How to keep graduate talent engaged
Only 20% of organisations openly communicate their talent strategy, and these strategies are rarely applied consistently across the business. The result is unengaged employees with no clear idea of what it takes to be successful in their organisation.
Today I will be speaking at the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) Development Conference in London on the challenge of successfully keeping graduates engaged with an organisation’s talent strategy.
I will be presenting with Babcock International Group Talent Development Manager Craig Smith on our recent collaboration to develop a programme, Transpire, that keeps developing the company’s graduate recruits and keeps them engaged after their initial training period comes to an end.
To find out how to keep graduate talent engaged and develop your graduate recruits to their full potential, read the article below, which first appeared in the AGR’s Graduate Recruiter magazine:
Out of the wilderness
There is always a risk that after completing their initial training programme, graduates fall off leadership’s radar until they are ready for junior management positions – that is if they haven’t left for a competitor by then. Craig Smith, Group Talent Development Manager at Babcock International, and Dr Amanda Potter, CEO of Zircon Management Consulting, discuss their companies’ partnership and the solution they developed to keep Babcock graduates engaged and committed through these ‘wilderness’ years.
It is well known that there is a shortage of skills and talent across the UK economy as a whole, and particularly in the technical disciplines like engineering required in Babcock’s core areas of operations.
The company is a global group that delivers infrastructure and support services across a diverse range of sectors, including Defence, Energy, Transport and Telecommunications.
Like most large companies Babcock invests a significant amount of time and resource recruiting and training the brightest and best graduates from across the world.
But what happens to graduates once they have completed their initial two-year graduate development programme?
“Across the wider graduate market we have for a long time been talking about our graduates dropping off the cliff,” says Craig Smith, Group Talent Development Manager at Babcock International.
“While some have implemented transitional programmes to help with the change from being a graduate trainee to regular employee, we wanted to develop a longer-term solution for our people when they come out of the end of their two-year development programme.”
Recently arrived at Babcock from National Grid, where he headed up its UK Technical Academy, AGR Board member Smith said he wanted to bring a fresh perspective not only to the way Babcock handled the transition of its graduates, but also its approach to talent development at every level of the business.
Smith turned to talent development specialist Zircon Management, led by chartered occupational psychologist Dr Amanda Potter.
Partnering for success
Dr Potter - who also runs talent tech company BeTalent - says that she and her team of business psychologists from the outset avoided a one-size-fits-all approach.
Instead, an organisation as vast and complex as Babcock would require a bespoke solution that would be developed in partnership with Smith and his colleagues.
“In order to build a partnership we needed to understand each other,” says Dr Potter.
“You can’t simply come in looking to solve problems and impose solutions. Instead, we came in with questions to explore the business challenges and develop a solution together.”
These challenges included both that of successfully transitioning graduates and also the wider goal of measuring employee and business success. Prior to its work with Zircon, Babcock had a number of Value, Competency and Leadership Frameworks.
The objective of the work carried out in partnership with Zircon however, was to bring these together into a robust and coherent model to provide guidance on how employees – not just graduates - needed to respond to ensure future business success.
Zircon’s psychologists worked with key stakeholders within Babcock to explore the question of “what does success look like in Babcock?”.
They looked at whether measures of success were different in the company’s divisions of Defence and Security, Marine and Technology, and Support Services. Potential differences between the organisational levels within Babcock were also explored, with these levels defined as: Individual Contributor, Manager, Leader and Executive.
This initial research was carried out through a series of workshops and online psychological card-sorting exercises, with people from every part of the business involved.
“We engaged people from Babcock’s board level & divisional board, down to divisional HR and learning and development, and we also had the graduates contribute in order to ensure we had a holistic view of what success looks like within Babcock,” says Smith.
Through this exercise a substantial amount of data was gathered and analysed, and through multiple iterations, a set of core Behaviours, Expertise and Tenets (values) were identified as the keys to success for Babcock as an organisation.
“When we started this process those working within Babcock’s different divisions all assumed they were different and unique,” says Dr Potter.
“Someone in Defence and Security thought they were different to their counterpart in Marine and Technology, at least in terms of what was needed to be successful. However, the data proved otherwise, and demonstrated that the same criteria could be used, making it much easier to move people across divisions.”
This proved a significant strategic benefit for Babcock: as an organisation operating in sectors heavily dependent on professions like engineering that are suffering skills shortages, the ability to move people across divisions in response to the market improves agility and adaptability.
From graduates to managers
While there was little difference in the criteria for success across Babcock divisions, the key Behaviours and Expertise did differ depending on the level of role being assessed (Tenets, or values, were the same across all levels).
For example, Commercial Focus was a key expertise at Leader level, while at Individual, Manager and Executive level, this was replaced by Customer Focus.
In order to ensure they are sufficiently challenged and have an opportunity to demonstrate their potential, graduates coming out of Babcock’s two-year training programme will be asked to meet the criteria for success set out for those working at Manager level within the organisation.
Establishing this common set of criteria then enabled Zircon and Babcock to create an online training tool that can continue to develop graduates in those years after the graduate programme and prior to actually reaching management level.
“Once graduates are routed into an organisation they are often forgotten, and not given opportunities to develop,” says Dr Potter.
“The online development programme, Transpire, we have developed with Babcock ensures they continue to have regular feedback on their progression, and also gives them greater line of sight as to what their career progression through the organisation might look like.”
Dr Potter describes the online development tool as a “light touch” approach that once a month asks the graduates to answer a short series of questions or complete psychometric tools and then carry out role-based actions following the results of those questions.
In September – the first month the scheme was run – graduates were asked to complete a “Holistic 360” that set a benchmark of looking at where they are, and which will be compared with results in 12 months’ time.
Last month they were asked to complete a questionnaire on their aspirations, and in November they are being asked to identify their strengths.
“There isn’t a great deal to do each month so it doesn’t demand too much investment, but it is forcing them at certain points to have key discussions that they might not have otherwise had,” says Smith.
“With all these discussions it will also challenge line managers to make sure they are engaged with their graduates.”
Initial feedback from Babcock’s graduates – many of whom were involved in Zircon’s initial research – has been overwhelmingly positive.
While it will likely take the full 12 months to quantify how Transpire has benefitted the graduates’ engagement and commitment, the work done in partnership with Zircon is already reaping wider organisational rewards, says Smith.
“Our collaboration with Zircon is already enabling us to have a much clearer view of what good looks like, and what success looks like within Babcock,” he says.
“These criteria are being used across the business at every level, in a way some previously thought wasn’t possible.”
Written by Dr Amanda Potter, Chartered Occupational Psychologist and CEO of BeTalent and Zircon Management Consulting