The battle for talent has never been more difficult to win. The combination of the adoption of remote work, coupled with the empowerment that employees feel when they can pick and choose their opportunities, has made the job of recruiting and retaining talent more difficult than any time in my experience. The keys to success are multi-pronged, but lie in a few foundational strategies that have been proven to work over time.
Our strategy is to focus on the war, not just the current battle. Having a strategic plan for developing talent will serve you well over time. That strategy must include talent acquisition, but the core of the strategy should be talent development which leads to retention.
We have found that thinking like a medieval guild is helpful in this area. Our overall strategy is to build leverage into our talent model such that we have Master Craftsmen (in our world, those are network architects) who lead Journeymen who are in turn leading Apprentices.
Hiring Master Craftsmen is important, but the fact is that there are not enough of them to go around. There never has been. Our strategy has been to hire Master Craftsmen when we find them, but to fulfill our growth requirements, we also must grow and develop our own Master Craftsmen.
We have built mentoring into our culture, such that helping people grow is a natural function of our culture. Mentoring is formalized, and both the manager and the mentor of every employee is bought into the annual Individual Development Plan (IDP) for their employees/mentors. The IDP includes professional goals, personal goals, and the plans to achieve both, including professional development. We spend heavily on professional development annually such that we can track both movement and progress in the upward momentum of Apprentices and Journeymen. Hiring becomes easier when you have a model for long-term talent development in place – one that your employees and candidates can understand and see how they can make work for them.
The three keys to success in developing experts are described below. We have found that we need to be excellent at all three to be successful:
1. Create a Learning Culture
This starts by hiring curious people, people whose desire to learn is obvious and well-documented. Curious people will push the boundaries of learning by leveraging both people and processes to learn. With our guild like model, Apprentices can self-actuate learning by working with Journeymen and Master Craftsmen. They do this by requesting both structured and unstructured time with more knowledgeable people in the organization. With our ingrained learning culture, these requests are met with enthusiastic – and positive – response by our more senior resources. After all, that is how they learned all those years ago.
Through our IDP process, we formalize learning – really, we formalize curiosity – and we measure it through our performance management system which is fed from each employee’s IDP. Quarterly touch points and annual performance reviews ensure everyone (employee, managers, executives, and mentors) are aware of the progress toward achieving learning goals – or the lack thereof.
By measuring what is important, and by celebrating promotions and achievements, we create and maintain an ongoing learning culture. This is reinforced with our employees every time we do performance reviews.
2. Create a Sense of Ownership
Each employee should own their personal growth in knowledge, skills, and experience across the company. We have formalized that into a mentorship program which every employee participates in. Every employee has a mentor who is accountable for their success – in addition to their manager. Every employee who is above the apprentice level (and a handful of apprentices who have advanced knowledge and maturity) participate as a mentor to someone in the organization.
The mentoring program is process-driven and is measured. The number of meetings, the results of those meetings, and progress against goals are updates via the IDP process, and tracked by HR. The types of things that mentors and mentees work on together are hard skills – technical skills that need to be developed; knowledge; experience (we have lab environments that our employees can utilize to gain experience); and soft skills – presentation skills, business acumen, how to manage an unhappy client. The scope of the mentoring relationship is unique to each mentor/mentee but follows a proven process. Again, we measure progress in the mentor program.
3. Recognize the Value of “New Blood”
This is true at every level, but with our approach to developing our employees into more senior resources, injecting new perspectives on a regular basis is critical. Diversity of background, thought, and approach is valued at every level, and we work hard to have an inclusive environment where learning is not only encouraged, but also celebrated.
New blood gives us new perspectives and ensures that we don’t teach every new employee the same old ways of doing things. It also helps inject a new perspective into the way we “have always done things”, so that we don’t get stale. New blood is one way we can measure ourselves against the outside world and ensures that we continue to deliver at the Master Craftsmen level to our clients.
While hiring external experts undoubtedly brings value, the benefits of developing experts internally should not be overlooked. By investing in the growth and development of employees, organizations can cultivate a workforce that possesses specialized knowledge, aligns with the company’s culture, and embraces its long-term vision. Creating a learning culture, fostering a sense of ownership, and injecting new blood are all compelling reasons to prioritize internal development. By adopting this approach, companies can achieve sustainable success and ensure a bright future for both their employees and the organization.
Meet some of our Master Craftsmen! Contact us to see how our experts can help with your complex challenges.