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Tips for communicating advancement opportunities to employees

Recruiting talent is only half the battle for Mike Folino, associate director of nutrition services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. Once he’s attracted good employees, providing clear opportunities for advancement can help retain them—but knowing when to bring up the topic in conversation can be tricky. business ladder climbing illustration

Prior to hiring

Folino likes to touch on advancement during the initial interview process, but the extent to which he does so changes case by case. “I have had interviews where we knew right away that we needed to discuss our structure and growth opportunities in order to attract the candidate,” he says. “And then there are interviews where we assess the resume and provide an overview of opportunities.” During times of low unemployment especially, talking about advancement opportunities upfront can be more of a selling point, he says.

On the job

It’s also appropriate to revisit advancement once an employee has mastered his or her current role, Folino says. To best illustrate the process, Folino lays out the organizational chart and highlights different areas within the department, from retail to production kitchen to patient feeding. “I always like to mention what the natural growth progression would be, based on the position,” he says, but discussing the department as a whole can open up sightlines for both the director and the employee. “In some cases, we might recognize a fit that the candidate isn’t even aware of.”

It can help to present more than one path, Folino says, especially if he recognizes that an employee has a skill set that could apply to another area. “We will try to send out some feelers to see if it is something they might be interested in,” he says. “A chef might identify they like numbers, so we will get them some projects with food costing or recipe standardization to let them explore an area before transferring completely.”

Formal advancement plans are a highly visible way to show employees the opportunity to move up, and Wexner’s chef intern program is a prime example. “This allows our frontline employees without formal training to apply to an internship program where they will fill a chef line in our kitchen, and we provide support [and] training … to make them successful,” he says. The program gives staffers who aren’t able to return to school an opportunity for on-the-job training.

In the future

It’s an unfortunate reality that, for some employees, making that next move up the ladder could mean pursuing an outside opportunity. “We have tried to create a nice ladder so that doesn’t have to occur, but the reality is that you can’t cover everything,” Folino says. “It then becomes our goal to sell the individual on returning to us at some point.” 

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