Remember when staying in a job for less than a few years was considered a stain on your resume? That’s no longer the case. By one recent estimate, the average length of time people now spend in a given role is just a little over two years among workers ages 25–39. And who can blame them? Baseless millennial stereotypes notwithstanding, it’s people earlier in their careers who tend to fill lower-level positions, which typically involve at least a few unexciting tasks. I’ve noticed entry-level employees at my own company getting anxious to take the next step in their careers even sooner than they’d used to. Many of our sales reps now start eyeing their next internal moves after just six to eight months.
Not that I’m complaining. Far from flaky and unreliable, people who cycle through jobs tend to be fast-learning, ambitious high-performers who don’t shy away from a challenge–exactly the kind of people you want on your team. Keeping them around long enough to maximize that potential is the real challenge. As soon as your new hire gets in the door, the clock starts ticking on the time it will take them to start looking for their next opportunity, especially if they’re exceptional.
So lately I’ve had to think creatively about ways to keep new hires engaged while extending their professional lives inside the company. Here are a few methods we’ve come up with.
Break roles into tiers
The most employee movement we see here at Vidyard is in our sales department. As with a lot of front-line jobs, it’s hard to keep this area dynamic because sales isn’t necessarily a role where you can rotate people through varied projects, like we do with our developers. So instead we’ve introduced tiers to certain sales positions, transparent step-ups that come with added responsibilities and pay. Importantly, these aren’t promotions out of a role that somebody has only started to master. Rather, we’re building discrete new functions into that role.
A higher-level tier might include new responsibilities like mentoring newer hires, taking on bigger accounts, or shadowing more senior team members. Yet each new level comes with commensurate pay increases to reflect the advancement.
Having clear tiers for sales jobs lets our new hires see from the outset that they’re never “stuck” in an entry-level role, and it shows them exactly what they need to do to make it to the next level. They get the support and encouragement to add to their skill sets while also getting better at selling–the critical function they were hired for. For now, we’ve limited this “slice-and-dice” approach to sales, where there are clear, repeatable duties. But it’s not hard to see how it could be useful elsewhere.
Ask ambitious employees to self-assess
As any manager knows, dealing with an employee who’s pushing for a promotion before they’re ready can be a tricky (and common) situation. The challenge is to be realistic without dismissing their desire to advance. Simply telling someone they’ll have to stay put will only breed resentment and accelerate a move–likely outside your company.
So we’ve tried to develop what I think of as a readiness pulse-check. Flip the tables and give eager team members a chance to assess their own readiness for a promotion (or lack thereof). A little while ago, one new hire joined Vidyard as a “concierge,” helping direct customer inquiries to the right place, but his heart was set on getting into sales. When he pleaded with me after just a couple months to make the move, I assigned him some homework: I asked him to spend some time with other leaders in the company to learn exactly what his dream job entailed.
He soon realized he still had some work to do, but he now knew exactly which skills and qualifications he’d need to move forward. Within little more than a year, he successfully made the switch and has continued to move up the ranks. In fact, using this same approach, he went on to segue into a product manager role, where he’s in charge of bringing our tools from ideation to market.
Putting the onus on your ambitious employees to figure out whether they’re truly ready for the next step is a great way to give them some control over their career paths. Some may resent the perceived roadblock. But those that rise to the occasion will be doubly dedicated to their jobs, and double their value to you by learning more about how the company works.
Experiment with swaps and loans
Indeed, sometimes the best ways to keep team members happy is to encourage internal mobility across functional areas. Jumping to a new role or department can revitalize enthusiasm and preserve institutional know-how while also busting up silos.
We recently began experimenting with a loaner program to let employees cross departmental lines in their work, something that other tech companies have been doing for years. Right now, our initiative is admittedly small and operating on a four-month trial, but I’m excited to see where it leads in the future. Other times a change of scenery is all it takes to renew someone’s enthusiasm for their job. We have a satellite office in another city on the West Coast, and we’ve had a few team members request to make the move. While this doesn’t always entail a change in job description, the shift in setting is often a welcome change, with the added benefit of strengthening our company culture through cross-pollination between offices.
In my opinion, keeping a good employee for many years is important; it’s the goal of every great leader I know. The key is to creating a climate where people hungry to amass new skills can genuinely see a path forward. In the end, a stifled, inflexible workplace only leads to the exodus of your best and brightest. The earlier you start thinking about where your newest hires might be headed, the sooner you’ll start seeing them maximize their potential and make your organization stronger–no matter how long they’re there.