Talent scout

Push talent forward

A big part of recruiting and keeping top talent has to do with another internal system: promotions. To keep top talent coming and to keep them happy when they arrive, you have to be willing to let people grow into new jobs quickly. Belcher himself is proof that it works, having joined the business in 2005 as the head of operations. He then moved up to chief operating officer before becoming president and, ultimately, CEO. He shares that as part of his pitch both internally and externally.

“I’m not unique on that front; there are many people within our company that have seen an opportunity to do something new and exciting and better within our organization and have personally worked to make that vision become a reality, rolled up their sleeves and subsequently have been rewarded from a career standpoint,” he says.

But most leaders are a bit hesitant to promote people quickly. How do you know who and when to promote? Belcher says you ask people to step up and then you let them do it — but you don’t make a secretary the chief financial officer, you have them take one pay bump at a time.

“We look for individuals who will raise their hand and look for an opportunity to go above and beyond — one step above and beyond — what their current job description might state,” he says.

Once someone has been trained and shows exemplary competence in a new role, there’s no reason to hold them there just for the sake of holding them there.

“They’ll only be constrained by what they’re personally able to accomplish, and we have plenty of examples of people who have come in and been promoted and been promoted many times over within short periods of time,” Belcher says.

Of course, letting people grow up that fast will mean some employees will reach their limits. When that happens, you have to decide what you’ve run into.

“There are two options with somebody who is not able to keep up.” Belcher says. “One is to make sure you don’t promote them beyond their capabilities, and if they’re a valuable, contributing member of the team within their portion of the business, you make sure you don’t pull them out of their comfort zone and into a world where they’re not going to be successful.”

Dealing with that comes back to only considering people who have expressed interest in moving up and, when people are about to move up, having a very frank conversation about what the exact specifications of that job will be.

“Many employees will know when they might be moving out of their comfort level and into an environment which could stretch their own personal professional goals and objectives,” Belcher says. “So when opportunities arise to take on ever-increasing portions of the business or responsibility, we get into a very open dialogue with our employees about what the new challenge would be if they were to take it. We tell them how we would define success in the role, what the expectations of the individual might be, and, really, the more open and frank the dialogue, the greater the chance we have of not taking a situation, which may be working well for the company and one of our team members, and making it into a situation where it’s actually bad for everybody.”

The second issue that you can run into is someone who simply cannot hang with a fast-paced culture.

“Now, if they’re not able to contribute in any way (because) the business is just too rapidly changing and, frankly, too aggressive and ambitious for their liking, part of developing … the hyper growth component is not compromising when a situation is obviously not going to work out,” he says.

But when you’re recruiting wisely and looking to the people stepping up for more work, Belcher says the second problem is uncommon because you won’t make yourself fall in love with an internal candidate when a job opens up.

“Again, I’m probably sounding a little bit like a broken record here, but the way in which a company is able to protect itself best against a scenario where they promote somebody into a position, which is uncomfortable for that employee, is to have good, credible alternatives available,” he says. “We do everything we can to have a great, deep bench of talent whom we’ve known for some time and know us well. So when a specific opportunity arises where we don’t have a match internally, we can engage in a meaningful dialogue in a relatively short period of time with somebody from outside of InnerWorkings.”

How to reach: InnerWorkings Inc., (312) 642-3700 or www.inwk.com