How to unleash the potential of junior talent.

In January 2014, Mary Barra (CEO of General Motors) became the first ever female head of an automobile manufacturer.

29 years earlier, she joined General Motors as a 24 year old graduate full of enthusiasm, raw potential, and eager to bring a fresh perspective. She now oversees 167,000 employees and runs a company that generated more than $156 billion in revenue last year.

By cultivating and nurturing Mary's talent, General Motors allowed her to progress through the ranks, ultimately becoming the CEO. Nowadays, most junior talent won’t stay with the same company for 40 years, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest in unlocking their potential and transforming them into high-performing stars.

Here are 4 simple ways your company can cultivate professional growth and turn new hires into long-term superstars.

1. Design an effective onboarding plan

An onboarding plan is essentially a guide of what to do in your first few weeks, who you need to meet and what you need to know. This will include:

  • More detail about their job and direct team: What areas will they be responsible for? Who is their manager, peers and how do they work together?
  • Who they will be working with and need to know; what teams do they need to be aware of? Who are the key stakeholders and have you introduced them?
  • Information about the company as a whole: provide them with a clear understanding of the company's values, vision, and goals and ensure they have a regular opportunity to ask questions.

An easy way to do this is to create a few slides outlining this information and making sure the calendar of your new hire is empty for the first week. You can add daily end of day check-ins with the manager or ‘buddy’ as an opportunity for them to ask the questions they have undoubtedly accumulated throughout the first few days.

It might be tempting to skip this step and get them working immediately but the onboarding time is key for your new hire to understand how the company works, and soak up information that will support them in becoming more efficient later on.

2. Put in a place a mentorship programme

Let’s face it, we all have questions we don’t feel entirely comfortable taking to our manager or peers. That is why mentors can be an invaluable asset to early careers. They act as a safe space where junior employees can speak candidly about issues at work and get advice from someone with more experience, and who has likely been through similar challenges before.

You don’t need many resources to make it work; just pair the early careers with someone more senior not in their line of reporting, set a cadence, and some guidelines. At Amazon, every graduate, intern, and apprentice is paired with a more senior mentor from a separate part of the business. They generally meet monthly and the mentee sets the agenda and the questions whilst the mentor is there to answer questions and guide them through challenges.

3. Provide ongoing training

Continuous training is crucial for junior talent development - they will learn on the job but with increased work cadence and remote working, inexperienced employees take longer to learn basic skills to be more effective in the workplace. Training is not only a way to support your junior talent, but it also shows a commitment to their professional growth, which can help increase employee engagement and retention.

From the perspective of the business, by investing in L&D you are encouraging skills development which will increase overall performance - enabling graduates, interns, or apprentices to perform their roles more effectively.  This is what we focus on at Kokoon with our talent incubator, not only ensuring junior employees feel more confident in their own ability, but that the skills they learn positively impact the business through an increase in individual performance.

4. Providing constructive feedback

Providing constructive feedback is essential for your new hires to understand what they are doing well, not so well and where can they improve. It’s important for you as their manager to have a regular meeting dedicated for feedback (it can be monthly or quarterly), acknowledging both their areas for improvement but also their accomplishments.

These meetings will work best if you have done some prep first, so you can see how your new hires are trending (do they make the same mistake often, do they have a tendency to shy away from challenges, etc). It’s also essential for the new hire to do some self reflection too, so they are aware of what they think their top skills are and where they need to improve, or what they have found challenging. A good framework for this is:

  • When do you feel at your best? What type of task or work gets you motivated?
  • When do you feel a lack of energy? What type of work creates stress or internal struggle?

Then, during the meeting make sure to have open dialogue, ask open questions and listen actively to the employee. Give them an opportunity to provide 360 feedback to their manager - what is working well, and what would they like to change.

Lastly, emphasise a growth mindset - the junior employee should leave the feedback meeting seeing opportunities to grow and learn rather than feel defeated.

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