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Sandra Wiley
Sandra Wiley

The first steps for fast-tracking top talent

Start by reworking the org chart, then move on to developing salary ranges and installing a performance management system.

May 23, 2013
By Sandra Wiley

Over the past few years, a theme has been emerging as I work with firms on strategic planning, leadership development, and team strengthening.  That theme—how to fast-track top talent within a firm—now is the top challenge for almost all my clients.

We see the amazing talent appearing at the intern and new staff levels. We recognize the new managers who have a passion for the profession and want to “get moving” on higher level clients and learn the ins and outs of the profession from the current partner group. We understand the importance of helping these rising stars jump-start their career development. But just how do we do that?

Here’s a look at the initial steps firm leaders need to take to be ready to fast-track a team member:

1. Start with the organizational chart. Even in a small to midsize firm, your staff needs to see that developing skills and knowledge leads to advancement. As such, you need a structure that shows how employees can move to a higher level within the firm if they develop new capabilities. You may have no one in some of the “boxes” at first, but establishing the structure is important. 

2. Develop position expectations. The job description is the next stop in your journey. A written job description with technical, business management, client relations, practice development, team development, personal development, personal productivity, management, and leadership skills should be developed for each position in the firm. Customize the job description to fit your culture. The more precise the job description, the more usable it will be as you apply it to individual team members in the firm.

3. Develop salary ranges. This step is often missed due to a lack of knowledge or simply because it seems overwhelming. But spending time on this step will save you hours of painful conversations in the future. Take the time to use industry surveys, local surveys, and online resources to develop an entry, median, and high point in each of the positions at the firm. This tool will be very valuable in future steps of the process.

4. Identify a true compensation award system. This is an important factor for top talent. Star performers will often wonder whether performing in a particular way will actually be a benefit to them. The answer should be yes, and a policy for compensation should be something that you show them in a tangible and written form. 

5. Coach top talent on performance. Top leadership prospects want to be challenged. But that does not happen if they are sitting in a cubicle all by themselves. Firms need to spend time on coaching so potential stars can learn from more experienced team members.

6. Develop a performance management system. The foundation now is in place, but you need one more thing to really motivate the amazing staff members in your firm: A performance management system. There are multiple technology systems available to consider. Once you have picked one, your process should include:

  • The initial conversation to set goals and expectations for the year ahead.
  • Regular conversations about performance throughout the year. I recommend having them at least quarterly.
  • A space on the network or within the system to add notes about performance issues (good or bad) as they occur. This should be open to the supervisor and the employee. 

Developing this foundation enables top talent to see the firm’s expectations and their path for promotion. It also allows top talent to benefit from the experience and wisdom of leaders in the firm. Taken together, these moves make a great first step for igniting the fire in your firm’s up-and-comers.

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Sandra Wiley is COO of Boomer Consulting in Manhattan, Kan., in Manhattan, Kan., and is a regular speaker on topics such as team building, talent development, and performance improvement.