Firms travel different paths to develop talent

Rob Mathias, MD at Ogilvy Public Relations, recalls a hardworking and talented young staffer who had an interest in learning about a topic that many communications executives might consider unusual: the European Union's public health policy.

Rob Mathias, MD at Ogilvy Public Relations, recalls a hardworking and talented young staffer who had an interest in learning about a topic that many communications executives might consider unusual: the European Union's public health policy.

In a break with orthodoxy, that employee relocated to Brussels for two months with the agency picking up the bill. Not long after, the ambitious employee, Jeff Chertack, became VP of Ogilvy's health policy group.

Mathias admits that many firms don't have the luxury of sending eager young employees across the ocean for a formative experience, yet he stresses that this is an example of an agency playing to its strengths - a global reach in this case - to educate staffers.

Productive training experiences such as this also require firms look beyond the immediate personnel investment to the potential payoff of a future executive, he adds.

"There's a bigger picture," explains Mathias. "If we can keep [Chertack] with us for years to come, that's the return.

"Another thing is to just expose people to a lot of different things," he adds. "I continue to believe that exposure to new-business processes is one of the most important ways to develop talent. A younger team member's desire, ability, and acumen to be part of a new-business process are a part where he or she can shine where otherwise they might not."

Other agencies expose younger talent to new encounters in different ways. Qorvis uses language classes, wine tastings, and prominent speakers - such as commentator Tucker Carlson, former White House aide George Stephanopoulos, and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) - to present employees with a diverse professional experience, says director Renate Geerlings.

The firm also offers young pros monthly mentorship meetings with senior staff members, where they discuss immediate and future goals and work-related concerns aside from their personal evaluations, she says.

"Finding and keeping young people today is challenging. We want young people to go home and say they learned something today," says Geerlings. "Senior staff is not only working closely with, but also guiding the development of younger staff. That coach is meeting with them monthly and talking about development, concerns, and ambitions. The younger staff is encouraged to think about where they want to be in five years and five months, and they help younger staff meet those goals."

While such programs are helpful to young pros mapping their career paths, they are supplemental to periodic reviews, which are the main tool used by managers to evaluate staffers. When an up-and-coming talent meets his or her challenges sufficiently, they're likely ready for advancement.

Ketchum, for example, uses yearly evaluations in concert with level-specific education and travel programs to assist staffers with an eye on a corner office, says chief learning officer Robert Burnside.
"A yearly performance review is done by a supervisor and Ketchum requires a yearly review for everyone," he says. "We also have a career-planning toolkit that invites our people to see that their careers are not just linear."

Key points:
  • It's hard to keep young staffers at a company for a long time, so it's helpful to use broad training opportunities for entry-level staff
  • Firms gain staff loyalty by displaying a willingness to make investments in them
  • Combine unique opportunities with the formal evaluation process to see if an employee's strengths are in areas other than where he or she works

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