Preparing your young workers to move up (or move on)

🧡 People

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Nick Mackeson-Smith
Nick Mackeson-Smith
Chief Curiosity Officer, Founder and Director
February 21, 2023

It's always a little bittersweet when one of your people leaves your organisation for the big OE or the "next big thing."

We get proud seeing them grow beyond the role they are in and step into a new opportunity, but at the same time, we know that we'll miss having them around and that they will leave a gap to fill.

It's a familiar story. We invest time and resources in developing our young people, only to see them leave once they're qualified, or begin delivering real value for our organisations.

It's understandable - who wouldn't want to take their career to the next level or get out and see the world? But for some reason it can sometimes feel frustrating for those who have invested in building their skills, confidence and knowledge. and to those of us staying behind.

Getting the right balance

How do you get the balance right between keeping youth talent engaged at your organisation, while encouraging the ongoing growth and development that might ultimately see them leave?

The answer lies in mutually exploring clear and exciting pathways for development, and then going out of your way to make it happen - even if the endpoint sits beyond your organisation.

By providing clear progression routes and supporting our rangatahi as they move through the ranks, we can ensure that they have every opportunity to succeed in life, and by investing in their future, we can ensure that they will be able to make a real difference to our organisations and our community.

There are two schools of thought here:

“It is hard to invest in youth - they’ll leave and my investment will be lost and I’ll have to start over again” - Some leaders

and the Branson way:

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to” – Sir Richard Branson

As leaders, it’s important for us to shift our thinking towards that of Branson, as it’s near on impossible to develop trust or build relationships with employees or deliver higher performance for our organisations if we don’t invest in our people.

Development and growth are essential for long-term success

It’s really important to remember that a continued focus on development will provide your employees with the stretch and challenge they need to keep their skills fresh and current. This counters feelings of low morale or a feeling of ‘going nowhere’.

Ensuring there is growth, stretch, talent and joy for your rangatahi team members will make it easier for you to attract new talent to your company. Auckland’s youth want to grow and develop and make something of themselves. They have ambition, and they’ll want to see that your organisation can provide them with tangible opportunities to realise their dreams.

Our youth are our future - the precious taonga that we should cherish and care for. They are literally the next generation of talent for Aotearoa. For that reason alone, the question business leaders should be asking themselves isn’t “should I invest in my youth talent”, rather it should be “what else can I do to invest in my youth talent”?

So let’s imagine that you’ve made an investment in your youth talent, they’ve grown and developed, and now they’ve made the decision to move on. In times like this, it’s crucial to remember that they're going to take what they've learned within your organisation out into the industry or their community (or overseas) and will use that knowledge and those experiences to make a real difference.

Your brand, your mentoring, your investment, your time - all of it stays with the person going out into the world. They can be a fierce advocate for you and your business, or can develop into a rival or competitor.

The global war for talent is as hot as it can be in the finance and technology sectors right now, and moldable, shapeable and energetic youth talent is high on the list of recruiters. I spoke with the HR Director of a global FinTech company based here in Tāmaki Makaurau about their experiences of hiring and developing and then letting their best talent go:

“We got to a point in our hiring, where around 25% of our hires were boomerangs - people who had left us to pursue the next big thing or went overseas to get new experiences and skills, and then returned to us later down the track with these new skills in tow because they loved and valued our culture. We loved having them back because we already knew they were good performers and their ramp-up time to productivity was next to nothing. It said a lot about who we are as a company to have such a strong alumni wanting to return to us. Our investment in them paid off 10-fold”.

To get to this point, there are some clear and important things you can do:

1. Make it your business to discover and back the aspirations of your rangitahi.

I once had a person in my team who told me that she wanted to become a Chief Product Owner in a design agency. Her role in my team was completely unrelated to this line of work, but we explored what experiences she’d need to have and what skills she’d need to develop in order to get that opportunity, and then we made them happen. When I left the organisation, she followed me to work at Five. Recently, she got an opportunity to be a Product Owner in a design agency. The joy of seeing her succeed through our shared vision of her career success made it all worthwhile.

2. Invest your time, energy, effort and money into developing your people. Relentlessly.

Give feedback at every opportunity. Take the time to be selfless in sharing your wisdom, experience and guidance, and make connections for them freely so that they can benefit from your work. I once worked with a leader who would spontaneously cancel her diary commitments for a day of “Nick growth” because she felt like it would benefit everyone - even when it was at the expense of her own workload.

3. Create a culture where people will choose to stay.

Treat them with respect, empower them to be successful, give them accountability and opportunities for growth. Have fun. One of the best things you can do is say “I believe in you”, or “you’ve got this”, or “this one is yours”. We shine when we’re given an opportunity to shine.

4. Help your youth continuously discover and explore further opportunities for growth.

Recently, I became aware of an opportunity that a young person in my team would thrive in. Losing them would make things more challenging for my organisation, but encouraging them to push on to bigger and better things builds trust, loyalty and respect. He took the role AND chose to continue working with me too! Additionally, my leader in my last role in a corporate environment encouraged me to be more - my consultancy is a result of his determination for me to keep growing, and his belief that I had reached the ceiling in my previous role. I’ll be forever grateful and will follow him anywhere if he asked me to.

5. View it as ka kite ano - not goodbye forever when they choose to leave.

Equip your leavers to be even more successful in the world and ensure that they leave you on good terms. Share ideas, give them time to prepare for the next thing, be generous with the support you provide.

6. Keep in touch when after they leave

Either through an alumni programme at scale, or 1:1 if you are able to. I have 14 people I keep in touch with on a regular basis who have worked in my team in various organisations around the world. Some I’ve known for decades. I’m an avid supporter of their success and keen to know what they are doing, what they are learning, and how they are growing. I grow by learning how they are growing. What would happen if you - the reader - got in touch with people who had supported you? We’re all made better as a result of the efforts of the people who have invested in us.

7. Reconnect with leavers at a later stage

Offer them viable and exciting next steps in their career. Make sure it’s bigger, better, stretchier, and appropriate to the experiences they’ve gained whilst away. It’s rare that people will want to come back to do their old job.

Don’t be frustrated when people choose to leave - be happy for them and support them. Seeing it as them leaving a job is short-sighted - seeing it as a next step in their career is the long game that we’re all playing.

Mā te wā. Time will tell.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

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February 21, 2023
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