The key to taking your graduate program to "a whole other level" could be as simple encouraging managers and graduates to grab a coffee together, says Development Beyond Learning director Josh Mackenzie.
Mackenzie's belief that fostering strong relationships between grads and managers is a key to success is based on the widely known principle that while many employees leave managers, not jobs, "they'll often follow managers and leaders to other organisations", he says.
"That's how important those relationships are. So if you can tie those strong relationships into your grad program, that takes the program to a whole other level," he says. All too often, however, HR managers assume these relationships "will be built by themselves... underestimating the impact that those relationships have on the graduates in the first 12 to 18 months".
The manager and the graduate need to accept equal responsibility for building relationships because, just like a personal relationship, it "takes two to tango", says Mackenzie. "Managers need to step up and put the effort into building those relationships but that's not going to be fruitful if the graduates aren't stepping up to the plate as well. So it's really about educating both parties about the importance of it and then helping them and equipping them both with the skills to do that."
One technique Mackenzie strongly advocates is structured coffee coaching. By building opportunities "into the design" of your program, grads can be introduced to the organisation through a program that's "not just about a series of workshops but a series of experiences", he says.
While Mackenzie admits that "as soon as you impose something that is meant to be informal, it's not going to work", he says coffee coaching "definitely needs to be promoted to both the graduates and their managers as a really useful thing to do".
In addition to one-on-one meetings "focused on how the graduate is going and what those two people can do to work even better together", managers might consider meeting with "a handful of graduates" in order to better gauge "how the graduate cohort overall is feeling and what can be done", he says.
While it might be easier for the manager to take the initiative, "there's also nothing to stop graduates in most organisations approaching their managers," Mackenzie says, "or even approaching other managers to sit down and get some feedback or talk about the company".
In cases where managers consider themselves "too busy" to go the extra mile, the problem often lies in ignorance, Mackenzie says. Many are simply unaware of "the bottom-line dollar cost of recruiting, inducting and developing a new graduate into their company", he explains.
It is not enough to simply tell managers that "a lot of time and money" is invested in graduates. Rather, employers should spell out how many dollars per head the program costs the business. Explaining the cost of someone leaving within the first three or four years - and that one of the biggest reasons is the manager they work for or the culture of the company - is important, he says.
Ensuring managers understand the benefits of having strong relationships with grads will pave the way for making it part of the culture, not just the program, Mackenzie says. In some organisations, this will mean departing from the ways of the past. "I think that it is sometimes hard for managers to see the benefit of doing this when they're not having it done for them - because managers and leaders manage and lead based on how they're being managed and led," he says.
"So one way is to make sure that they're getting it as well, but then the other way to continue the ripple effect is for graduates in their second year to play the buddy role to new grads so they're now doing the same thing that was done for them."
Finally, it is important to keep monitoring the strength of the relationships, not only informally, through verbal feedback, but formally through existing processes.
"So at performance review time for the manager, if the company is using the 360-degree feedback model where they're getting feedback from the people that work for them, the people that work with them, and the people that they work for, [seeing] what feedback is showing up there from their team members, which is going to include the graduates, is a great way to measure it."
While it's important to ensure your graduate training program is put together really well, it's arguably more important to have a culture of strong relationships between graduates and their line managers, and graduates and their senior leaders," says Mackenzie. "It's those relationships that will have the greatest influence and those relationships that will retain and engage those graduates longer term."
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