FY 2017
 Year to Date




Advancing economic vitality, one small business at a time

Aimee Zhang

I first had a chance to experience the impact and pleasure of public interest work while attending the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where I helped consult for a non-profit. At Accenture, I continued to seek public interest opportunities and was thrilled when Accenture offered me the chance to work as a pro bono partner with Civic Consulting Alliance.
My project at Civic Consulting focused on starting up the Chicago Small Business Advantage (CSBA). The project dovetailed well with my prior experiences in human resources and workforce strategy, as well as the project management and client skills I have honed at Accenture. As a new program, we were required to be flexible and creative, skills that will be valuable to future Accenture projects.


The impact of our work will be far-reaching: increasing small businesses' productivity, boosting staff morale, and promoting employees' upward mobility will improve economic viability in the Chicago region. On a personal level, my time with Civic Consulting has bolstered my interest in supporting the public sector.

For more information on fellowships at Civic Consulting Alliance and how you or your firm can participate, click here or contact Haley Sonenthal.

Helping small businesses invest in employees
Since the turn of the century, the number of jobs in the Chicago region has continued to grow, but growth has been concentrated in low-wage positions (earning $32,000 per year or less), often providing limited stability. This puts a strain on working families, government spending, and the overall economy.
At the same time, many employers have improved low-wage positions by adopting "high-performance work practices," which focus on increasing productivity, raising employee morale, and reducing staff turnover. As companies implement these practices, employees gain additional skills, more stable jobs, and opportunities for upward mobility ---  and businesses see returns on their investments.
Because smaller firms often lack  the resources required to learn about, customize, and implement these practices, Civic Consulting Alliance and pro bono partner Accenture hypothesized  that by providing targeted, tailored assistance to small businesses, smaller firms could also implement high-performance work practices.

The team recruited five local small businesses ---  Precision Painting and Decorating, Landmark Pest Management, Interior Garden Services, Progressive Coating, and The Hopleaf Bar ---  to join the pilot cohort of the Chicago Small Business Advantage (CSBA). Over an eight-week period, owners and managers participated in customized workshops developed by the Civic Consulting/Accenture team and training partner Sagesse Lumiere, a small business consultancy created by business professors from the City Colleges of Chicago. Topics included hiring, performance assessment, staff development, compensation, scheduling, and change management.

Cohort participants are now applying lessons from the program at their companies. Meanwhile, Civic Consulting is identifying organizations with the capacity to roll out the CSBA program on a larger scale.

For more information on this project, contact Eric Patton.


Taking library data off the shelf

Since its founding in 1871, the Chicago Public Library (CPL) has continually transformed itself to meet the needs of Chicagoans. In 2014, in the face of rapidly-changing norms around library usage nationwide, CPL responded by collaborating with Civic Consulting Alliance to create its first strategic plan, which provided a roadmap for how CPL should grow, invest, and innovate to serve its nearly 10 million annual patrons.
CPL frequently uses its strategy as a guidepost to make decisions about programs and services at all levels of the organization. However, CPL lacked a method to measure its progress towards fulfilling each of its strategic goals. To remedy this situation, the Library decided to invest in a performance management system to monitor and report progress towards its goals.

Civic Consulting Alliance supported the Library in identifying metrics tied to the goals of its strategy, and Allstate Corporation, on a pro bono basis, created a dashboard to track and understand those metrics. The Civic Consulting/Allstate team then developed the process and norms to make performance decisions based on findings from the dashboard.

In November, the Library held its first monthly performance management meeting, where senior staff used data to inform management and programming decisions.

By adopting performance management practices, the Library will be equipped to make its strategic vision a reality ---  and improve services for millions of patrons.
"Performance management presented the logical next step from our strategic planning efforts and has allowed us to focus on areas of our work that most need our attention," said CPL Commissioner Brian Bannon. "As a result of our collaboration with Civic Consulting, our senior leadership is better prepared to make decisions that improve services for Chicagoans."

For more information this project, contact  Andy Schwarm.


In other news...
  • Since working with Civic Consulting Alliance to develop its first strategic plan, the Chicago Public Library (CPL) has been aligning its strategic vision with the day-to-day operations of its staff. Earlier this winter, pro bono partner  Strategic Talent Solutions helped CPL assess how staff were feeling about CPL's progress to date to improve its internal culture so that it can more effectively implement its strategy.
  • Over the past decade, Chicago's regional labor market has polarized, with net job growth coming exclusively from high-wage jobs (paying more than $53,000) and low-wage jobs (paying less than $32,000). In addition to the CSBA work discussed above, Civic Consulting Alliance and our fellow from The PrivateBank recently analyzed the nature of this polarization in a report available here .
  • Earlier this month, the University of Chicago's Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) welcomed their 2017 class of 30 non-profit and government leaders. The CLA, which was developed in 2015 in collaboration with LISC, the University of Chicago, and Civic Consulting Alliance, is designed to develop a pipeline of talented leaders for non-profit and government agencies through coursework, mentoring, and a capstone project reflecting on participants' own organizations.

Questions? Comments? Please email  Leslie Glotzer .

Civic Consulting Alliance is an affiliate of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.