VIEWPOINT: Cultivate your young talent for success

April 16, 2007

When was the last time you gave someone a break? I don't mean the last time you stopped your car to let a convention attendee safely cross the street. Think back to the last time you made a difference in someone's career-a young person's career. The truth is, you probably manage at least one younger employee who is eager for a break, a promotion or a little more autonomy. Maybe you tried to give your up-and-comer a project to run with, but you ultimately reclaimed a bit of that free rein to be on the safe side. Perhaps you have already convinced yourself that the young person is not ready. This is not the right time for that break in his or her career.

Enter Indiana's own chicken-and-egg problem. Attracting new companies to our state is a key to the success of our economic development initiatives. The other key is attracting and retaining young talent. The companies want to know the talent is here, and the talent wants to know the companies are here. And they both probably want mountains or oceans, but that's just too bad.

So what can we offer? Economic incen tive packages are a big weapon, and we are not afraid to use them. Our lower cost of living is a great feather in our cap. Excellent schools and a thriving and accessible art and cultural scene also set us apart. There is, however, one additional and important incentive that our companies, not-for-profit organizations, and city and state commissions can offer: the chance to be a leader before the age of 40.

The question stands. When was the last time you gave someone a break? When was the last time you actively managed your young talent's professional development? When was the last time you created a new role on a team project for them? When was the last time you opened a seat at the decision-making table? When was the last time you stepped outside your comfort zone and trusted your young talent with a big responsibility? When was the last time you put them on the steep side of a learning curve? When was the last time you gave your young talent the opportunity to amaze you?

There will never be a substitute for hard work, but there is a complement to it-professional development. If you have hardworking young employees, they will learn more and they will learn faster if you take an interest in them. Cultivate their strengths and address their weaknesses. Provide them with a basket of meaningful responsibility and do not be afraid to add to it.

Feel free to add guidance, support and advice to that basket as well. Expose your young talent to as many people inside and outside the company as possible. Let them witness successful meetings. Let them witness disasters as well. An employee gets an endless stream of tasks to complete and then loses interest. Young talent gets exposure. Whom do you have working for you?

If you can't give your young talent the help they need to develop professionally, pair them with a colleague who can. Perhaps that person is outside your company. If you see a clear connection between your young talent and someone in your industry, make the introduction. If you have been asked to sit on a board but don't have time, offer that opportunity to your young professional instead.

It is imperative that we create an environment where young talent can thrive. If we become known as a place where young, talented people can take leadership roles and contribute, what else can we be known for later? But if we tell the young talent to wait, they might go contribute somewhere else. And if the young talent leave in search of more responsibility, will the new companies come?

Chavers is executive director of Indy Hub, a resource for young professionals to become involved and invested in Indianapolis and the central Indiana area.
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