Banks Back Juniors to Manage Retention

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'Talent management' is the latest catch phrase for employee retention, but has anything really changed in the delicate art of redeploying 'talent' from one area to another?

Yes and no. On the one hand, banks including Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch are making it easier than ever for employees to alter their career paths. Still, the playing field is not entirely level, with more experienced professionals sometimes finding fewer opportunities.

Not Everyone is a Contender

An overly defined niche-not to mention a nicely filled out paycheck-can conspire against an employee seeking an internal job change. Repackaging an employee is easier with more junior staff.

At a large European investment bank, job board positions typically don't surpass the VP level. The theory, says the head of human resources, is that for jobs more senior than that an internal candidate would have already been identified.

And while your firm might encourage you to make an internal move, be aware that your reputation can precede you in an unpleasant way. 'The longer you're at a company, the more you can get typecast-that can be good if you're on a fast track, and bad if you get pigeonholed with skills of a certain kind,' says John Challenger, CEO of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

'Or, they may know too much about you, your warts, and you don't have the clean slate that you have when you go to a new company and they think here is our golden person to solve all of our problems,' Challenger says.

No Cubicle, No Calculator at Merrill

At Merrill Lynch, talent development programs have been put on the fast track.

'Since the nineties, we've been focusing increasingly on the talent pipeline and talent development,' says Terry Kassel, who became Merrill's Head of Global Human Resources in 2001 after a long career as an employment lawyer in the general counsel's office there.

There are three major components to Merrill's approach. 'First and perhaps most fundamentally, there is a deep talent assessment process at all levels of the organization, from Associate VP to VP, up to director and MD ranks,' she explains. 'We create a development plan for each one of those individuals and try to identify their next job and the time frame in which they may need to move, because they may need some help in developing different skills.'

A second part of Merrill's program, says Kassel, is convincing managers to cooperate in a process that may result in the loss of key employees. 'Part of their review is whether they can recruit, develop and move talent internally within the organization. What they do with their talent matters in their performance, leadership model and paycheck,' she says.

Finally, a job posting site and special networks aimed at women and minorities further the goal of advertising internal opportunities-at times resulting in an unexpected (and welcome) bounty of opportunities for employees.

Shannon Murray, a 26-year-old associate in Merrill's investment banking strategy group, is on her third position since graduating from Merrill's finance and accounting analyst program in the chief financial office in 2002. After finishing the program, she went from a position involving financial planning and analysis in the global markets and investment banking group, to a business development slot within a new group in corporate business finance, to her current position, which she says 'is a step out of finance, but it was completely accepted and promoted by both sides.'

'I wasn't expecting it exactly,' she said about the proactive career development at Merrill Lynch. 'Before joining Merrill, I was sort of expecting, 'Here's your cube, here's your calculator...' Murray says her experience at Merrill isn't unique among her 30 colleagues in the class of 2001 analyst program. 'Almost every one is in a different position than they were a year or so ago,' she says, describing an active email network created by HR that circulates among 'alumni' that regularly funnels news of job openings.

That said, internal candidates who want to move should have realistic expectations. 'Between businesses there is a fair amount of specialization,' cautions Kassel. 'A portfolio manager is not necessarily a trader, and a banker is not a salesman or derivative design product specialist. Recognize that whenever you're talking about financial services you're talking about a small group of jobs that have the potential to be interchanged.'

The Goldman Touch

Two years ago, Goldman Sachs implemented its first internal mobility website. Nearly all the firm's vacancies are posted there.

'You need to be at the firm for 18 months, or one year in your current job, before applying,' explains Joe Mella, a Vice president and the Global Head of Recruiting. The first interview is confidential, with no notification owed to the employee's current manager. 'It's helped us tremendously with those who are quite nervous to tell people they're looking for a change.'

According to Mella, the website is merely the latest development in a strongest tradition of recycling talent. 'Here we hire people for a career,' says Mella. 'Moving people around internally has been around as long as I can remember, but repackaging an employee is obviously easier at junior levels,' he says. Mella himself joined the firm in 1987 and held various roles in accounting, finance and IT before stepping into human resources three years ago, where he was charged with recruiting experienced hires.

David Crawford, a Vice President in Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs, who worked in the controller's department for seven years before making the leap into recruiting, says that the firm's cross-divisional projects are at least as useful-networking-wise-as internal job postings. 'Community teamwork is encouraged,' he says. 'It's probably just the overall culture of the firm to get involved in many different things.'

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