Ever-increasing international competition and a lack of promising young employees capable of taking leadership positions within the company are two of the factors that encourage employers to seek young talent. Today, the vast majority of the 37 Russian companies on the Forbes 500 list have adopted programmes to reach out to talented young people, including Young Talent Management Programmes (YTMP).
However, little is known about Russian companies' experience in managing young talent, e.g. what they mean by young talent and how exactly they manage it.
Veronica Kabalina and her European colleagues Maral Muratbekova-Turon and Marion Festing set out to fill this gap. They have conducted a qualitative study of 12 companies, including two government-owned companies, two companies privatized after 1991, two private companies set up after 1991, and six foreign companies operating in Russia – in fact, all of these companies own foreign assets and can thus be regarded as international.
A total of 45 interviews were conducted: 16 with the companies' HR officers and 29 with employees identified as ‘young talent’ by their companies.
To be selected for YNMP as young talent, an employee must meet certain eligibility criteria; their employment record in the chosen area should not exceed 2 or 3 years, and they should either have a degree or be a senior undergraduate student at a university.
However, despite these established criteria for defining an employee as young talent, the study found that companies have problems with the concept of 'talent' – in fact, managers often refuse to see someone who has been with the company for just one year as talented but instead associate professional success with a position in the company’s hierarchy or with work experience and seniority.
This contradiction is not the only problem. In addition to that, the word 'talent' in the Russian language tends to mean a natural gift associated primarily with art and creativity rather than a corporate career. In the context of YTMPs, however, employers define 'young talent' as someone who has the ability and ambition to succeed and with good career potential.
Ironically, young employees' starting level of education is of minor importance, even though employers tend to seek out graduates of the leading and most prestigious universities with the assumption that the school would already have screened out weaker candidates. As to graduates’ prior training, as one respondent put it, "... formal training in our area of expertise is already lagging behind and will become obsolete five years from now."
Сompanies regularly select candidates for their YTMPs; each of the studied companies with regional branches selects between 50 and 100 candidates each year, or between 1% and 2% of all applicants, according to the researchers.
Following selection, companies involve the young employees in various activities such as training courses in both generic and technical skills, and in mentoring programs led by managers at all levels. According to one respondent, each top manager in her company is a mentor to 4 or 5 young employees. In addition, members of young talent programmes get to meet with their companies' global CEOs once or twice a year during special business breakfasts.
The ultimate goal is to grow potential leaders capable of responding to the challenges of fast growing businesses and contributing to their development.
The study's authors note in particular that there is no way anyone can be selected for a young talent programme through personal contacts. "This is evidence that certain companies go about promotions in a manner different from the common practices of building senior management teams in Russia," the study concludes.
However, the current procedures for selection for, and implementation of, YTMPs are not perfect in terms of efficiency and impact. Earlier studies have shown that even for high-ranking senior staff, let alone young employees, predicting how they perform in a new role is extremely difficult. In addition, employees considered talented may rely on networking within the company, yet may be unable to perform at the same level once transferred to another company due to the loss of social capital.
In fact, performance assessment of the programme and its participants was the least covered topic in the interviews. This, according to the study's authors, may mean that such practices are not yet sufficiently developed. The researchers also believe that methods of assessing young talents' potential may be a promising area for future research, since today’s young talent is mainly assessed using techniques designed for experienced employees.