By Sarah Nicastro, Future of Field Service
Gone are the days that field technicians would gladly stay in their same role for ten, fifteen, even twenty or more years. Today, retention of talent is increasingly important – and the approach must be far more intentional and layered than what retention demanded in years past. When we talk about what is imperative for retention in today’s talent landscape, one of the topics that often arises is career development strategies.
Career development strategies can help to keep employees engaged, give them opportunities for promotion or growth so that they see a future with the company beyond what they’re currently doing, and allow your business to map various talents, skills, and drive to not only different roles within field service and service at large, but throughout the company. In fact, many organizations have begun using field service as a way to bring in and nurture talent to feed into other areas of service as well as sales, product, operations and beyond.
A focused career development program can attract younger workers to an organization because it makes them feel empowered to take the lead of their own career journey. I spoke to Jennifer Morehead, CEO of human resource outsourcing and consulting firm Flex HR, about ways companies can improve career development initiatives, even at smaller service organizations that may not have a lot of traditional paths for promotion.
How do you define career development?
I think that when you are looking at a job description and you hire someone for that job, you want to be continuously mindful of all the elements that are required within that job. That way, you can train and continue to train your employees for all the different elements mentioned in that job description.
Look at the organizational chart of your company and think about who shows promise in terms of perhaps moving into management at some point. Think about what may be ahead for them and train them on those duties as well. That really gets to career development. Honestly, if an employee stays on a fairly similar track in your company, and maybe they stay in one position for a long time, there are a lot of changes in every industry in terms of technology and how we work with clients. There are things they need to be trained on even if they are not moving up, or if you need them to stay where they are.
What are some mistakes you see companies make when it comes to career development?
Mainly it is not offering development. The new generation of employees coming to our workforce is very interested in training. They want to know more, and they want to learn more.
That's a challenge for people running a business. It is already challenging to meet the needs of your clients. It's easy to get into a mode of thinking an employee is doing a good job, and you don't need to train them anymore.
I would challenge business owners to say no, your employees really want that training and will look for it one way or another, so it might as well be you providing that training to them.
What are some ways you have seen organizations successfully embed this idea into their company culture?
I think the process that allows for it to happen includes one-on-one meetings with every manager and their direct reports on a regular basis, ideally weekly. You have a meeting to understand where the employee is, their mindset, how happy they are in the company, what they do need in terms of development, where do they feel like they are not being trained enough. That cycles up to an executive manager meeting that should be once or twice a week.
Look at who is ready for a promotion. If we need this person out in the field because they are so good, how do we get them into a training role where they are training their coworkers? In a small company, anything under 200 people, there are a lot of opportunities where you can create these positions for people that are incredibly customized for them, where they can feel like they have more responsibility or have more autonomy in what they are doing.
Let’s have this person train his colleagues in customer service, maybe give them a bonus to do that. There are lots of ways to be creative in terms of career development in a small business. It may not be as vertically aligned as in a larger company, but you can be creative in terms of ways you give leadership opportunities to your people.
How do you incorporate development into performance reviews?
I would nominate a few people in your business to put the performance reviews together. But a performance review is less important than the one-on-one meeting where you are giving feedback specifically and in real time.
We are not in an economy as employers who are desperate to find employees, where we can sit there and go a whole year and give them a two out of a five score and expect them not to quit. You have to be nuanced about it. The real feedback comes in the regular meeting where most of the time should be spent focusing on positive feedback. You talk about what they are doing well, and then point out what they can improve on.
You need to acknowledge and appreciate all the things they do right. Employees really want to be seen. They want to be acknowledged for the good work they are doing.
How can companies identify candidates internally for promotion or advancement?
I think a lot of people in a small organization who are going to be promoted potentially are not going to have had management experience. Just because they are a good employee doesn't mean they are automatically going to be a good manager. The person promoting them needs to understand that. Things you are looking for are the ability to be comfortable while being uncomfortable. You have to step outside of your comfort zone. You have to think on your feet and look for a problem-solving attitude. While you are teaching your staff to be problem solvers and investigators, you watch to see who is really showing that talent. Look for employees who are bringing new issues to you with solutions attached. That is someone who can succeed well in a manager role.
What about employees who are happy in their roles? How do you encourage development, when promotion really isn't part of their plan?
I think you have to look individually at what makes them tick. What motivates them? If it motivates them to work a straight-eight and go home and not think about anything outside of work., that's a great employee in 2023. They enjoy doing what they do, do a good job, but don't have aspirations for growth. You can still get in front of them with different ideas or maybe you create on your own a customer service training program.
When we talk about walking into a customer's home in 2024, what's new? A lot of people are working from home. How do we get in there and provide service without disturbing them? Be mindful and thoughtful of what we are seeing out there and how we can coach our people with this, so they aren't left in a lurch when they are on a job site.
What is important for them? What gets on their nerves? We can be proactive and get in front of that before they quit in a year. They might want to see nice solid wage growth if they do a good job. Maybe they don't want to deal with issues outside of working hours. You can continue to sell to them, so they know there are growth opportunities available to them if they are interested down the road, while letting them know you are happy to have them where they're at right now from a work standpoint.
You can also find responsibilities outside of the main technical work they are doing where they can have some leadership – like organizing charitable work or company events.
You can also have company-wide employee engagement meetings where you ask what kinds of training they would like. What do they want to see? Just having that open communication with employees can uncover a lot of opportunities.