Establish a company culture that nurtures talent and promotes high-performing employees on the basis of merit.
Many people in the workforce have experienced the feeling of being stuck in the same position far longer than the proclivity of their interests and ambitions. This often leads to a general feeling of angst regarding their job, causing employees to seek out another company for more challenging prospects. Consequently, this works against business owners who will lose a high-performing employee in the process. Instead of watching as their talent pool slowly dwindles, employers are better off establishing a company culture of promoting from within.
"It's important for companies to promote from within. Otherwise, there's no career path for the people there and it forces [employees] to constantly be job hunting because they know they're not going anywhere in that company," says Penelope Trunk, founder of Brazen Careerist, a networking hub for young professionals.
While leadership development programs are great for identifying existing talent within your ranks, it's also a good idea for business owners to establish an overall company culture of promoting from within. The following will provide steps, examples, and advice for advancing your high-performing employees into positions within the company that are commensurate with their talent.
How to Promote From Within: Hire Right the First Time Around
Craigslist may be cheap and tempting, but it's not necessarily the best way to go if your long-term goal is to promote from within.
"Spend the necessary amount of money on recruiting because you're stuck with who you're recruiting if you promote from within," says Trunk.
Headhunters, established networking events, online networks, and word of mouth recommendations can lead to reputable prospects in lieu of blind ad posting. However, no matter what method you choose to line up an employee, their performance is ultimately what matters most. Luke Holden, co-owner of Luke's Lobster, shifted several of his employees that began in food preparation positions into managerial positions over the course of the company's first year, including his general managers and director of catering and special events. "We haven't necessarily gone in the direction of finding someone that has a ton of previous experience, but rather hiring good, smart people that want to learn and achieve."
Ooshma Garg, formerly of Anapata and founder and CEO of Gobble, an online marketplace for home cooked food, has implemented an eight to ten week trial-to-hire strategy. "When I meet someone who I think will be a great fit for our company, I'll meet with them and if we decide that we want to try out this relationship, we'll set a certain project for them with a completion date that is typically eight to ten weeks away (our trial periods are always eight to ten weeks) and a set deliverable," she says. The deliverable will be a metric and will vary depending on the position. "For instance, if I were to hire someone on the marketing end or the sales end, I would say, 'this metric is that in eight to ten weeks, you'll bring 250 new chefs to the Gobble network,'" Garg explains. For a more technical position, the metric may be for a developer to improve upon or to create a program within the Gobble infrastructure. During the trial period, Gobble provides class credit for candidates who are students, and a stipend for those who are not.
"When I haven't followed this method, I can definitely see the difference, see the problems that occur when you put someone into a role without having worked with them before and without having developed them from day one," says Garg.
Once you have the right people onboard, how can you make sure that your employees move up accordingly?
How to Promote From Within: Make Your Employees Take Risks
Trial and error is a great learning process for everyone, and your employees aren't exempt from occasional failure. However, it's how they handle new tasks that will show you what they're made of, and if they have the potential to take on an increasing number of responsibilities. Advises Trunk, "sometimes when you're training someone to be promoted, you should give them work that they've never done before, and they'll mess it up. But the company culture has to respect that people who are learning mess up, and that's okay as long as they're learning."
How should a manager go about allowing an employee to botch a task? Trunk states that if you're managing an employee closely, you should be able to identify the exact area the employee will miscalculate. "If you know where they're going to fail, you can catch them before they do any damage," says Trunk. "You can say, 'well, you did this wrong and here's the thing that you should ask next time.'" She says that a good manager can manage all failure so that it's a learning experience.
In this case, a manager can decide indendently how much time they want to invest in helping the employee during the trial and error process. Based on the needs of the company, a manager may want to continue training an employee or, after a sufficient period, opt to promote someone else or hire an external candidate. At that point "it's a cost benefit analysis," says Trunk.
How to Promote From Within: If An Employee Wants More Responsibility, Give it to Them
Natalie Reinert started out as a merchandise hostess at Walt Disney World Resort in 2005. Desiring more responsbility, she took matters into her own hands. "I went to my leadership and told them I would like to move up, and they agreed I could do that," she says. Six months later, she became a coordinator. After informing her area leader that leadership (the lingo for management at Disney) was her ultimate goal, Reinert was assigned a mentor from the leadership casting team. She was then given a breadth of challenging tasks that included tracking the financial data in her assigned store, working with other departments to determine shelf inventory, and creating an efficient system to track customer orders. Leading up to her leadership assessment, "I mock interviewed with at least a dozen managers from across the park who volunteered their time to work with me," says Reinert. She became a retail guest service manager in 2008.
However, some people have remained in entry-level positions through their entire time with Disney, lacking the initiative to advance into positions that require additional levels of responsibility. Disney is a large conglomerate organization that requires an abundance of personnel. However, smaller companies or businesses in general that want to make sure their staff is working to the fullest extent of its potential can choose to adopt an "up or out" policy.
"An up or out culture tends to make people higher performers," says Trunk. "If I start seeing that [my employees are] not going to grow at my company, I try to counsel them about what they should be doing and where they would grow. Really, any good manager shouldn't have to fire someone. They should be making it totally clear that this isn't the right job for them and that person should want to leave anyway. The term is called counseling out as opposed to promoting from within."
Garg takes a different approach with respect to challenging her employees. She requires that they create a specific set of goals for themselves prior to being hired. During her initial meeting with a prospective employee prior to the commencement of their trial-to-hire period, she gives them a survey in which they are required to list three goals that they would like to achieve during their working relationship with Gobble, which do not have to relate directly to the position for which they are being hired. "What do they want to learn about? Do they want to learn how start-ups get customers? Do they want to learn about how start-ups do accounting? It doesn't necessarily have to relate to their role, but I want to make sure that they're developing themselves personally as well as professionally," she says. Those goals are later reassessed every quarter, along with performance evaluations as per their duties with Gobble. Garg credits this method for allowing her staff to visualize their goals. "I think that's helped people achieve their goals and, thus, take on more responsibilites almost consistently every three months," she says. "I am promoting them by using their own goals and their own chosen deliverables."
How to Promote From Within: Value the Teaching Experience
Managers are referred to leaders at Disney "because it's about finding talent and teaching," says Reinert. "A big part of your job is teaching."
When Reinert first notified her superiors that she desired to advance into the position of coordinator, the company provided her with a binder filled with information, including the classes that she could take through Disney University and other management in various Disney support offices that she should meet with in order to better understand the chain of command.
"The only way to get someone to the next level is to have very strong coaching and very strong mentoring. If you don't reward people for good mentoring, then people aren't going to get the mentoring they need to be promoted," states Trunk.
For a smaller businesses, it is essential that management offer creative and cost-effective ways for employees to reap the benefits of on the job education. Presently, Gobble employs between five to ten people, which includes full-time and part-time workers, as well as interns. Garg has adopted an inclusive culture within her start-up so that employees can both learn and grow simultaneously.
"As much as I can, I leave meetings and events open that I am invited to for our employees to attend. So, if I'm meeting with an investor and an employee's personal goal is to one day start their own company or to understand how founders communicate or how founders fundraise, I will do my best to try and include them in one or more meetings that investors may consent to," she explains.
Garg is well aware of the apprehension that some of her associates may feel when it comes to including their staff in the intimate details of company operations, but she has found that many of those fears are misdirected. "Some founders might be afraid that involving employees in so many events or meetings may encourage them to leave or find other job opportunities or find other interests," she says. "But what I find is that it absolutely increases their loyalty to you and to the company because they understand that you care about them and not just their work."
How to Promote From Within: Be Open and Encourage Feedback
Do your employees feel comfortable talking to you? This may be a great indicator of your company's future success when it comes to promoting from within. Managers should be open to evaluation in the same way they allow their employees to be evaluated.
"I think it's important to consistently get feedback from your teammates; constantly culling your teammates to ask how their job is going, how you're doing your job, how you can do it better, the good things you're doing, constantly getting 360 feedback," says Holden.
Stacey Thomson, public relations manager at Disney Institute, the external training division for all of the Walt Disney Companies, believes that companies should institute open door policies that extend to both private and professional matters. "If you truly have that open door policy, then they're going to feel comfortable coming to you and saying, you know, 'I saw this position posted in XYZ division of the company and I'd really like to put my name in the hat for that,'" she says.
As with family, a close knit team may not be able to imagine the loss of high-performing employees that have become essential to the fabric of their department. However, Thomson stresses that, although those employees may be doing a great job, your best bet is to promote them into a position where they can do a better one.
"In reality, those employees will probably leave on their own if you don't encourage them."