Friday Rant: Investing in the Best & Brightest to Nurture Corporate Loyalty — Back to the Future

Ask any professional business person over 50 what's changed most in their work arena over the past 20 years and you're very likely to hear a bluesy tale about how no one stays in one place for long and that corporate and employee loyalty have become oxymoronic. I'm in the age group to which I refer and believe that these supposed lost values have impacted corporations to a far greater degree than the careers of those they've failed to retain.

Sure, there was a time when the majority of the business work force spent their entire lives with one, or maybe two, companies, and I suppose that this fostered an almost communal sense of stability and security. But it also, most assuredly, presented a limited culture of opportunity for career growth while waiting for a superior to retire or die. I can even recall receiving resume advice to separately explain why, if any previously held position lasted for less than five years. As an old uncle of mine was fond of saying: "They don't make 'em like they used to-- and thank God they don't"

The corporate challenge of attracting very bright and promising human capital is perhaps only surpassed by the competitive contest to retain them. Yesterday's WSJ reports that "As a means of attracting stellar young hires, an increasing number of firms in finance, consulting and technology are shepherding employees through the graduate-school admissions process by organizing and paying for test-preparation courses, inviting admissions consultants to help with applications, arranging mock interviews with senior staffers and even bringing school representatives to information sessions at the office." The dominant destination, of course, is B-School. And this paternalistic leg up to imbue these wunderkinds with the language and various academic disciplines of business doesn't end with the admissions process.

The Journal claims "It may seem counterintuitive to encourage employees to head for the exits, but firms say that assisting with the graduate-school application process leads to long-term loyalty and, with strings attached to tuition money, improves the chances that employees will return after graduation. (Most companies reimburse employees only after they've been back for a number of months or even years.)" When I was at Wharton in the pre-laptop and pre-cell phone era, there were always a handful of envied students on leave and sponsored by the companies they worked for. They were typically a bit older and I recall that they too envied the other students, but because they were not indentured to employers after graduation.

This seems like a rather noble, bold and risky corporate strategy unless it's just one aspect of a much more inclusive developmental mentoring program. Just as these companies are seeking customized classes from GMAT prep providers for their employees, I'm surprised that they haven't also pursued a more formal combination of on-line and real-time collaboration with business schools so that these junior future execs might work part-time and pursue a graduate degree part-time without taking a leave of absence. I'm certain that there are a number of very good B-Schools that would jump at the opportunity.

Such a collaborative structure would be a far more intense, nurturing, and loyalty engendering educational experience. And what the heck, offering similar quasi in-house educational opportunities to other employees might produce even greater corporate returns.

- William Busch

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