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Unlock the potential of your graduates with coaching and mentoring


Graduates are a precious resource for any organisation and with the right nurturing they can become talented and loyal employees. Carole Gaskell, CEO and founder of Full Potential Group, examines how coaching can be an effective part of graduate retention.

Graduates join organisations with high hopes and expectations for a long lasting and fulfilling career. They are energetic, creative, excited and want to do an outstanding job.

However, they often arrive in organisations with a naïve view and a big opinion of themselves; after all they have probably achieved a good degree from a top university. Moving into the world of work requires graduates to change their identity – they move away from being a scruffy, academic student to becoming a smart, dynamic, young professional. In addition to these personal changes they are asked to face huge business challenges which they may not have the skills or experience to deal with, including managing older staff.

“after a period of rapid growth, graduates can often leave an organisation”

The first two to three years of a graduate’s working life is spent in growing, adapting, and meeting these huge growth opportunities. After this period of rapid growth, graduates can often leave an organisation, with employers feeling frustrated at the poor returns on their investment.

To put it bluntly, they now know your company, with all its advantages and faults, and the desire to explore the ‘green grass on the other side of the fence’ can be tempting unless they have a strong reason to remain with your organisation. They need to be convinced that there is potential for them to develop in the business, that they are being continually stretched, and that their manager and other senior line managers continue to take an active interest in them and their development. Also, do not underestimate the value staff in their 20s place on a good social life within the workplace.
So what action can organisations undertake in order to ensure:

   1. Graduates handle the huge personal changes encountered in moving from student to professional employee and manager?
   2. They achieve success early, both for themselves and for the organisation?
   3. Your valuable investment in their training and development remains with you longer than the initial 2-3 years?

The answer is an integrated approach. Line managers and senior managers need to be experienced in coaching skills and to actively recognise the high potential of graduates. They have a responsibility to recognise the value of providing timely and constructive feedback in order to help graduates raise their game and become aware of their strengths, weaknesses and developmental areas. Coaching in the moment is also critical. Line managers must coach on the job, every day to help embed behaviours and must accept that they should devote more of their time to supporting graduates to help with their development.

Organisational reward and recognition processes need to be in place to ensure that good performance is recognised and acknowledged in order for graduate to feel their efforts are being valued and appreciated.

Consider one-to-one coaching for your graduates. Graduates who are being coached will recognise that the organisation is making an investment in them to help them achieve their full potential right from the start of their career. Through coaching they will increase their self-awareness and the impact of their actions on others.

“an executive coach multiplies the rate of personal development”

Coaching can provide new skills and techniques – from models to help deal with difficult conversations to questioning and listening skills – all delivered ‘just-in-time’ to meet their current challenges. Also, at a time in their career when they may not feel comfortable admitting to doubts and weakness to their line manager, they will benefit from having access to a confidential and experienced coach. It is estimated that having access to the resources of an executive coach multiplies the rate of personal development and effectiveness by three.

Providing graduates with a mentor from within the organisation but ‘outside of the line’ is also beneficial. Having access to a senior person in the business will help graduates to deal with the realities of work as well as understand more about the business. Many graduates enter work with a certain degree of naivety and high ethnical values. A mentor can help the graduate to make the necessary adjustments without dampening their enthusiasm or creativity by providing a broader perspective and understanding of the organisation. Whatever happens, organisations are required to focus on graduate development beyond the short term in order to maximise their initial investment.

Ultimately adopting both coaching and mentoring in this way leads to a more engaged company climate with leaders having greater impact, a culture of high-performance, and an environment in which all of the experience and skills that exist within the organisation are leveraged for maximum effect.

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