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Chapter 6: Launch & Build Your Expanded Talent Strategy

This blog post is a DRAFT chapter for a book being published by Origami Works Foundation. We will correct inaccuracies in the final book version. If you identify any inaccuracies, please let us know using this Feedback Form.


So you’ve explored options for engaging with the workforce ecosystem, and selected at least one strategy, and a business services partner. Now what? You may be wondering --


  • What steps are important as you begin?

  • How can you maximize the chances of meeting the goals you’ve identified?

  • Once you’ve achieved some success, how can you build on that? 


This chapter focuses on launching and building your expanded talent program. You’ll get some useful tips to get started, and then advice on how to build on your efforts, especially when it comes to laying a strong foundation with your business services partner.


Get Started


Now that we've explored inspiring possibilities for enhancing your talent strategy, it's time to take that exciting first step. This section is your go-to guide for navigating the initial phases of implementation. 


We'll show you how to --


  • Begin by employing a "Start Small(ish)" mindset

  • Prepare and support supervisors

  • Establish a regular communication plan  


Start Small(ish)


Expanding your talent strategy may seem like a monumental task. That's where the wisdom of starting small comes into play. As Sarah Brown of Virgin Hotels advises, "Inclusive hiring as a goal can feel like a lot to take on, especially for small businesses. So, start small and find a couple of connections with others who have had success." 

“We started with one restaurant before expanding. Then we appointed internal champions, sharing success stories to build trust.” - Christine Hill, Director of Recruiting at Lettuce Entertain You

Another way to start small is to work with an agency that places “temp to hire” employees. It’s a way to get to know a partner and its participants without committing to the long term until your organization is ready. 


Another option is "paid work experience" programs. Tom Vranas at Zentro Internet has worked with partners Youth Job Center and National Able get temporary help at zero cost. Wages for up to 400 hours (16 weeks) are reimbursed by Cook County. There is some time investment required - a training plan at the front end, and then proof that training was completed - but Tom describes it as "not a very onerous process."


Take a look at the strategy goals that you developed in the last chapter. Is there a goal that presents an opportunity to take a small first step? If nothing is jumping out at you, reach out to your business services partner and ask for their advice. Remember: they’ve been doing this for a long time and have helped other employers like you, so leverage their expertise whenever possible.


Starting small isn't a limitation; it's a strategic move that allows you to test the waters, learn, and organically grow your expanded talent strategy. Consider embracing the notion of "Start Small(ish)" as a powerful catalyst for meaningful change within your organization.  


Prepare and Support Supervisors 


No matter what their direct role is in the hiring process, preparing and supporting supervisors is a critical element to a successful talent strategy. Line managers play a key role in orchestrating the onboarding process, nurturing professional growth, and cultivating an inclusive workplace culture. 

“Prioritize effective people management, supporting individual success, and starting small for quality over quantity.” Christine Hill, Director of Recruiting at Lettuce Entertain You

On the flip side, a lack of buy-in from supervisors can make your goals impossible to reach. Getting that buy-in requires intentional and thoughtful effort. According to Mandee Polonsky of Northwestern Medicine, “Our main challenge with partners is getting our hiring managers fully on board. … Hiring managers play a key role, so their cooperation is crucial.” 


Avoid stumbling blocks by thinking ahead. Here are some strategies, including insights from those who've been through this phase of program implementation before. 


First, think about the needs and possible concerns of supervisors, and empathize with their position. What do they care about? What might worry them? For example, if the partner suggests removing the requirement of a cover letter for a position, talk with the partner and supervisor about other ways the supervisor can get to know the applicants beyond their resume or application.


In planning conversations with supervisors, think through the following questions. We are including sample answers from a sample organization and partner.


Q: Who are the supervisors that will be affected?

A: Kevin, Shay, and Angel


Q: What's changing for this group as a result of our partnership with a business services partner?

A: Will be getting candidates from Chicago Collaborative. Cover letters no longer required to apply. 


Q: What key talent issues are these supervisors looking to solve?

A: Fill open positions. Maintain high level of service.  


Q: What are some key concerns these supervisors have regarding this new strategy?

A: Lack of time - will hiring from this source take more time? How do I gauge true interest in the role without a cover letter? If we hire from this partner, will managing employees from this source take more time, or will service quality be negatively impacted?


Once you’ve thought through supervisors’ likely concerns, consider what you need to discuss and communicate. Be sure to involve supervisors and ask for their input, rather than just informing them. Continuing with the case study above, you might plan a discussion with supervisors that includes these topics -- 


  • Reasons you would like to establish this new source of talent 

  • Why you recommend this partner; information about your partner’s successes with other employers; individual success stories. 

  • The kinds of support offered post-hire by the partner that can reduce supervisor time and stress 

  • Ways the application process might be different in minor ways (because of previous vetting by the partner) 

Handy Hack: While it’s important to be open and transparent about what is happening and why, be careful not to over-stress the differences between these candidates and those from other sources. Heather Ronnow of Kronos Foods says, "We worked with the supervisors of these students to make them aware of their circumstances. We didn't want to say this is a special group that is coming in with special needs. It was more about conveying that we're working with an agency that's helping us find talent, and they're traveling a long way, and we want to make it worth your while and their while to attend to the issues they have in making their way out here."

In all communications, emphasize that you are starting small(-ish), and that supervisors’ feedback will be heard and addressed. Establish a feedback loop for supervisors to share insights on the effectiveness of your expanded talent initiatives. Make sure supervisors feel comfortable reaching out with questions, concerns, or seeking guidance. Open communication channels help in maintaining a smooth and stress-free transition for everyone involved.


Also, make sure that encouraging messages are coming from higher-up leadership as well as the talent or human resources division. Leadership support can make or break a program. 

“BMO’s program received unwavering commitment from our head of distribution and branch system, Carolyn Booth. She views the BMORE initiative as an important alignment with our commitment to Zero Barriers to Inclusion. Transparent communication between partners, the program and retail leadership has been key to its ability to scale and better reflect the communities the bank serves.” - Julie Garfield, BMO

With appropriate attention to the needs and concerns of supervisors, leaning on leadership, and employing the wisdom from those who've been there, you are laying a strong foundation for success with your expanded talent strategy.

 

Establish Regular Communication 


To ensure success of your partnership, it’s best to immediately establish a regular communication cadence between your team and your business services partner. Predictable communication channels between your organization and the partners(s) with whom you are working is not just a beneficial practice; it's a cornerstone for success. 


Mandee Polonsky, drawing from her experience at Northwestern Medicine, recommends bi-weekly calls with partners. Routine check-ins provide a forum for discussing candidate progress, identifying those moving forward, addressing support needs, and tackling unforeseen issues. 


You’ll need a consistent contact person along with a regular schedule. Nicollette Cuttell of Best Buddies Illinois points out the significance of having "a point person we can communicate with for check-ins and to provide supervision, especially during the onboarding process." This proactive approach allows for an even flow of feedback between all parties.

Handy Hack: If you’re starting small, regular bi-weekly meetings might seem like overkill. But having a discussion on the calendar provides space to address anything that might come up, and it beats needing to gauge everyone’s availability and find time to connect. You can always cancel a meeting that isn’t needed, which is much easier than trying to schedule one in an urgent situation. 

Recognizing the inevitability of team member turnover, it's also wise to consider this advice from Mandee: Include more than one point of contact from your organization. Here’s a great place to involve one or more line supervisors. This proactive approach not only promotes engagement and investment, it mitigates the impact of personnel changes and maintains the continuity of communication. 


Establishing regular check-ins sets up a partnership for growth, which we’ll cover next. 


Build On Success

Okay, your first foray into leveraging the workforce ecosystem is bearing some fruit. This section covers two straightforward ways to grow: Add positions, and add training programs.


Add Positions 

Once you have at least one hiring success story, you might be ready to share additional open roles with your business services partner. Think of the time you’ll save if you can return to a trusted partner who already knows the needs and preferences of your organization when it’s time to hire. 

"It starts with one person. We’ve hired over 30 individuals with disabilities and more than 30 returning citizens or justice-involved individuals. Both of those programs started with just one person, and it created the success story, which led to us expanding these programs across our entire system." Jerry Baake, Advocate Aurora Health

Keep in mind that you can tap a business services partner for positions beyond entry level. Recall that this book has already cited examples of attorneys, project managers, coders, and other higher level roles. Tom Vranas of Zentro Wireless noticed that many of his most successful hires had similar program participation in their background, and opened up more positions for folks from those programs. “At that point, I reached out to those organizations directly and began forming relationships with them to consistently source candidates,” says Tom.

“A key challenge for employers engaging with the workforce system is overcoming misconceptions. It’s often viewed as merely a source of entry-level employees, dismissing its broader capabilities. The system isn't just for unemployment or low-paying jobs. We want employers to see the real worth and variety the workforce system brings, and move past old stereotypes.” George Wright, CEO, The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership

Add Training Programs

If your organization has seen success with pre-employment or on-the-job training provided by a partner, maybe there is another set of skills to be learned, or a different group of employees who could benefit from learning opportunities. 


Pete’s Fresh Market first partnered to train front-line customer service team members, and then expanded to English language skills and training for supervisors. National Tube Supply built on its initial efforts until its reimbursements from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) added up to real money that affected the bottom line. 

“We have been awarded approximately $30k in WIOA funding and countless thousands of dollars in on-the-job training money. We have developed an ongoing high school partnership with students coming in for part time work and have hired at least 6 justice impacted employees.” Kraig Kistinger, Director of Human Resources, National Tube Supply 

While setting up a first training program with a partner is likely to take some time and effort, additional forays into this area will be quicker and easier. So consider identifying how your organization can benefit from partner and government support to lift skills and performance, benefiting everyone both now and in the long term.


Measure and Monitor Results

When managing an expansive talent strategy, gathering metrics and analyzing results enables you to decide whether your efforts are bearing fruit. It also guides you on your quest towards continuous improvement. As your organization cultivates and (hopefully) expands its relationship with a partner, keeping a watchful eye on outcomes remains paramount. 


Choose Your Metrics

When deciding what to measure, start by revisiting your initial goals. Then consider how you would decide whether you are meeting those goals.


Handy Hack: Project yourself Into a future where you are saying, "Wow, our expanded talent program has been super-successful!" How would you know that? What numbers would you be showcasing to leadership?

Julie Garfield, Distribution Community Impact Initiatives Manager at BMO, emphasizes the power of BMO’s program dashboard. The dashboard shows fiscal year hires, diversity data for inclusive recruitment, and retention statistics. This holistic view lets her provide regional leaders with detailed information on retention, hiring, and promotions. The organization’s emphasis on promotions aligns with its broader goal of not only hiring, but also developing and retaining staff.


Fun Fact: BMO's focus on one-year retention rates demonstrates how measurement can lead to improvement. BMO has seen its one-year retention rate in a challenging front-line position climbed nearly 20 percentage points in 3 years, a positive trend that promotes ongoing commitment to its program. 

Here are some metrics used by different organizations --

Organization

Metric

Source

Virgin Hotels

Employee demographics

Surveys (two times per year)

Northwestern Medicine

Recruitment demographics

HR systems

BMO

One-year retention rates by position

HR systems

Chicago Housing Authority

On-the-job performance and employability skills of summer interns

Survey administered by One Summer Chicago organization

National Tube Supply

On-the-job training reimbursements and training cost offset 

Dollars received from WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) 


Include Data From Partners

In addition to interrogating their own systems and teams, employers can leverage measurements implemented by their business services partners. Ebony Campbell of the Chicago Housing Authority uses One Summer Chicago’s impact survey, which gauges program participants’ on-the-job performance and employability skills. 

Fun Fact: One Summer Chicago brings together government institutions, community-based organizations and companies to offer employment and internship opportunities to youth and young adults. They engaged 20,544 participants in 2022 alone!

Corneisha Fowler at Cara Collective underlines a key measure of success across all employers—its one-year retention rate, standing at an impressive 65% for participants. An agency might be able to provide useful statistics for your organization, and you can compare it to that benchmark - is your organization beating the average, or is there room for improvement? 


Monitoring results is a journey of continuous improvement, where each metric is a stepping stone toward a more impactful and transformative talent strategy. 


Grow a Partnership 


Like all business relationships, there are best practices for nurturing and sustaining an ongoing collaboration with a business services partner. According to Bianca De Rango, formerly at Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC), “Our most successful partners demonstrate effort and intentionality in maintaining an ongoing relationship.” Here are some ways to put that philosophy into action. 


In this section, we'll explore key pillars to ensure the longevity and effectiveness of your initiative -- 


  • Get together and collaborate

  • Communicate with intention

  • Invest time in relationships


With these steps, you can nurture a partnership that grows, evolves, and leaves a lasting impact. 


Get Together and Collaborate 


If you started small(-ish), and followed the advice in the previous section, you may already have regular meetings with your partner, supervisor(s), and other stakeholders in place. As your program expands, you might want to re-examine the cadence and content of those collaboration opportunities. 

“I truly believe in workforce development and in our partnership. I’m not going to be perfect and neither will they. Only by talking to each other can we figure out how to be better.” Kraig Kistinger, Director of Human Resources, National Tube Supply

Whether quarterly, biannually, or tied to specific milestones, these meetings serve as crucial checkpoints. They shine a light on potential roadblocks and create a dedicated space for collaborative problem-solving, ensuring that the partnership remains agile and responsive to evolving needs. 


Here are some topics to consider for your regular check-ins -- 


  • Current Activities: Discuss ongoing activities, how they're unfolding, and any exciting developments.

  • Spotlight on Individuals: Discuss specific individuals who've been placed or are in training. How are they doing? Any shining stars ready for promotion? Are there challenges that need individual attention?

  • Review Those Numbers: Discuss number of referrals, placements, retention rates, or any other metrics you are tracking. (See ideas in the “Measure and Monitor Results” section, above.) 

  • Marching Toward Goals: Track progress on mutual goals. Strategize on any roadblocks or needed course corrections, and don't forget to celebrate milestones along the way! 

  • Capturing Lessons Learned: As you expand your talent strategy, make sure you're not just moving forward but also taking a moment to gather some wisdom along the way.

  • Navigating Labor Landscape Changes: Share insights on shifts in the labor landscape that might impact your needs. What is the unemployment rate in your area? How has average compensation changed? Are there evolving regulations around paid time off, minimum wage, or other factors?

  • Brainstorming Next Steps: What's next on the horizon? Use this shared time and momentum to make plans for the next set of goals. 


Active listening is crucial. Ebony at the Chicago Housing Authority observes, "Our most successful employer partners excel in active listening. They understand and respond to the aspirations and needs of our youth participants." 


Communicate With Intention


If your talent strategy is to succeed and grow, people need to know about it. It can help to clarify your communication aims, and then make a plan. Here's your cheat sheet for keeping lines open and fostering the success of your program. 


First, think through the answers to these questions --


  1. Who needs to know about expanded talent efforts? 

  2. What are key messages and discussion topics for each audience? 

  3. How should we communicate key messages & enable discussion? 

  4. When and how often should this communication occur? 

  5. Who is responsible for producing or facilitating the communication item? 


Then, convert those answers into a clear plan. Here’s a sample of a simple communication plan.


Sample Communication Plan

Audience

Key Messages / Discussion Topics

Communication Item

Cadence / When

Responsible

Line supervisors of front-line staff

Agenda for upcoming partnership review meeting; invitation to add items to agenda

Email: Partnership review meeting reminder

Bi-weekly, every other Tuesday

Suzanne (Talent)

Partner contact, line supervisors, talent rep

Current Activities

Recent Hires

Metrics Review

Goals Review

Lessons Learned

Labor Forecasts 

Next Steps

Virtual meeting: Partnership review meeting

Bi-weekly, every other Thursday

Suzanne (Talent)

Leadership team

Progress toward goals

Challenges 

Next steps 

Q&A

Email with 2-3 powerpoint slides attached: Results report

Quarterly, at quarterly department meeting

Kevin (Supervisor)

Blog followers

Success story with featured team member (mix of partner referrals and employees referred in other ways) 

Blog post (with social media shares): Hiring or retention or promotion success story 

Two times per year - January and July

Shawnette (Communications)

All team members

Success story with featured team member (mix of partner referrals and employees referred in other ways) 

Link to blog post (above) 

Two times per year - January and July

Shawnette (Communications)

Customers

Success story with featured team member (mix of partner referrals and employees referred in other ways) 

Customer newsletter article: Highlights from blog post (above)

Two times per year - January and July

Shawnette (Communications)

Here are a few additional tips for making your communication strategy effective -- 


  • In all your communications, think about sharing stories, which are more powerful than mere facts. 

  • When you do have stories to share, share them on various platforms—internal newsletters, social media, and beyond. These real-life narratives connect with potential hires, clients, and the community at large.

  • Quantify the impact you’re producing. If your practices have led to improved retention rates, productivity boosts, or a more dynamic work culture, share those metrics.

  • Go beyond your own walls. Connect with the local community by sharing stories of how your organization is growing a diverse and thriving team. 


Sharing information and success stories isn't just about showcasing your successes; it's about fueling your overall strategy. Every share is a step towards fewer talent headaches along with a more inclusive, diverse, and dynamic workplace. So, go ahead, flaunt those victories, and keep the momentum rolling! 


Invest Time In Relationships 


A winning strategy goes beyond immediate results. It's all about building meaningful partnerships that are built over time. 


Bianca De Rango at Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC) stresses that successful relationships require effort and intentionality. Partners who go the extra mile by exchanging time and resources in mutually beneficial ways truly stand out. From facility tours to on-site hiring events, experiences strengthen relationships and pave the way for success.


Aubree Weiley, Director at Bridges From School To Work, highlights a crucial ingredient in the recipe for success: trust. “It’s the trust earned by showing up for each other that makes these partnerships work,” says Aubree. The most successful relationships are built over time, fostered by dedicated team members who become a central point of contact. This personal connection is the bedrock of trust, ensuring that partnerships flourish and withstand the test of challenges.

“We like an employer that’s willing to take advantage of all we offer; coming to our events, seeing our mission in action and all the different facets we serve or will do outside the job itself.” - Nicolette, Director of Jobs, Best Buddies

Summing Up 


Whether you’re starting with a first referral hire, a training program, or a retention game plan, you are laying the foundation to access a broader pool of talent and skills. As you navigate this landscape, remember you have experienced partners and peers to lean on. 


"Our most successful employer partners share several key traits and practices that stand out... Open communication and multiple contacts within these companies ensure lasting relationships. A formal commitment to hiring, outlined in our agreements, allows for precise planning and progress tracking. This mix of engaged leadership, transparency, and mutual goals underpins our strongest partnerships." Pam Tully, Skills for Chicagoland’s Future

Connecting with those who've walked the talk and successfully implemented similar programs can be a game-changer. So, don't be shy—reach out, swap stories, and pick up those valuable insights. Tom Vranas of Zentro Wireless advises, "Every business should be working with these organizations. The only thing holding an employer back is their lack of understanding and fear that you’re taking a little bit of a risk, but that’s it."


Here are a few key takeaways from this chapter -- 


  • Consider starting on the small side, capturing lessons learned, and then building on success by adding positions or training programs 

  • In forging a strong partnership, focus on results, collaborate around strategies, and communicate intentionally 

  • Think beyond short-term transactions to foster relationships that last 


Embrace the journey, lean into the learning, and get ready to celebrate the amazing transformations ahead!


Responsibility Chart

Here's a tool you can use to help plan the launch of your expanded talent program. A "RACI" or "ARCI" chart lets you assign levels of responsibility to various tasks.


  • A=Accountable: Is charged with ensuring the task Is completed successfully (one and only one person should be accountable for each task)

  • R=Responsible: Executes the task

  • C=Consulted: Is consulted about the best way to go about executing the task

  • I=Informed: Is provided with information about the task


Here is a sample RACI chart for the Launch and Build phase of your expanded talent strategy.





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