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How to Attract and Keep the Best Young Talent

Bob Little 

March 16, 2018

Talent management is one of the key roles of HR and L&D specialists. How does an organization attract, motivate and keep the best people?

This is particularly important where young workers are concerned, because they are the people who safeguard an organization’s future.

At present, these young workers are Millennials or “Generation Z.” Much has been written recently about Millennials’ digital working preferences, and the need to manage them differently from older generations in the workplace.

Business coach Hugo Heij says, “The traits associated with Millennials, such as wanting instant gratification, are present in everyone. Now we can have it, we all want ‘next day delivery.’ So, maybe we’ve all become like Millennials.”

Virginia Stagni, of the Financial Times/IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance, says, “In this cybernetic, digital world, finding the brightest and most gifted minds to lift the lid on the next big idea is a huge challenge for any company. And holding on to talented employees, especially Millennials, is a key test of any good manager and HR department.”

But the generations are not as different as we might believe, according to Nico Rose, head of corporate employer branding, university relations and recruiting programs for Germany-based global media services company, Bertelsmann.

Rose says,  “Most scientific studies have revealed that differences between Millennials and other generations have been vastly exaggerated. It seems that all people have strong innate needs for connection, autonomy, mastery, and a sense of pride and meaning.”

He adds, “That’s why Bertelsmann fosters a leadership culture that focuses on delegation and empowerment.”

How to Attract Talent

Ambitious companies, such as Bertelsmann, which employs 116,000 people worldwide and generated revenues of $20 million in 2016, seek to fill specialized roles – notably in strategy, technology and data management – via initiatives aimed at attracting the best talent.

To promote creativity, entrepreneurship, delegation, and empowerment among its workers, Bertelsmann has developed talent development programs including:

  • Bertelsmann Entrepreneurs Program: an international rotational scheme targeting recent MBA graduates.
  • Creative Management Program: a program for humanities and social science graduates.
  • Talent Meets Bertelsmann (TMB): an international case-study event for 60 students in Berlin each year. These students work with Bertelsmann leaders on strategic challenges in the group’s business units. This “total company” initiative brings together bright students from around the world.

Hays Steilberg, Bertelsmann’s executive vice president of corporate HR, executives and talent, says, “We provide for people with all kinds of career goals. The unifying element is that we seek people who desire to be empowered, who want to make their own decisions and chart their own course.”

How to Retain Talent

Rose believes that the TMB program promotes talent retention and creates an active community of talented individuals. He says, “From the start, it was meant to be an emerging high-potential community. We consider each former participant to be a valuable part of a growing talent family, the TMB Alumni Network. We stay in contact with them through social media and regular face-to-face events.

“Some TMB alumni now work for Bertelsmann. Some work for our competitors. Some work for consulting firms, or the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons of this world. Many go on to become entrepreneurs. We believe they all make a valuable contribution to the TMB family.”

Steilberg adds, “We’re there for them when they consider their next career move. As a result, only a fraction of the people we ultimately hire are recruited directly after their initial participation in the main event. Most join Bertelsmann, or one of our divisions, three to five years after taking part in TMB.”

Committing to New Talent

Steilberg believes that the TMB Alumni Network is becoming one of the world’s top communities in the media and adjacent industries. He says, “That’s one of the reasons why we consider this event a long-term commitment. After all, the program’s now in its 10th year.”

Outlining ways to identify and support leaders in the company, Steilberg says, “We use a competency-based development management system that focuses on the how of a leader’s performance. Our talent pools enable us to experience established and emerging leaders close-up. Once they’re in a pool, we help these people cultivate their competencies and leadership skills in training programs that are mostly hosted by first-tier business schools.

“We enjoy the reputation of being a kind of leadership accelerator. The main driver of leadership development at Bertelsmann is our culture. We give people broad responsibility early on in their careers. Leading is largely about doing – and we like to give people the chance to learn and grow by tackling real-life challenges.”

Rose adds, “When you put eight people on a team, and tell them they’ll have to give their first boardroom presentation – to real board members – 24 hours later, you get a feeling for their leadership potential.

“Under time pressure and scarce resources, some people will, naturally, step up to become leaders. With the mutual consent of the group, some may even be gently pushed in that direction by other team members to assume overall responsibility.”

Heij says, “Maybe Bertelsmann’s size creates the need to replace relatively large numbers of workers on such a scale, and maybe only a large company has the resources to pursue such a strategy. Yet not only is Bertelsmann’s strategy developing a strong organizational culture, it’s also attracting talented workers to its industry – and, seemingly, keeping them.”

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