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Career Development Has Replaced Pay As A Top Perk. Are You Ready To Recruit?

If you purchased a $240,00 property, would you expect it to maintain itself?

It’s a silly question, of course. No one in her right mind would consider throwing away money like that. Yet too many founders forget that without employee career development strategies in place, they’re doing exactly that.

Expert recruiter Jörgen Sundberg argues that each new hire costs companies nearly a quarter of a million dollars. An investment of that magnitude deserves more than casual upkeep.

A Culture of Career Development

How, though, can startup leaders groom top performers into their strongest selves? My time as a Google employee taught me that the key is creating a culture that empowers workers to transparently share their career goals. If I hadn’t felt comfortable turning to a senior vice president of the company who helped me sketch out my future, I wouldn’t be writing this column today.

Unfortunately, plenty of people don’t have the luxury of openly discussing their professional dreams like I did. No wonder educated Millennials cite little to no career development as a top reason they jump ship. Almost 90 percent of Generation Y members consider continuing education to be a top reason to choose one organization over another.

To learn more about young professionals’ career development desires, I turned to one of my trusted peers, Leela Srinivasan. As CMO of Lever, Leela’s resume includes a host of positions knee-deep in the world of career development. After serving as LinkedIn Talent Solutions’ director of marketing, co-founder of Talent Connect, and much more, she’s cultivated a nose for helping team members discover and grow their passions.

Leela’s passion for helping others discover theirs stems from her early career. As a young account executive at Businesswire, she enjoyed her work but felt something was missing. At a team kickoff meeting, she happened to sit next to a sales VP. Casually, she mentioned wanting to move into management. Within a week, a position opened up, and Leela was trekking toward management territory.

What if Leela hadn’t voiced her career aspirations? What if that VP hadn’t helped her find the right role for her? Consider that $240,000 home with tattered shingles and peeling paint. That could have been Leela — stuck in a place where her flowers of fulfillment never had a chance to blossom.

Lessons From Leela

Thankfully, Leela’s story has a happy ending. She’s found her place in the professional world, and she’s here to help early-stage startup leaders ensure their employees do, too.

1. Plan regular team powwows.

“Feedback is a new form of currency in today’s workplace,” Leela explained to me. She’s correct, according to surveys from the Society of Human Resources Management and Gallup. Seven out of 10 workers feel engagement is essential for them to take charge in situations. But just 27 percent of employees are getting the feedback they crave, and a paltry 17 percent can count on open forums.

To promote team members’ growth, founders must first open their ears. Consistent, informal meetings help startup leaders raise the game for everyone.

2. See the forest and the trees.

The 360-degree six-month review is a staple at Lever. According to Leela, it helps everyone get a comprehensive view of the part he or she plays. “Every person interacts with multiple teams and departments,” she said. “Their success is based on how well they collaborate with their peers. The 360-degree feedback is as much about that peer feedback, both positives and constructive, as it is about me dispensing my point of view from a rung above.”

For full-circle feedback to work, startup leaders should develop surveys and questionnaires based on tangible employee behaviors. Over time, such systems tend to lessen discrimination and the undue weight given to recent interactions.

3. Be a mirror for team members.

Soul-searching, whether for work or otherwise, requires a hard look in the proverbial mirror. The best way to be that mirror for someone is to dig into where that person has been, where he or she is, and where he or she wants to go. Although Leela recommends limiting navel-gazing to useful — not self-indulgent — quantities, she does suggest setting up safe, inviting spaces for team members to talk about their aspirations.

An unvoiced desire is just a dream. By helping team members flesh out their futures, both startup leaders and employees build awareness of their (and, by extension, the broader team’s) strengths and challenges. Suggest resources tailored to their skills and check in quarterly on their progress.

Leela’s sudden promotion taught her the value of vocalizing goals. That’s why she maintains an environment in which people can come to her without fear of retribution. In fact, she recently moved a top performer from one department to another to accelerate the employee’s growth.

It’s easy to forget that startups run on flesh and blood. Humans are emotional, growth-oriented, and individualistic. Stay on top of team members’ career development desires, and they’ll make your startup the envy of everyone else on the block.