of its customers have given it repeat business, and 78% say they'd recommend the organisation to others; one client even forwarded CragRats' e-mail to 200 contacts. The firm is doing something right, and has the confidence to know it.