Key Distinguishers Conversation Series
How to Keep Your Early Career Talent? 5 Key Strategies That Work (Part 2)
by Diane Kubal
In this article we reveal how the five strategies outlined in Part 1 were implemented in several organizations.
In this study, we spoke to five talent leaders to learn the keys to their success in developing top early career talent for engagement and retention. Early career talent, for our purposes, are those employees in the first ten years of their career who often have high expectations of employers, which many companies are not prepared to meet. Through our interviews, we gleaned some useful tips and practices that have been effective for both new and well-established organizations in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.
Five Investments that Work
At Schneider Electric, Maggie Parniak, HR Business Partner for their US National Sales Force, explained that they have a university relations program for recruiting top talent. They created a 14-week sales development program which has been in place for the past couple of years. Upon completion of the 14-week program, each graduate is placed in an inside sales role for about a year, which then feeds into other sales roles.
Schneider works hard to provide frequent “talent touch points” where top talent gain exposure to executives through various networking and social events. One way this happens is through employee resource groups, like the Emerging Professional Network, where executives sponsor events to make time for “coffee talk,” building relationships and getting to know the early careerists through casual conversations. Here, the company provides opportunities for their early careerists to engage in those “travel destination” conversations to learn more about future roles.
In addition to the chance to interact informally, top talent gets the opportunity to deliver business presentations to executives on real business problems via their PROPEL program. PROPEL is an early career high-potential program that offers leadership training, personality assessments, and an action learning project. Employees work together in project teams, then present their recommendations to key executives.
Last year, Schneider piloted a 3-month career development program called CAREER essentialsSM, (a Fulcrum Network program offering a “travel agent/coach”) to help employees identify their talents, align those strengths with their current job, and determine their next destination/role within the company.
The CAREER essentials program’s key deliverable is a talent alignment plan (road map) to be reviewed with the high potential’s manager (tour guide) to obtain input, support and buy-in. CAREER essentials places ownership and responsibility on the high potential employee to identify their career goals. The manager’s role is to open doors and provide connections to people, time, money and resources for continued development. They don’t need to be a career coach. The talent alignment plan goals were entered into Schneider’s TalentLink system and tracked and monitored over the next 18 months. With these types of programs, Schneider has enjoyed low attrition and turnover and has produced several highly talented, future leaders for their organization.
Schneider also works to incorporate the latest business process tools and technologies to manage their talent. An interesting and innovative approach Schneider plans to implement is a form of Artificial Intelligence called the Open Talent Market.
They want to leverage an internal career mobility platform by using LinkedIn profiles which list key skills, interests, roles, projects and destinations of interest. Similar to Netflix, the tool would match opportunities to employees based on their interests and a “wish list.”
Schneider strives to drive a high-performance culture of providing regular, straight-forward feedback, along with more communication and recognition. Sometimes, even if the talent isn’t quite ready for an assignment, managers are encouraged to take the risk in order to promote course correction and learning through “failing fast.” Schneider provides mentors who give input on specific things the talent needs to do to grow (which is included in their development plans) and they serve as advocates for these key employees.
A lead Business Human Resource partner of a large pharmaceutical company shared that they have an extensive early career program focused on taking new hires as key talent for various functions across the organization. They hire top MBA’s fresh out of school and put them through a rotational job assignment program. These rotational assignments could be one to three years, depending on the function.
The company only accepts up to six people per year in each business area, although there are hundreds of early career talent selected across the organization. This group receives a lot of personal interaction and attention throughout the program. Each department that hires the “key talent” receives the benefit of not being charged for this person to learn during their rotational job assignment. The employee receives compelling stretch assignments, regular exposure to top leadership, and engaging, fun events each week, along with regular feedback from their managers on their work, to help them grow at an accelerated pace.
Although the program is a great opportunity, once it’s over, there is a transition period. They are accustomed to being showered with time and attention from important people in the company, but once their rotational assignments end, they are one of the “rank and file” employees. This is when the early careerists need to take ownership of their career and seek out the advice of a “travel agent” (career coach).
Even after all the special opportunities, there’s still a lot to learn about how to operate within the culture and hierarchy. The organization is not an easy company to get into, and one of the few where employees can stay and have a lifelong career. The company offers other kinds of training and learning opportunities to their employees, but nothing as extensive as the program just described for key early career talent.
At National Futures Association (NFA), we interviewed Kurt Krueger, Director, Office of Professional Development. Like the pharmaceutical company and Schneider, NFA has a hiring model of bringing in early career talent fresh out of college. They don’t have a formal process for naming their high potentials, yet the organization knows who delivers results and goes about getting work done the right way. Their onboarding process includes 2-3 weeks of classroom training and online modules, a peer coach, and regular meetings with their manager to set expectations and help new employees “learn the ropes.”
NFA utilizes a check-in process where employees meet with someone from Human Resource or the Office of Professional Development to ensure understanding of expectations after 3 and 6 months on the job. A survey is also sent to managers to ask if they would hire this person again, and if not, what issues determined that decision. NFA’s annual turnover is low, about 10% annually, partially because, for the first five to seven years, there is good advancement potential, ongoing career development conversations and emphasis on women and minorities.
The organization encourages a coaching culture and there’s a lot of support behind developing people. NFA provides a good deal of training for managers on giving feedback and creating individual development plans. They work to ensure that there are managers assigned to individuals to collect feedback and oversee the development of those not working directly under their manager. Some groups do quarterly talent calibration meetings to talk about employee performance using a Marcus Buckingham tool, adapted from Harvard Business Review, rating each person on a scale of 1 to 6 using these questions:
These questions are designed to elicit a visceral response from supervisors to provoke a reaction, getting at why a supervisor thinks this way to explore the issues further. Their responses generate deeper conversation to understand skills and fit for projects aligned with business needs.
Although performance reviews are past focused, they have an ongoing development plan process to encourage performance management with ongoing dialogue and a future focus. Top performers are given high-profile assignments to develop, as the organization is reluctant to tell leading talent that they are special.
We also connected with Dan Rampert, Director of Community Living at Misericordia, a not-for profit human services organization based in the Chicago area that offers long-term care through day programs and other services for persons with developmental disabilities. A large portion of the 1100-person employee population provide direct care to their patients and are considered entry-level positions, with many of them just starting their career in the human services field.
The organization’s biggest challenges are finances and a 40% turnover rate. Although they receive state funding and money from other sources, they often must rely on people who feel “called” to do human services work, because the pay is low. Someone with a degree right out of school could make the same rate per hour at other companies in entry level positions with better opportunities for advancement and higher pay. Therefore, the organization generally promotes from within for mid-level and management positions to reward those who stay and perform well.
Because of limited time and resources, it’s difficult for upper management to mentor younger employees. However, recently a group of directors took on the challenge by forming a special project task force. This team was made up of emerging leaders and their work led to increased jobs and revenue for the organization. This project was a great way to provide learning opportunities that helped the organization raise funds and offer better services to their patients, while increasing employee engagement. Sometimes, just giving people the chance to do something meaningful is exciting enough to increase their motivation and contributions.
Lastly, we interviewed Matt Vosmik, who has held positions as Director of Leadership and Organization Development with three large organizations including Northern Trust Bank, OfficeMax and Edward Hospital. Given the size of these companies, Matt had significant budgets and resources for career and leadership development for his managers. Matt sees managers as a key leverage point for engaging and retaining valued talent.
If managers are equipped with tools and resources to conduct effective development conversations, and follow through on what surfaces from those discussions, they can improve their employee relationships. Early career top talent craves time and attention from their managers, and if they get it, they’re more motivated, engaged and likely to stay.
Overall, it seems that the manager and employee relationship is a key factor for engagement and retention, as today’s employees need and want frequent feedback with chances to expand their skills and experience. Younger workers, particularly top talent, are motivated if there are avenues to advance their skill set. Because promotion with a pay increase is not always possible, smart managers find creative ways to develop their most valued talent while in the current position by offering stretch assignments, special projects and the opportunity to learn new skills through learning and development programs.
To recap from both articles, we’ve found that engagement and retention happen when:
If your organization plans to invest in developing high potentials, below are some elements to include to ensure success:
To achieve success, engaging and retaining talent needs to be grounded in the nature of the business, company culture, and available budget, along with a leadership commitment to invest the necessary time and energy into their future leaders.
Even if you have a small budget, and limited resources keep you from implementing all our suggested strategies, use these ideas as a starting point. Once you see some traction and results, continue iterating and expanding your development process over time.
No matter how your company goes about it, investing in high potential performers will pay dividends in productivity, contributions and employee loyalty.
Diane Kubal is the creator of the essential circlesSM, a creative approach to career and leadership development for early career individual contributors and high potential talent. She and her team of coaches offer a virtual, experiential program called CAREER essentials: The Secrets to Leveraging Your Talent in the New World of Work. She and her team consult with corporations and individuals to align top talent with business goals. To learn more, go to www.mycareeressentials.com, call Diane at 630-548-4000 x101 or email her at email@example.com.
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