Several articles we have published have provided insights into the growing trend of people in all walks of life to reevaluate their definition of success. A rapidly growing audience of individuals, companies, and even nations is embracing the pursuit of Significance, above and beyond financial success. Why? The journey to Significance feeds our hunger for more meaning. It offers inspiration and motivation to achieve things bigger than ourselves or even our organizations. As Mohammed Yunnus, founder of Grameen Bank, and Nobel Prize Winner for his breakthrough in micro-lending programs, has said, businesses, not government, are the best vehicles we have to solve community and world problems.
There are many examples of companies achieving significance in their passionate pursuit of the triple bottom line—People, Profits, Planet. But there is no better poster child for this movement than Arizona’s own, Televerde.
Tempe-based Televerde provides outbound telemarketing services, primarily for technology companies. From start-up, Televerde’s business model focused on achieving amazing results for People, Profits, and Planet/Community. CEO James Hooker took over a fledgling six-person call center running out of an air-conditioned trailer at a minimum-security prison in 1995. The Perryville Women’s Prison in Goodyear, Arizona, became his calling and the source of a workforce that thrives on the things we all do— continual learning and growth, recognition, reward, and supportive teammates.
Televerde (today inmates + corporate staff = 350) generated $12.1 million in revenue in 2009 and is growing profitably. Hooker’s customers are some of tech’s biggest: Cisco, NetApp, Hitachi, Microsoft, Dell, SAP, and Avnet. These firms rely on Televerde’s women to generate highly qualified leads that eventually result in the sales of software and hardware. Each inmate receives 170 hours of technical and sales training each year, often more than most technology companies provide their own employees.
Craig Burbidge, a VP at Hitachi Consulting, recently did a side-by-side comparison of Televerde and a rival for a 90-day stretch. Televerde delivered 5 times as many leads and the leads were better. Burbidge attributes this to persistence, or as Televerde prefers, “nurturing.”
Televerde workers earn federal minimum wage, $7.25, way above the 15-35 cents inmates receive in other prison work programs. A third of that pay covers a portion of room and board (reducing Prison costs); the rest is theirs, after state taxes and other deductions. The average Televerde hire leaves prison with $15,000 in savings. Many pay monthly obligations, like child support or debts they’ve amassed over the years.
Of Televerde’s out-of-prison alumni over 14 years, only 11% have returned to prison. Nationally, 40% of female felons return to prison within just 3 years. That achievement saves the Prison and Arizona taxpayers money. Televerde’s program offers a solution for States struggling with overcrowded prisons.
Arizona’s Dept. of Corrections vets potential job applicants. Each must have a high school degree and record of decent behavior. 6 weeks of training wear away the foul speech, double negatives and incorrect tenses. Current inmate workers hire new ones, staff projects, manage relations with customers and fine-tune Televerde’s lead generation process.
In Perryville, there are no perks for performance besides being assigned to bigger jobs. Hooker is continually reminded the work itself, and the satisfaction of doing it well, is motivation enough. After all, don’t we all want to contribute to something bigger than ourselves? The increase in these women’s self esteem is nothing short of a miracle. As Televerde says, “We’re changing the world… One woman at a time!”
We can all learn from Televerde’s model. Build a business model that does the right things for People, Profit, Planet/Community because each is a worthy end in and of itself. You’ll derive more meaning for yourself and for all those involved. And that is Significant.