Hiring and Retaining Talent: Three Es for Creating an Attractive Work Environment

Sept. 2, 2010
Experience, exposure and education

How can the manufacturing industry recruit new employees after a large majority retires over the next few years, and how can manufacturing companies keep the younger workers they have now?

As the economy improves, hiring and retaining talent become the issues. How do companies hire employees needed for the business and retain strong performers?

In recruiting there is an adage, A hires A and B hires C. As president/COO Bruce Crair says in Getting to the Top, "Really good people aren't threatened by other really good people. They just try and find the very best people that they can. But the B level people tend to be threatened and tend to hire people that aren't as good as they are. As a result, they are constantly running around and just putting out fires and nobody can get anything done."

The key, therefore, is to hire top talent rather than running the risk of marginalizing your business. To hire A performers, start with a detailed, compelling job specification and good interview process for assessing candidates. Then, create a work environment for attracting star employees. Having a great work environment helps both with hiring and retaining talent.

Looking at any number of employee surveys the top three motivators for employees are pay, career development, and new opportunities. And, if you take this further to look at Generation Y, Jason Dorsey, an expert in this generation, says that these Millennials want to feel challenged, included, and valued; they want to have fun. While Baby Boomers show company loyalty, the Millennials have no expectation of lifetime employment and do not have the same loyalty. They'll leave if they aren't being challenged and having fun.

So looking beyond the compensation structure of a company, let's look at what companies can do for career development and creating opportunities to attract and retain new employees.

Getting to the Top: Strategies for Career Success shares how employees can take responsibility for their own development and success. Companies can apply these same lessons.

Career development includes three E's: Experience, Exposure, and Education.

  • Experience -- offer challenging assignments that allow employees to develop new skills
  • Exposure -- provide opportunities for employees to expand their network inside and outside your organization to learn from others
  • Education -- encourage employees to take classes to improve and gain new skills


Career development experts say that 60 to 70 percent of skill development comes from experience, actually doing the skill. And with skill development, employees are prepared for or already doing the next job in their career progression.

Some ways for companies to provide experiential learning include:

  • Challenging, visible assignments
  • Job rotational programs
  • Cross-departmental or special projects
  • Overseas assignments
  • Stretch assignments
  • Off-sites that allow for away-from-the-job reflection

Management can set the culture of encouraging employee development. Sit down and discuss what's of interest to employees and skills that are needed by the company. Ask employees about their long term career goals.

CEO Jasmine Kim shares one way for employees to develop new skills toward their career ambitions: "I tell employees that if they are curious about things that they want to do, then they should take on extra projects that nobody wants to do. Take on a whole new thing in addition to your job so that you can figure out your dream. Take a project that nobody else wants to do."


My father, a vice president of manufacturing for a Fortune 500 company, credited his early promotions to "white knights," people two, three, or more levels above him. When he presented to executives, he over-prepared and his expertise shined through. As he said, "Your boss can only promote you to his role when he is promoted. But those who are one or two levels above your boss can promote you from out of your department when they have a need or see an opportunity in the organization."

Having this positive exposure at the executive levels can help an employee further their career development. Some ways for companies to provide opportunities for employees to expand their network include:

  • Cross-functional projects
  • Opportunities to showcase accomplishments to senior leaders
  • Relationships with role models, mentors, and coaches
  • Formal mentoring programs
  • Coaching and feedback networks
  • Affinity groups
  • Company events, meetings, or teams

CEO Penny Hersher reflects, "I was very fortunate that early in my career I did have a strong mentor, the CEO of Synopsys, Harvey Jones. He took an interest in me early in my career and was very proactive about moving me from job to job to job. I very much valued having somebody who was several years ahead of me, thinking about my career, and putting me through different experiences."

Farhat Ali, CEO of Fujitsu America, echoes, "Mentorship of some sort in your career is very key. I was very fortunate that my mentors came very early in my career. One of my first mentors said, 'One of these days you are going to be a CEO and I will work for you.' I think that in many ways, the path without mentors is a very hard road."

Company leaders can become role models and mentors for employees and in doing so create an environment conducive to career development.


Lastly, education or training programs can help employees develop skills. Sources of educational programs include: company training and development programs; graduate schools, trade schools, and continuing education classes; outside training institutions specializing in skill development; or a myriad of online programs and webinars available for quick learning or refreshing of skills.

Companies can also provide individual career coaches for star employees. Coaches can aid with training, from assessments, understanding skill gaps, and devising elements of a personalized development plan.

By creating a work environment that provides career development opportunities through Experience doing new skills and challenging assignments, Exposure to role models and networks, and education, companies will be able to hire and retain top talent.

Kathryn Ullrich heads Kathryn Ullrich Associates, a Silicon Valley executive search firm, and Alumni Career Services for UCLA Anderson School of Management. She is the author of GETTING TO THE TOP: Strategies for Career Success (2010), and may be reached through www.GettingtotheTop.com

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