You have spent the time building your Employer Brand, spent years assiduously cultivating your profile on social media and have carefully recruited the graduates who you believe will become the backbone of your talent pipeline in the future.
Yielding the benefits of all of this effort is however contingent on retaining your graduates. You could not have expected 2020. Neither you or your graduates could have contemplated that they would be onboarded and developed in a virtual world. The issue you now have to consider is how do you ensure that your graduates remain engaged in the absence of the infrastructure that makes graduate programmes such an attractive proposition and such a powerful development tool.
Our experience is that most organisations approach graduate development using a blend of formal learning, mentoring, on the job experience, projects and most importantly, feedback. In a virtual world, many of the organic opportunities that graduates had have been reduced. The opportunity to pop into a manager’s office, to ask a question, to shadow a colleague or to be part of a project is reduced. Tucked away behind a screen in a bedroom or at a kitchen table can make graduates less visible to the mentors, champions and leaders that provide many of the informal development opportunities.
When these organic opportunities are reduced, we must become even more intentional about developing graduates. Here are five simple strategies you can employ now to help retain your graduates and avoid a very expensive talent drain in a few years’ time
- Create a culture where feedback is invited
Graduates do need and want feedback. Most graduates, however will not seek out feedback due to several factors – shyness, uncertainty and even lack of clarity on how to go about it are just some reasons.
To address this, invite graduates to identify specific areas where they would like feedback. This allows graduates to decide what, if any, feedback they need. An article published in the NeuroLeadership Journal in 2018 by Tessa West, NYU psychologist suggests that this approach increases the likelihood that people receiving feedback are more likely to stay rational, calm and open. As a bonus, because the graduate is asking for feedback, your managers will find the process far less painful too.
- Create intentional feedback opportunities
Like so many things in a virtual world, a bit more planning and organisation is needed to make feedback work. Impromptu calls and check-ins are more difficult to have when working remotely. Agree specific times at regular intervals that are earmarked to check in with graduates. Protect this time and work hard not to cancel, postpone or change at the last minute. Graduates will appreciate this commitment.
- Facilitate networking opportunities
Networks and friendships are formed on graduate development programmes that can last a lifetime. Consider creating formal and informal ways to facilitate and encourage your graduates to develop their network both with their peers and with people in the wider organisation. The stronger these bonds, the more likely they will be to remain with their network.
- Reverse Mentoring
Many people are struggling to work effectively remotely. Why not ask your graduates, who are very often the most tech savvy group in the organisation to develop some innovative ideas to help their colleagues engage in virtual meetings and collaborate in a virtual setting.
- Communicate personally
In the rush to ensure that everybody is aware of what’s happening, it can be tempting to copy graduates on emails and assume that they will know what it is all about. This may result in confusion or a sense of obligation to act on an email that was simply for information. Take the time to explain why you are sending the information to them.
Like almost everything else in a post-Covid world, Graduate Development has changed. For those of us using a blended learning approach such as “High Performance Learning Journeys” or the 70/20/10 model, switching workshops from face to face delivery to virtual is relatively straightforward. The experiential and feedback components of your approach does however need careful consideration.
Facilitating and encouraging intentional opportunities for new experiences, network building and feedback will be key to ensuring that the graduates that emerge in 2021 and 2022 are sufficiently engaged and capable of leading your organisation in the future. We can be sure that this class of graduates are just as capable as others. The opportunities for learning in these strange times is immense. This learning will yield tremendous benefits in the long term as your graduates face new and diverse challenges in their careers. Our opportunity is to flex our development model to cultivate that potential.
Fergal O’Connor is a Facilitator and Executive Coach at HPC. Much of Fergal’s work with HPC focuses on the development of a high-performance culture with a particular emphasis on accountability and feedback.