Deb DeHaas didn’t have the vision when she started her career.
Well before she became the vice chairman and Midwest regional managing partner for Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, DeHaas was a 25-year-old kid wondering about her career path.
Fortunately, she had an eye-opening breakfast with a senior
partner at the firm where she was then working.
“We talked about longer-term career opportunities,” she says.
“He put in front of me a vision of what I could accomplish that
was so much bigger than anything I could have seen on my own
at that point in my career, and that has always stayed with me.”
Today, DeHaas is constantly thinking about polishing individual
employees who may not think beyond their immediate ceiling.
That fits well with Deloitte, the U.S. member firm of Deloitte
Touche Tohmatsu, where mentoring is a key function of company culture. With the work force changing, Deloitte is using that
mentoring philosophy to lead a friendly battle.
“There is clearly, I believe, a war for talent,” DeHaas says. “And that
war is only going to continue to be more challenging. So as a business imperative, and as a talent imperative, we have to make sure
we’re the place where the best people are going to be.”
To make sure of that, the professional services firm has created
programs to help put new employees in position to succeed.
Deloitte’s mentoring efforts have seen strong recruiting dividends:
BusinessWeek named it as the No. 1 place to launch a career in
2007. As a result, the firm, which had total U.S. revenue of $9.85 billion in 2007, is seeing talented graduates and professionals show
up at its door.
The more that mentoring process pays off, the more leaders at
Deloitte feed it. DeHaas has made it a top priority with the 5,000
people in her region, taking the lead by making herself a presence
in every employee orientation. Beyond that, she works to give new
staff members personal counselors that can push them in the right
direction and create programs that will keep them from falling
through the cracks.
Help employees get in the door
The lesson DeHaas got from that memorable breakfast taught
her that the one thing often separating top-level performers from
other talented employees is individual mentoring.
Her initiation into Deloitte helped reinforce that principle. After 20
years in another organization, she came to Deloitte roughly six
years ago and realized that even though she had the core competencies needed to succeed, she had to learn a lot about the organization. Fortunately for her, Deloitte paired her with other senior
leaders who became mentors.
“There are so many things that you learn that you don’t even realize
you’re learning, and when you move to another organization, you
have to learn all over again,” she says. “I was extremely fortunate
because I had a number of senior leaders in this organization who
reached out to help me get connected.”
That lesson doesn’t just apply to senior leaders. DeHaas says that every employee coming in has a steep learning curve and a big part
of their end productivity is how you handle their individual initiation.
“We are a big organization, but we always have to take into
account the individual,” she says. “We have to figure out what’s the
right set of things for that individual that will allow them to get
connected. For me it was one set of things, but for someone else it
might be their industry expertise and their involvement with this
particular group of industry leaders.”
The front end of that is for leaders to understand what a transition
into a new organization means for people. DeHaas says you need to
put yourself in front of people and show empathy for their adjustment. Even with 5,000 employees, she still attends every new hire
orientation in her region.
“I literally talk to every person who comes into the organization,”
she says. “And I give them some perspective on the importance of
them getting connected and how they might accomplish that, and
give them my own personal commitment that if they aren’t finding
that path quickly that they need to reach out to me or someone
else to make that happen.”
Even though the orientation sessions occur every other week all
year long, DeHaas makes the time necessary to attend.
“When you say things are important to you, you need to look at
where you spend your time,” she says “I think periodically things
get out of whack, so you say something is important to you, but,
all of the sudden, you look at whatever it is and realize you’re not
giving it the commitment. I just block it off on my schedule every
other Monday as a commitment, and I go down and spend time
with that group.”
Assign career counselors
Though DeHaas makes helping employees in the door a priority
in her schedule, she simply cannot be the main caretaker for 5,000
careers. Instead, after helping frame how important getting
involved in the organization is, Deloitte has a system that applies
two counselors to new employees. First, there is a leader one step
up from the employee who can help involve them and mentor their
immediate career path. The second is a leader a few steps up the
ladder who can help create career aspirations.
“I’d love to think that I could physically touch all these people,”
DeHaas says. “But in a larger organization, we try to make the
world smaller and make sure that everyone has individual attention (from) someone who truly understands what is important to
them and is focused on helping them achieve it.”
Not only do the two levels give more guidance while keeping any
one leader from getting bogged down, but DeHaas says you can give
varying levels of inspiration to the employee with multiple channels.
“There is a lot of value to having access to someone who is a little closer to them and then also someone who might have a little
more experience in the organization and see out a little bit further,”
The lower-level leader works to help create goals for the person
that are tangible and gives daily interaction on projects. For example,
a senior director sits down with a director and goes over the process
of annual goal setting and reviews current work.
“Every person annually goes through a process of setting their
goals, having those reviewed, agreed to and modified if necessary,”
DeHaas says. “There are multiple test points throughout the year
because a lot of the work that we do is project-oriented, so they are
getting that kind of feedback. We really tried to put some things in
place to make sure that we are having ongoing dialogue with our
people and we know how they are progressing.”
Then, like the mentor who helped DeHaas see a broader vision
of her future, she says occasional meetings with a higher leader
help people plan out a little further in their career than they may
have previously considered.
“I was recently having a conversation with [an employee], and we
talked about some of the opportunities available to him,” she says.
“And he said, ‘This has been great because you don’t always have
those people that push you to have this kind of conversation.’”
Not only has DeHaas found both levels of help to be enriching for
the mentor, she says there is a direct correlation between that
effort and the motivation level of employees because those conversations help put the daily grind in perspective.
“It’s pretty easy to just put your head down and be focused on
getting things done day to day when you have a demanding environment,” she says. “Certainly, I can say that there were times in
my career that I was thinking much more about that than the
longer term. But knowing that you have someone who personally
and professionally you trust, you can have that kind of conversation with, I think that’s critical at every stage in your career — but
particularly at those levels when you just don’t have that much
Make retention a daily priority
DeHaas says the final way to help employees get adjusted is to
make sure training and development programs exist to involve
employees in the culture.
In the same way she was helped by teaming up with senior leaders when she entered Deloitte, DeHaas has created different cultural groups. One example is the Generation Y task force — a group of
volunteers that talk about the desires of the new work force. Not
only does the group give her ideas on cultural changes from younger
employees, but it also gives them an outlet for fitting into the firm.
The group has created avenues for getting involved in green initiatives and more community work, which has modernized Deloitte
while giving employees an outlet that benefits the firm.
“It’s always helpful to get feedback from people who see things
from different perspectives,” she says. “Having a group that is looking at the world in a different way than people who have been in
the work force for 10 to 15 years and knowing how important
they’re going to be going forward, makes us more effective.”
To be fair, programs like that don’t just make employees happy
for the sake of making them happy. DeHaas knows that even
though Deloitte has been noted as a great place to start a career,
employees don’t have to stay forever.
“Once you get someone inside your organization, what you’re
really doing is re-recruiting that person every day,” she says. “They
have a choice about whether they are going to work for you or
someplace else, so why do they choose to work for you? It’s
because of the culture and the opportunity to grow and develop.
“It’s really quite simple: It’s all about our people and our clients.
To me, they are completely interrelated. To do the best work for
clients and to achieve client service excellence and differentiate
ourselves in the marketplace, we have to do all those things
around our people, and so it is absolutely a strategic priority.”
Again, DeHaas knows you can’t spend your entire life making
culture a priority. That’s why the most effective route is focusing
on those transition points — new hires, promotions, annual
reviews — and ensuring that leaders allot time to programs for
“You make the time to do the things that are important,” she says.
“I try to figure out those sorts of inflection points that are important with a group of employees or individual employees and make
those interactions happen.”
Overall, DeHaas makes mentoring a daily priority because it
recruits and helps keep employees engaged and motivated. The
added bonus is that focus has created better-trained employees and
had a direct effect on turnover at Deloitte. Turnover percentage,
which was in the mid-20s a decade ago, is down to roughly 15 percent.
“We have made a series of strategic choices, and our people are
at the very top of the list,” DeHaas says. “It really does capture a lot
of mindshare, not only with me but really every sort of person
who’s at a leadership level. I believe where the rubber hits the road
is every single day when we’re in the field doing work, that’s what
in the long term makes the difference in the lives and motivation
of our people.”
HOW TO REACH: Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, (312) 486-1000 or www.deloitte.com