Finding Your Future Talent Stars

Ask chief executive officers to identify a top priority in 2010 and the leading answer may surprise you. A November 2009 survey conducted by the human resources consultancy Right Management revealed that, for 94 percent of senior executives, it is the overlooked war for the best talent. That response, however, probably doesn't come as a shock to CEOs who are mapping the future of their companies. Examining our cross-generational workforces, we wonder what and who will forge our future growth and creative energies.

This critical issue of talent was illuminated when I overheard a recent college hire at our company—we're a global business-software developer—ask why many people her age didn't work at the company. I started thinking, "Do we have a blind spot developing on talent?"

The answer for us and apparently many other companies was "yes." While college graduates are still securing employment, the number landing the types of jobs they were aiming for shrank 35 percent, to just 45 percent in 2009 (depending on company size, economic sector, and location), according to a Michigan State University 2009-2010 survey of college recruiting trends. One could initially point to the Great Recession as the reason, but the trend extends well beyond the current economic climate. The average age of the American worker is expected to rise to 40.6 this year from 34.6 in 1980, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Fresh Perspectives

The trends beg for a reexamination of what type of young talent companies are selecting and whether they possess the curiosity and creative intellect that are prerequisites to be a true leader. After taking a look at our immediate needs and long-term goals, we determined Infor needed fresh perspectives from young thinkers who would cross-pollinate with the institutional knowledge of our veterans. This would improve our cross-generational management. We initiated a new program for recruiting, training, and mentoring. It sports an unusual name—the Green Bean Program—but we needed green recruits with true star qualities to sprout the pioneering advances we will require in the years ahead. For example, Infor is launching a companywide campaign to increase the number of employees using social media to engage stakeholders.

We employ a very aggressive recruiting process to find exceptional global talent with the right attitude and initiative rather than simply the most expensive undergraduate degree. We try to determine if newly minted graduates can apply knowledge they've already gained. If applicants have traveled abroad, for instance, we want to find out whether that foreign experience spurred growth from, say, serving in the Peace Corps, where volunteers tend to master excellent management and leadership skills important to Infor.

The Green Beans receive immediate high-touch, senior-level guidance as well as a mentor certified as a "cultural leader" and subject-matter expert. We provide core job training and orientation designed to accelerate ramp-up times into productive roles. We offer accelerated performance-based compensation plans for their first 18-24 months, and individualized career-development programs.

More than 300 Green Beans contribute across our global footprint in all departments and most regions worldwide, including development, customer help desk, inside sales, service, and financial, among others. For example, more than a dozen Green Beans in Brazil serve as professional-service representatives, installing software and training customers on how best to use it. In Shanghai, Green Beans write sophisticated code for specific products, and in India, 15 of them will soon be writing back-office custom code for customers.


What have we found? Here's one thing: While mentors offer advice, reverse-mentoring often ensues—the student teaches the teacher about the latest computer or social-media developments. In addition, morale has improved as the Green Beans exude positive energy throughout the organization, our onboarding process for employees has improved as we've implemented more up-front training programs to help them get immersed in the business, and we've driven additional cost-savings from the program as compensation is based on performance. The success of the program is evident in our employee turnover rate as well, as we lose only about 2 percent of our Green Beans, while our typical employee turnover has been 5 percent to 6 percent. These young bright minds now represent the fabric of our business.

We're certainly not alone in recognizing the critical importance of tomorrow's star talent. A growing number of companies are doing what we're doing. Advertising giant Leo Burnett has assembled a so-called Energy Pool, a group of 25 diverse and proven young creative talents that senior leaders say possess extraordinary imagination and professional promise. They are designers, photographers, filmmakers, illustrators, writers, and poets, and several are working with the agency's largest clients. Leo Burnett's leaders believe the Energy Pool represents its future growth and success.

Identifying tomorrow's leaders means looking through a broader lens than the traditional recruitment approach. That wider lens must spot unique talent if we're to develop the cross-cultural and -generational competence that will stretch our thinking and our strategic decisions. It's a fascinating journey.

As for our Green Beans, they will soon be joined by Jalapenos, our initial group of new MBA recruits and, in the future, by Green Bean Sprouts, a new intern program for future star talent at the undergraduate level. We're delighted at what's taking root at our company.