Career development is a two-way street. It can be easy for an organization to believe a paycheque is enough to keep employees — especially those in a junior capacity — engaged and motivated. But this can be a dangerous train of thought.
While there are many ways for an organization to spur performance — whether through incentives, mentoring or otherwise — one of the most effective tactics for helping high-potential employees demonstrate their ability and grow leadership skills is through employee sponsorship programs.
Employee sponsorship programs are designed to accelerate potential top talent by teaming employees with more senior members at an organization and introducing new tasks that help them stretch beyond current roles.
It is more of a partnership between a senior and junior employee than it is a mentor-mentee relationship. While guidance is provided, the sponsor takes a more active involvement in the ongoing operational responsibilities of the junior employee to help him better navigate the corporate culture as well as accelerate his day-to-day capabilities.
The sponsor can acclimatize the junior employee to the workplace by providing counsel to improve his everyday performance — such as navigating the nuances and implications of corporate politics and culture or providing guidance on proper workplace etiquette and expectations.
Most importantly, the sponsor becomes a key resource for the protegé, helping him gain stronger visibility with senior leaders and providing support and advice for challenges with which he may have little to no experience.
Engaging high-potential employees in sponsorship programs is a highly effective way to cultivate their communication skills. With a greater understanding of the lay of the land and culture of the organization, the sponsored employee is increasingly comfortable and confident in proactively contributing to discussions about the direction of projects and initiatives.
This increased confidence can help her realize her full potential in bringing new ideas to the broader team, without overstepping boundaries or going against established corporate policies and practices.
Employee sponsorship programs also provide vital feedback and direction for more junior employees. Selecting an employee to participate not only provides her with new challenges that may not be afforded in her current day-to-day role, but it tells her the organization is invested in her career and committed to developing her skills — a key factor in keeping employees engaged.
From an organizational standpoint, this is a big benefit. Not only does this type of recognition reward the employee but it can directly impact the bottom line by creating a more engaged employee — that translates to a sizeable decrease in lost productivity. In the long term, this will also benefit retention, ensuring the best and brightest want to remain at the organization for the long run.
Randstad Canada’s Master’s Program
Randstad Canada has a sponsorship program called the Master’s Program that identifies a group of high-potential junior staff, pairs them into non-management groups and provides them with a real business issue the company is facing. An executive coach is designated as the sponsor for each group, guiding them through the project while allowing them to tackle a challenge independently.
Generally, the program runs nearly a full calendar year, with the groups working on the special project and reporting to their executive coach while turning to them for guidance as needed.
The executive coach — the sponsor — helps them navigate through their various needs, such as introducing them to new parts of the organization that can support the project or helping them find the resources they need to best approach a problem.
Through the program, high-potential junior employees have the opportunity to think beyond their current roles, grow their capabilities and contribute directly to the betterment of the organization.
As opposed to tackling tasks that are more theoretical than practical, the Master’s Program allows them to tackle real issues they otherwise would not have the chance to be involved in, using their skills to come to a suitable business conclusion. It also provides a junior employee with a direct contact to a senior executive, a relationship he can continue to benefit from once the program is complete.
Since it was introduced in 2003, more than 175 Randstad Canada employees have completed the program and many have been promoted. The new skills acquired through the program, both in an operational and organizational capacity, have helped participants move up through the organization and take on more responsibilities.
While not every organization would benefit from such an initiative, any employer can realize the positives from evaluating and implementing a sponsorship program. Whether it’s a measure to help a newer employee hit the ground running or to provide high-potential employees with the opportunity to put their careers on the fast track, one thing is for certain: Investing in future leaders, and providing them with the means and opportunities to showcase their talents, is sowing the seeds of a fruitful and beneficial relationship with employees.
Leandra Harris is executive vice-president of human resources at Randstad Canada. For more information, visit www.randstad.ca.