The college graduation celebrations and joyful sounds of (virtual) cheers have come to a close, and you’re gearing up to start the beginning of your career at a new company – now what?
The transition from academic-life to work-life is a transformational step for most individuals. For the companies receiving these new hires this transition is an equally critical focus point as the early career experiences that a new hire has highly impact the success, differential impact, and commitment of the employee to long-term growth with the company.
I am the Associate Director of Operations for, and an alumna of, Merck’s Manufacturing Leadership Development Program (MLDP). Working along-side Global Program Director Jen Hanrahan, I have the privilege of coaching employees around the globe as they take their first career steps and embark on the next exciting chapter of their lives.
What makes for a successful career launch and a successful talent development program? Before I get there, a little bit about the MLDP:
The MLDP is a three-year rotational program focused on attracting, developing and accelerating talent in Merck’s Manufacturing and Supply Division. Hiring from five different countries and placing participants across 19 different sites in the manufacturing network, the MLDP enables candidates to learn rapidly through diverse team and rotation experiences. MLDP program participants receive direct coaching, mentoring and networking opportunities with executive leadership, completing the program with a well-rounded understanding of the division, core functional skills, and critical leadership capabilities for success. With high investment, comes high expectation – we’re looking for future leaders that bring diverse thoughts, experiences and backgrounds to the table to challenge us. Those willing to adapt to the business needs, embrace problems as opportunities, learn from others, bring fresh and unique perspectives, and ardently self-reflect for personal growth make great candidates.
If you are a potential candidate, you may be wondering, what advantages does a rotational program like this present? What are the steps that lead to success early in career, regardless of entry point? If you are a manager of early talent yourself, you may be wondering, wow, that sounds like a lot of time and energy – what are the benefits of investing in early talent and what are some of the challenges faced in developing high talent employees? While each of these questions deserves a larger discussion than can be covered here, following are a few thoughts to consider.
Community and Network
New hires: When entering your first job, there are many things flying at you at once. You may be new to the team, site, city, state, work culture, systems, or processes and the first few weeks may be filled with a mountain of information that you need to understand. It can feel like a lot to manage at once. At the same time, you feel a buzz of energy and excitement, and a desire to demonstrate what you can contribute to the team.
Our advice? Focus on building the relationships first. It is through team relationships (lateral and vertical) that you see not only the details of the work, but also the bigger picture of what your team is seeking to achieve. It is by learning from others early on (and realizing quickly just how much you have to learn!) that you can better formulate how and where you can best contribute to make an impact to the business. The benefit of having a strong development program as a launch point is that from the start you are set up with a community that accelerates your workplace transition and acclimation; a cohort of peers to bounce ideas and concerns off of, laugh and grow with, mentors at multiple levels to help you learn how to navigate the workplace, and program managers who are there to challenge you to new levels. Do companies and we as a leadership development program expect you to learn to work with a level of independence and ownership as well? Absolutely. However, collaboration and keeping an open mind are essential factors to success in today’s environment and having a strong network early on in your career can help you reach the performance and impact level that you desire sooner.
Managers: The impression you leave on your employees matters from day one. Do you remember your first day at work? At Merck I meet numerous life-time employees, many of whom have proudly shown me their badge photos from their first day, each of their faces beaming back at me full of nerves and excitement. When you prepare for your new hire to start, try to remember that feeling of anticipation and excitement to shape the day through their eyes. The environment and culture you create as you welcome new team members quickly sets their comfort level, tone, dedication and commitment to the bigger purpose you are aiming to achieve. It can be more costly in capital and morale to not invest the time, energy and passion to develop employee commitment early.
Differential Challenges and Expectations = Differential Impact
New hires: There will be times throughout your career that you, as with all of us, will feel defeated. In our rotational program, we flip this upside down – we believe that we aren’t doing our job if you aren’t facing challenges and difficulties somewhere. Our goal is to challenge you out of your comfort zone as much as possible by moving you to new environments, teams, products and work styles so that you learn to reflect, grow and get back up even faster. The more you are challenged out of your comfort zone early on, the more adept you will become at working in ambiguous situations and with shifting priorities. In addition, you will begin to better understand what drives success, thereby building your strategic thinking toolset to proactively mitigate risks and build necessary capabilities in yourself and others. In the early part of your career look for teams and managers that are willing to challenge you and set high expectations. With this support you can achieve goals that you could not have dreamed of for yourself. Last piece of advice? Pay it forward wherever you can.
Managers: High talent employees require high investment in their engagement. If you want to see a differential impact to your business you will need to set the bar high for your talent, give them the tools and support to get them started, and then get out of the way to let them run with it. Why is this so hard? In today’s world the focus and attention required for a job can be challenging to build in a group that is used to a fast-paced lifestyle where information comes in at lightning speed. It also takes time and energy to continually find new challenges for high performing employees.
Our advice? It’s time to rescope roles in the workplace with the understanding that employees might only choose to stay a short time in their first few roles, and that’s okay. By letting go of the expectation of a longer commitment, you take the weight off of yourself and your employee and are better able to focus your time and energy into the development of your team. In turn, this investment actually brings a much higher likelihood that the employee will stay committed to different roles in your area or overall organization. Not only this, but these employees will speak highly of your team, which will cause a greater amount of strong talent to come your way to fill openings and create impact quickly. In fact, you may find that this approach infuses fresh thoughts and more efficient ways of working into your business. The hardest part of investing in talent can, at times, be letting them grow into a new team. However, if you view the movement of your employees as a sign of success that you as a manager are doing your job right by accelerating the development of your employees, then watching them continue to grow can be an extremely fulfilling endeavor as a manager.
The MLDP is successful because it level sets this rapid movement approach with both the employee and the manager at the beginning of each rotation; what we see is that the energy that this approach generates creates a marked differential impact to the business and accelerated growth of the employee. Are there entry-level roles where a longer commitment is needed? Absolutely, and our employees do move into more focused roles post-program. However, as demonstrated by Merck’s recent ranking in Forbes as the fourth best employer for new graduates, even within these roles, managers at Merck find opportunities to change scope and type of work to encourage cross-collaboration and skill building, ensuring that employees continue to grow. This approach takes effort and time, but if invested correctly, will pay back multi-fold.
I would be remiss if I didn’t close by recognizing one of the most pressing and important considerations as we shape our talent recruitment and development in the workplace, which is infused in each of our program’s approaches above, a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Our company’s commitment to Diversity and Inclusion highlighted here by Celeste Warren, VP of Diversity of Inclusion at Merck, aligns to the MLDPs dedication to ensuring that our program creates a safe environment for participants to challenge us and each other to become better. Together, we are all learning, and together, we wrestle with the tough questions and conversations to create a stronger community for our employees today and in the future. Candidates, this recruitment season has and will be like none other seen before. Over the past few weeks I have met candidates that bring stories of incredible resilience and passion that inspire and humble me. I want to extend thanks to the team that I am lucky to be a part of, Jen Hanrahan, Allison Moll, and Moushmi Culver, for their dedication and commitment to this space. For all of you out there, you have overcome so much. Keep going and keep trying, we believe in you.
As the Operations Manager for the Merck Manufacturing Leadership Development Program, Mansi is responsible for the recruitment, development and acceleration of early talent across Merck’s Manufacturing and Supply division. Mansi joined Merck in 2014, progressing through roles of increasing responsibility across Technical Operations, Operations, Lean Manufacturing and Supply Planning, and Global Supplier Quality Management. Throughout her time at Merck, Mansi has played an instrumental role in launching and fostering numerous global opportunities for talent development and intrapreneurship, was nominated for the Global Supplier Management Award, and was selected for both the Emerging Women Leaders Program and Business Leadership Program. Mansi received her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a proud dog owner and daughter of two parents who gave everything so she could become something; she strives each day to make them proud and to pay it forward.