Thursday, September 07, 2006

Investing in The Dream Team: How to Keep The Dream Team Together

This is an article from the September edition of the EuroSTAR Newsletter - STARTester, written by Filip Gydé, CTG, Belgium. You can view the complete newsletter by clicking here and don't forget to subscribe to receive future issues.

CTG is quite proud of the low staff turnover in the company. Thanks to the Competency Development system, among other things, the staff turnover at CTG was only 15.5% in 2005 and only 13.82% in 2004, percentages far below the market average.
CTG is an ICT service company. This means that we implement IT projects for customers, usually at their locations.
This also means that staff in the field often have more intensive contacts with the customer than with their own company. This is a real challenge for a company that is proud of its extraordinary high loyalty levels, both from customers and from staff.

How do you make sure that once you have the right people on board, you can also keep them on board?
How do you turn what is usually a big problem in the service world into a real differentiator in the market?

The answer consists of different ingredients and a recipe that combines these ingredients in the right proportions: a very specific recruitment, a clear strategy, focus on continuous development, a corporate culture based on values, etc.

The real secret consists in making all these matters, which are traditionally labelled as "soft", very tangible and "hard", measure very concretely and follow up the results like a financial ratio. "Put your money where your mouth is", is still a very good test to see whether someone actually means what he says.

In this article I will zoom in on one of the ingredients in the recipe of retention policy; Competency Development (CD). We have developed the Competency Development (CD) system and anchored it in an actual job within the organisation. We can also demonstrate that this is one of the reasons for a low staff turnover: 13.82% in 2004 and barely 15.5 % in 2005, percentages far below the market average.

The Competency Developer is continuously looking for the best match: the right co-worker in the right place, with maximum attention for the career path indicated by the consultant and in line with the customer's expectations and the strategy of CTG itself. The reason is simple: we are convinced that the major reason for someone to change companies is mainly related to the job content, which may no longer be in the co-worker's field of interest, or to the feeling that there are little opportunities to further his/her career. Specifically in these domains, the Competency Development concept provides a great added value.

Role of the Competency Developer at CTG

The Competency Developer, called "CD" in short, assists co-workers in developing their career path. He is responsible for our consultants' competency development and for knowledge management in line with the strategy and business plan of our company. When we are looking for a certain profile for one of our projects with a customer, the CD verifies whether the right match can be found. In some cases we immediately come across an adequate co-worker. Sometimes a certain co-worker almost complies with the requested profile description, but he may qualify even better for the job after an extra training or far-reaching coaching.

One CD is responsible for about 50 consultants. Right from the start the CD builds a relationship of trust with the new consultant. For junior profiles, whose career direction is not yet fully defined, it mainly comes down to "steering". Senior consultants usually have already developed a vision of their own, so the CD's task is rather to hold up a mirror for them and give them regular feedback. The CD encourages everyone to develop both technical and interpersonal skills. The idea is to get all our co-workers to really think along with our company and our customers.

The role of the CD starts with the recruitment and settling-in of new co-workers
The HR department takes care of the first screening of an applicant. During the first interview the recruiter does not speak so much about the applicant's technical skills, but he tries to find out whether the applicant's personality would fit into the company. Which values are important for the applicant and do they correspond to our values? From experience we have learned that this fit is the most important aspect: the values of our company describe our identity and the materialisation of these values shows where we are different from other companies. If you do not match our identity, it won't work in the long run.

From positive advice after this first screening, the Competency Developer enters the picture. In a second interview he will go deeper into the job-related skills of the person, he will also perform a double-check of the personality and probes the expectations in the short, medium and even long term. The CD has to be able to commit our company in terms of these ambitions. It makes no sense to start off with someone if the ambitions are not in line with our organisation's strategy.

Because success usually lies in a good start, the CD plays a key role in introducing the new co-worker in our company. The expectations of both parties – the co-worker and CTG – are continuously aligned.

When a first project has been found for the new co-worker, the CD tells him what the current options are and how this fits into the career path he wants to follow. If he does not know which direction he wants to take, the CD will provide "stepping stones" or get him in touch with others which can help him make his choices.

An evaluation takes place after one month: the customer or our own project manager gives feedback to the CD about the technical and interpersonal skills, either or not in the presence of the consultant himself. If required, action items will be proposed.

Besides lots of informal contacts there are also formal moments: feedback interviews and career interviews

A formal feedback interview is organised twice a year, linked to an evaluation with the customer. Once a year the CD holds a career interview: the set objectives and the relevant competencies are assessed. Action items for the next period are defined. Previous to this interview an Appraisal Review document is sent to the consultants, where they have to give themselves a score for all listed competencies relevant to their situation, with the aim of detecting and discussing possible focal points with the CD.
Junior profiles sometimes feel uneasy about this, but more experienced consultants see it as a real support for their personal competency development. In addition, we also work with 360 degree feedback, an evaluation by the customer and an observation to score competencies and corresponding behavioural indicators.

Continuous development means that the CD plays an active role in the training planning.

The competency system is developed on the basis of 10 "levels". A junior consultant starts in level 1 and can grow towards his field of interest via an evolution in technical and interpersonal skills.

For each level a "must-have" list is available of courses to be attended and skills to be acquired before you can be classified in a certain level. For example, influence skills are very important for the profile of a Project Manager. For the choice of learning activities the consultant's preferred learning style is taken into account, through their own assessment or through experience with results of other learning activities.

Everyone can submit an online application for his or her training schedule, consult the growth in level and the training catalogue, as well as register for learning activities, always in consultation with the CD.

No false promises, but a very concrete investment ... which pays off!

A clearly structured system, as you can see, the "Competency Development". With a proportion of 1 in 50 this means an investment of 10 FTEs for 500 co-workers. Such an investment is not just made out of a conviction, it has to work out financially.

And it does, according to the figures. If a co-worker leaves the company prematurely, you at least have to find a replacement and train him/her; you may also have problems with the current project, and you lose the know-how you gathered ... to name just the 3 largest cost items. All together, when one co-worker leaves, it is likely to cost the equivalent of 6 man months. So, if a Competency Developer makes sure that two people less than the market average leave per year, the investment pays off. I can assure you that the ROI is much higher than that.

The Competency Developer is an important ingredient in the recipe for loyalty. Important, but not the only one. During "Investing in the dream team" in Manchester I will disclose a few more ingredients of our recipe.

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