They have alternately been called slackers, technology wizards and “trophy children” with an overabundance of self-esteem. Like it or not, twenty-somethings — often referred to as Generation Y — will eventually become the leaders of the workforce. Accordingly, government contractors are making their best effort to attract, retain and develop these new recruits into the executives of tomorrow.
“Our success hinges on our people — our product doesn’t roll off a production line; it comes from the brains and hearts of the exceptionally talented people who work here,” she said. “We’re committed to the personal and professional development of our staff and offer them an unmatched career opportunity to be their absolute best by doing important work that matters in our communities and to our nation, in collaboration with exceptional colleagues.”
Ruby DeMesme, director of human capital innovative market strategy at Deloitte, frames her company’s approach in terms of respect, a thread that has lasted throughout her career. Before joining Deloitte, DeMesme spent 22 years at the Defense Department, serving as assistant secretary for manpower, reserve affairs, installation and environment for the U.S. Air Force. While in this role, she directed programs affecting more than 2 million of the most respected workers in the United States: active and reserve service members and their families.
“We believe that people are the most important part of the company and as such, everyone must be treated with dignity and respect and provided an opportunity to grow to their full potential,” she said. “They should be provided adequate training, challenging and rewarding assignments, and adequate rewards and compensation.”
“We are certainly a people-oriented company, and that is reflected in our four governing principles, chief among them the one that states, ‘We enable our people to excel.’”
According to Montgomery, employee focus and high-quality results for customers go hand in hand.
“Serco is a service business, which means that our success inherently depends on the person-to-person interaction of our employees with their customers,” he said. “It’s in our interest to attract, retain and develop the very best people because this will help us deliver the best service to those customers.”
To make sure the company is reaching its goals, Montgomery said he follows up with employees periodically.
“Our Viewpoint Survey provides valuable feedback to both first-line managers and senior managers so that we can understand what issues are important to our people and to help us design action plans to address those issues,” he said.
Succession Programs Kept at Top of Mind
As the first of the Baby Boomers turn 65 this year, a retirement wave could leave gaps in the executive ranks. Many GovCon companies are taking the initiative by starting formal succession programs to groom top employees for executive positions.
According to their HR leads, Booz Allen Hamilton and Serco conduct comprehensive talent reviews to make sure the right people are in waiting in the wings to take on leadership positions.
St. Clair said this review allows HR to close gaps in the pipeline in advance and find out what training requirements are needed for the best people to advance.
“The key objective of the process is to establish a holistic view of the firm’s senior talent in terms of performance, potential and readiness,” she said.
Retention is a challenge for some of the youngest talent: A Deloitte study said 60 percent of Generation Y expects to work for more than four employers in their lifetime, with more than half staying in their first jobs for only three to five years.
Countering this, Montgomery said Serco has worked to tailor development plans to keep people on-board.
“We develop specific plans for each leader so that we keep them engaged in their work and give them every incentive to stay with the company,” he added. “Serco is known as a fast-paced, innovative entrepreneurial company, and we have been very successful in retaining these future leaders and meeting their desire for new challenges.”
Deloitte has a number of programs focused on future managers, including Deloitte University, which the company is building with the goal of growing the best leaders worldwide.
“In addition, we offer several senior fellows positions for junior executives to work with senior leaders of the firm and with C-suite clients,” DeMesme said.
Generations Working Hand in Hand
At Deloitte and Booz Allen Hamilton, formal mentorship programs are a mainstay of their leadership development programs. According to St. Clair, this is for good reason.
“For me, personally, many managers and mentors have helped me develop over the years and all leaders are expected to give back to help others,” she said.
St. Clair said Booz Allen Hamilton has an online tool called Mentor Match to help staff identify from whom they would like to learn.
“Further, one of our employee resource groups, the Rising Leaders Forum, is a community [that] fosters professional development opportunities and gives young leaders exposure to our senior leaders,” she added.
Training opportunities are also a favored way to keep employees growing — and keep their interest.
“Last year, we launched the Serco Business Academy, a free online resource of some 3,000 business-related courses that enables an employee to enroll in a course and then study at his or her own pace,” Montgomery said.
DeMesme said Deloitte uses friendly competition to keep its employees engaged, while simultaneously building skills and working relationships.
“We sponsor Innovation Solutions Tournament competitions that encourage our young employees to hone their skills in visioning, designing and marketing solutions for our clients,” she said. “We also provide champions and senior sponsors for our communities of practice where employees elect to participate in a shared-interest group.”
St. Clair added many of her company’s training courses are tailored to younger employees, allowing them to “drive their own careers.”
“Our career-development courses cover topics such as career self-assessment, talking with your manager about your career, and networking,” she said. “Every month, we host a firmwide webcast on a key development topic such as mentoring, developing your career brand or communication skills.”
According to Montgomery, Serco targets its development programs to working groups to help them better share information and learn from one another. For example, the company has aimed a number of initiatives toward program managers.
Serco has launched Project Management Professional training courses for those who want to become certified PMPs, a Program Management Community of Practice to encourage collaboration and networking of PMs across the company. It is the first-ever PM Virtual Conference to provide key resources for managers, and the “PM News You Can Use” newsletter helps keep managers better informed on important developments and tools, Montgomery said.
Expanding Technology and Community Focus
Many companies have worked on catering toward a younger generation by bringing on new technology practices, community activities and more.
“As a consulting firm, we are well suited to engaging staff in multiple projects with clients in different markets, and Gen Y values variety and diversity in their work experiences,” St. Clair said, adding the company’s youngest employees have helped to shape the company culture.
“Gen Y thrives in social networking, and our intranet site, hello.bah.com is the central way we communicate with one another, whether it’s to exchange ideas and blog or share project and team resources,” she added.
Younger staff especially appreciates Booz Allen’s “Way We Work” initiative that aligns staff, unless they’re at a client site, to work at the location nearest their home and hotel at other locations as needed, St. Clair said.
DeMesme said Deloitte has a comprehensive approach to Generation Y, from attracting the right people to keeping them. Her firm provides a number of incentive programs and awards for younger employees, including tuition assistance.
“We actively recruit young talent through our college and university career recruiting programs; provide workplace flexibility for our employees; offer excellent leave and training programs, and ensure that our technology and tools are cutting edge and available to our employees,” she said.
St. Clair advised younger workers to seize all opportunities to enhance their future careers.
“We’re committed to fostering the kind of work environment where you can plant your roots and grow,” she said. “In my first 10 years here, my job changed every 12 to 18 months, pretty significantly. Being willing to take those risks and demonstrating my fungibility really helped propel me forward in our environment.” ♦