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The impact of HR consulting services on Small and Medium Enterprises: evidence from a field experiment in Birmingham, UK
Last registered on June 21, 2019

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
The impact of HR consulting services on Small and Medium Enterprises: evidence from a field experiment in Birmingham, UK
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0004119
Initial registration date
June 13, 2019
Last updated
June 21, 2019 11:28 AM EDT
Location(s)
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
The Behaviouralist
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
The Behaviouralist
Additional Trial Information
Status
In development
Start date
2019-06-14
End date
2020-06-01
Secondary IDs
Abstract
While a number of studies have demonstrated a strong link between better formal management and organizational practices and productivity growth, many SMEs find investing in these areas challenging. They face a confusing and fragmented business support offer, and evidence suggests that many small businesses do not take advantage of formal advice. Research in the UK estimates that around 28% of SMEs have an unmet need for business support, and that half of these do not recognise this need despite experiencing unresolved problems.

The CIPD’s People Skills program was designed to provide SMEs in the UK with human resource (HR) support and advice by connecting SMEs with local independent consultants. A pilot evaluation of the program showed that this could be an effective way of improving the HR skills of SMEs. This trial builds upon the pilot by focusing on how to connect SMEs to HR consulting efficiently and at scale in Birmingham, UK. In the first part of the trial, we randomly assign business members of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce to receive different communications containing behavioral messages and test their effect on take-up of free HR consulting. In the second part, we evaluate the effect of the free HR consulting on intermediate and long-term outcomes linked to productivity by randomly assigning the HR consulting service across SMEs that sign up for the program.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Akesson, Jesper and Manuel Monti. 2019. "The impact of HR consulting services on Small and Medium Enterprises: evidence from a field experiment in Birmingham, UK." AEA RCT Registry. June 21. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.4119-1.0.
Former Citation
Akesson, Jesper, Manuel Monti and Manuel Monti. 2019. "The impact of HR consulting services on Small and Medium Enterprises: evidence from a field experiment in Birmingham, UK." AEA RCT Registry. June 21. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/4119/history/48427.
Sponsors & Partners

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Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
In the first stage, we test the effect of different communications sent across different channels on enrollment to a program that offers free HR and people management consulting for SMEs. The different messages will be randomized.

In the second stage, SMEs are randomized to either receive free HR and people management consulting provided by local experts over the course of two days or not receive anything.
Intervention Start Date
2019-06-22
Intervention End Date
2019-12-31
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
For the first stage, the primary outcome of interest is registration to the program.

For the second stage, the primary short term outcomes of interest are overall and area specific people management and HR score measured through an online diagnostic survey approximately three months after the consulting support is provided. The primary long term outcomes of interest are revenues and headcount from administrative tax data (BEIS will collect this data).
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
For the first stage:
1) Completion of the online diagnostic survey required to register to the program.

For the second stage:
1) Total score on the diagnostic - questions in this diagnostic are correlated with productivity outcomes and mirror questions from the Management and Organisational Practices Survey (MOPS), the Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS), and the Survey of Business Uncertainty (SBU);
2) Score on the worst performing areas as indicated in the initial diagnostic (these will be the areas that the consultants are most likely to work on).
3) Revenues a year after;
4) Number of employees a year after.
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
For the first stage, secondary outcomes include open and click-through rate (online trial) and contact (calls and emails) to the program team (contact information is included in the communications).

For the second stage, secondary outcomes include projected revenues in following year, projected employment in following year, self-reported importance of people management, time spent on people management in last three months, likelihood of seeking external assistance when dealing with HR related problems or when trying to improve people management, and likelihood of investing in building a greater internal people management capability.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
For the first stage:
1) Whether SME opens the email (collected through CRM);
2) Whether SME clicks on the link to the online diagnostic (collected through CRM);
3) Whether SME contacts the program team via email or phone.

For the second stage, a post-treatment online survey will be administered to SMEs in the treatment and control groups, it will include questions that measure the following secondary outcomes:
1) Projected revenue in the following year;
2) Projected employment in the following year;
3) How much time they have spent on people management;
4) How important they think people management is;
5) Likelihood of seeking any external assistance when dealing with HR related problems or when trying to improve people management;
6) Likelihood of investing in building a greater internal people management capability.
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
The trial will be carried out in two phases. The unit of analysis will be individual SMEs in both phases of the evaluation.

In the first stage, we will randomise the receipt of communications to invite SMEs to take an online diagnostic and sign up for the free HR support. In the initial online trial, there will be four treatment arms. The allocation ratio will be even.

In the second stage, we will randomise the receipt of the HR consulting service among firms that signed-up and took the online diagnostic. Firms will be randomised into receiving the service or not receiving the service. Consultants will be assigned to firms that are selected to receive the treatment. Three months after treatment is provided, outcomes will be measured in a follow-up diagnostic.
Experimental Design Details
The trial will be carried out in two phases. The unit of analysis will be individual SMEs in both phases of the evaluation.

In the first stage, we will randomise the receipt of communications to invite SMEs to take an online diagnostic and sign up for the free HR support. In the initial online trial, there will be four treatment arms. The allocation ratio will be even.

In the second stage, we will randomise the receipt of the HR consulting service among firms that signed-up and took the online diagnostic. Firms will be randomised into receiving the service or not receiving the service. Consultants will be assigned to firms that are selected to receive the treatment as they become available. Three months after treatment is provided, outcomes will be measured in a follow-up diagnostic.
Randomization Method
Randmization done in our office by computer and will be conducted by a matched pairs design where we block on variables related to firm-level characteristics and productivity. We will also balance on other firm-level information. For the second stage, firms are randomized on a weekly basis as they sign-up for the program. Randomization in this stage will also block on their assignment from the first stage.

Randomization Unit
Firm
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
For the first stage: 4,000 firms in the online messaging trial and 30,000 firms in the offline messaging trial.

For the second stage: approximately 1,000 firms (dependent on how many firms sign up)
Sample size: planned number of observations
For the first stage: 4,000 firms in the online messaging trial and 30,000 firms in the offline messaging trial. For the second stage: approximately 1,000 firms (dependent on how many firms sign up)
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
For first stage:
- in online trial: 1,000 firms treatment letter 1; 1,000 treatment letter 2; 1,000 treatment letter 3; and 1,000 treatment letter 4.
- in offline trial: TBD

For second stage: 500 firms control, 500 HR consulting.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
For the first stage, the MDE is 0.02 (proportion of those who enroll in the program), this is a 100% increase from base level. For the second stage, the MDE is 5 (score out of 100 on people management diagnostic), SD = 25, this is a 6.7% increase from base level.
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
No
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
No
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)
REPORTS & OTHER MATERIALS