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Why Graduates Should Be Performance Managed Differently

‎Anne Hamill is the Director of Talent & Potential Consultancy. For this blog series, we’ve asked her to share her thoughts on the performance management of graduates. 

When I ask people about how they performance manage their graduates, they often tell me: “Oh, the same way as we manage our other members of staff”.

In practice, this usually means assessing how well objectives have been met, and it may also involve using the company’s competency framework.

Now, I hold pretty strong views on performance management for graduates – especially if they are on a rotational scheme. My view is that if you use the normal corporate process you could be wasting your chance to shape this key early talent.

This is because graduates on schemes are not ordinary members of staff. Here’s why:

  • You’ve invested more in them, so you need to manage them as a group for whom you have high ambitions. Based on Association of Graduate Recruiters figures, the investment into graduates is at least £80K and in the region of £150K for rotational graduates, and up to £250K for global graduates. You invest in marketing, recruitment and selection. You invest in a graduate team. You pay a premium on salaries and increments. Yet on rotational schemes, graduates never become experienced workers because every 6 months they start a new learning curve.
  • Graduates on rotation schemes require skills to succeed that are completely unlike those in a permanent role. No one else in the company moves every 6 months over 2 years. No one else has these primary objectives: to fit in and get off the ground fast; pick up a high-level knowledge of different aspects of the business; find ways to add value in a short time frame; build a network, and use that network to accelerate their career.
  • Because they are frequently moving on, graduates’ objectives can be completely different from those of other staff. Managers may set objectives based on ‘nice to have’ projects – and these can be lacking in stretch. You need a performance management system that tracks goal setting and makes managers accountable for the level of challenge. Otherwise, graduates can become very frustrated about peers who are rated higher on easier objectives.
  • Graduates (including direct-to-role graduates) also differ from other members of staff in that they are highly selected, often ambitious and expect to succeed due to their track record of success. But they are also completely unprepared for the ambiguous, constantly changing, multiple stakeholder worlds of work. Performance management is the most powerful tool you have to shape everyone’s behaviour towards that of a high flier.

The best argument for graduate-specific performance management lies in results. We helped the National Grid introduce a graduate-specific performance management scheme based on our hard research into graduate high fliers. Result: the next year, National Grid shot up 12 places to 2nd place in the Jobcrowd rankings. The level of challenge their graduates experienced increased by 16%. Overall ratings of performance went from a dramatically skewed distribution (60% of graduates received the top rating, and nearly 40% the second rating) to a more normal distribution that allowed targeted help to be given to anyone who was slipping behind.

I’m personally very excited about how the research on graduate high performance can be woven into technology. Combining an intuitive, social, slick mobile interface with the results of hard research into the exact behaviours typical of high fliers, offers a huge opportunity to actively shape graduates. This could dramatically increase the numbers of high fliers. And if we can create more high fliers, that’s got to be good – both for the company and for them.