I’ve been writing blog posts about emerging technologies for years, and one thing never changes: no matter how advanced the technology, you need great people to see value come out of every advancement. High performers, “A” players, next-generation leaders — call them what you will, but if you don’t have a method to build and retain a pipeline of talent, you put your organization at risk of extinction. In the age of the “Great Resignation,” you need to double down on your people strategy. People increasingly look for meaningful work that can inspire them. Building an organization-wide zero trust framework, for instance, can be an inspiring goal best attained with a team of engaged employees.
Consider the entire life cycle of an employee to ensure that you’re building a team that will perform and last. Given my long career, I’ve been fortunate to have been personally involved in every step. Based on that experience, here are my 7 Rs of the life cycle of employee engagement.
- Reach out: Target and connect with schools, host college competitions, and establish high school partnerships. I was a co-op student, which allowed me to “sell my talent” to my future employer and was an opportunity for my employer to do a very extended interview to decide if I was worth taking a chance on. (Fortunately, they hired me after graduation.) Interns and co-ops are a low-cost source of talent and a great way to prime the pump on your pipeline. Although their dollar cost is low, you have to invest time with them. The most talented people will have multiple options, and they won’t come back if their trial with you is unsatisfactory.
- Recruiting: Once you identify the talent, you need to hire them! The war for talent is real. One of the best ways to identify it is to do it early, so the reach out step is designed to establish relationships early. But this strategy doesn’t just apply to new starters straight out of college. Your leaders will need to engage with new employees of all ages. Think of recruiting as more than just generating the offer letter with salary details. Who will the new hire be working for? What type of work will they be doing? How does their initial role fit into the company’s priorities? They are interested in more than a job; they want a meaningful career. While at Synchrony, I opened an emerging technology center at the University of Illinois. It was a great way to tap into talented students at a nominal cost and an excellent recruiting pipeline. Fresh, motivated talent could learn about us, and we could learn about them. Today, with many working from home, the office is often hybrid or non-existent, so that the exchange can be tricky. It means you need to be more deliberate in your engagement with new talent, interns, or experienced new hires.
- Ramp-up: Provide entry-level leadership programs and training. Training is highly valued, particularly among technical hires. Leadership programs are more than just training for the jobs people are hired to do — they can help employees establish a network that will carry them forward for years. I’m still connected with my entry-level “program” colleagues, even though we work across many companies. (Or, in my case, retired!) If new leaders don’t keep up with the current trends, they know their market value could drop.
- Retention: Keep them around! It doesn’t do you much good to spend all that time and money recruiting and hiring the best people if you can’t keep them around. A key topic today is how to keep employees satisfied. Flexibility is a crucial component to help employees find a rewarding career and establish a fulfilling life outside of work. The eighty-hour workweek is a myth. I suggest reading this Harvard Business Review report. Helping your team build a healthy lifestyle can not only improve their productivity, but their happiness can be contagious to other employees.
- Rotations and cross-functional opportunities: Offer new experiences to help employees grow. The world isn’t a silo; you need to give your employees a chance to work outside their core areas of expertise. Exposing people to new experiences can help them forge a broader network of ties across the company and learn about your business as a whole. My rotations across different businesses groups and functions helped make me a more decisive leader.
- Retraining for experienced employees — and even senior leaders: Learning never ends. Don’t stop developing your employees after their first couple of years of service. Employees of all experience levels need your investment. Helping your team grow and adapt to your industry’s changing circumstances allows you to retain the best and equips them to give back the most. Training is critical for your senior leaders as well. Leaders need to be the best at adapting to a rapidly changing world. It’s not only crucial for their ongoing development, but when done right, it can serve as a fantastic team-building experience for your senior leadership teams.
- Reward: Rewards come in many forms. Sometimes it's just a heartfelt thank you. Sometimes it is a cash bonus. A paid night on the town with their significant other can be a good reward. The key to rewards is to personalize them to the recipient and make them timely. It's more exciting to get rewarded generically at the end of the year instead of specifically at the end of the project. Be creative. Ask people what they like. It's the least expensive form of retention.
Yes, I love technology — I was a CTO for most of my career. One thing is certain; technology is nothing without a great team of people. Don’t think your virtual assistant will solve every problem. Your investments in people will pay off both professionally and personally. And your relationships will pay dividends for a lifetime.
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