After things slowed down following a period of rapid growth and expansion, Genentech created a career lab to enhance development options for employees and keep them engaged.
by Katie Kuehner-Hebert
November 4, 2014
After the rapid-fire approval and launch of several new drugs starting in 2003, biotech company Genentech Inc. quickly ramped up operations. Dramatic growth created many opportunities for employees at the South San Francisco, California, firm to move into new positions, but once the growth rate returned to normal, employees voiced concern: Would there still be opportunities available for them to develop?
To keep them engaged — and from leaving — Don Kraft, Genentech’s director of HR career and learning, said leaders had to change the existing mindset that up was the only way to go. “Career opportunities can be lateral, they can be vertical, they can be a job assignment, they can be working on a global project for a period of time, and they can even be developing in your current role over period of time.”
In 2008, Denise Smith-Hams, former vice president of human resources, came up with an idea to create a career center to provide resources for employees to develop in place rather than rely on new roles as the sole source for development. This center also would be useful for managers conducting career conversations with their employees.
“In many companies, employees are told their career is their responsibility. Their manager is not responsible for mapping out their career trajectory,” said Smith-Hams, now an HR consultant and mediator. “That sounds good, but most employees don’t really understand what that means. They don’t know what do to first, or how to think about what they may want over the next five to 10 years.”
The team conducted research on employee preferences as well as best practices and benchmarking to determine the most effective approach. “Navigating Your Career Framework” was the result, and the program was designed to instill in employees a sense of ownership for their careers while providing necessary tools and support resources.
The CareerLab Is Born
During its research the learning team discovered face-to-face career consulting was particularly effective. Now, career consultants help employees take charge of their own development, said Steven Kowalski, principal of executive talent development, who led the design of the CareerLab.
He said Genentech wanted to create a virtual as well as physical place where people could reflect on their strengths as well as what they want to develop. “We really wanted people to think about their options. Where is their passion? Their genius? Some people also realize they don’t have to leave their current role to find new opportunities. For others, the consultants may help them create roles that didn’t exist before.”
Now more than 12,000 employees globally have virtual access to the CareerLab. Its certified experts understand the biotech industry, and provide employees with three 45-minute confidential career consultations, either in-person or via phone. The CareerLab also developed higher-level, one-on-one consultations for managers, which include spot coaching as well as traditional career consulting.
CareerLab launched in 2009 and provides four services: one-on-one career consultations; “LearningLabs,” or 90-minute webinars; a mentoring program; and a CareerLab website with resources on how to create development plans that include career goals and to how to have these conversations with managers. The website also offers a suite of online assessment tools.
Before it hit its stride, the CareerLab had to get full buy-in across the organization that its consultative approach to improving employees’ career development skills was consistent with Genentech’s overall career development philosophy. Kraft’s team also had to work to dispel any stigma about getting career development support, a challenge mitigated by advertising that consultations would remain confidential.
During the past few years, the LearningLabs have been redesigned as interactive webinars to be more scalable and reach wider audiences across Genentech’s North American operations. Designed to be about two hours, these instructor-led virtual courses — “You Inc. II: Managing Your Brand,” “Leveraging Strengths for Career Engagement” and “Networking for Career Growth” — have been well-received, with employee enrollment increasing from a few hundred in 2011 to more than 1,700 participants in 2012. As of the second quarter of 2014, open enrollment for LearningLabs increased by 321 percent over the same period in 2013. Level 1 evaluation data indicates a 4.4 on a 5-point scale for course overall satisfaction.
The CareerLab also conducts three workshops: “Growing Your Career,” “Growing Careers for Managers” and “Personal Mastery: Developing Your Full Potential.” These help communicate the company’s career development philosophy and provide growth options.
Christina Fox, senior manager of career development, who runs the CareerLab, said if employees want to make a lateral move or try for a promotion, the consultants help them work on the tactical steps to help them reach that goal. For example, someone in the learning and development area might want to shadow an HR business partner working with the sales and marketing department on succession planning issues. Then they could gain the skills needed to make a lateral move in HR to succession planning.
Consultants also could recommend a course to improve communication skills from a vendor, power speaking or joining a Toastmasters Club for public speaking. Because communication is a core competency for all Genentech roles, getting as much practice at public speaking as possible “will help employees feel more confident and comfortable to speak with clarity,” Fox said.
To facilitate employees looking to make a transition, development conversations could address how to role play, how to update their résumé, how to conduct an informational meeting, how to network or how to navigate organizational politics.
To make the CareerLab more accessible to remote or off-site employees, consultants trained on distance counseling. Because body language is important in communication and a lot can be lost in translation during phone calls, participants are trained to be more direct and clear in their word choice and to back it up with written communication. Consultants also can use Skype and other video options such as Google Hangout.
Because of demand from employees for career consultations, the CareerLab added two additional consultants to total eight. “It’s really about the chemistry between two people, and we’ve added diversity to the mix,” Fox said.
The team also increased the consultations employees can schedule annually from three to five, and has an automated scheduling to address the demand.
Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin, said it can be challenging for tech firms that have stabilized after explosive growth to keep employees as excited about their career development as they were when the companies were routinely promoting or creating new positions. “Larger companies have to work like the devil to fight against this,” Ryan said. But if they are creative and try to retain some of the flexibility they had when they were smaller, firms can avoid stagnation.
Career consultant appointments at Genentech’s CareerLab have steadily increased year over year. The demand increased by an average of 10 percent until 2013, then experienced a more rapid growth of more than 20 percent and is trending even higher for 2014.
Demand has grown because of increased buy-in and a better awareness of services thanks to marketing and communication efforts. Kraft said managers across the organization are also “taking a greater responsibility for having career and development conversations with employees.”
The career and learning department had a targeted marketing and communication campaign during the past year and half regarding the CareerLab, and Kraft said it’s working. Each of Genentech’s functions has requested the CareerLab have tables at career expos to distribute career development resources, leadership curriculum and learning resources related to well-being at work, and more employees are requesting CareerLab services.
Metrics show career consultation appointments increased 84 percent from second quarter 2013 to second quarter 2014, and use of LearningLab career workshop sessions rose 321 percent during that time period. Scores on employee engagement surveys related to key career and learning statements also have improved. Results of the employee opinion survey in April 2013 showed an increase in overall engagement in people focus of 17 percent and in career opportunities up 30 percent from a survey conducted in November 2011.
“We’ve aligned much of our work the last three years around how can we look at those statements in those areas of the engagement survey and help move the needle forward by providing learning and development, career development resources and even around manager effectiveness,” Kraft said.
He said during the past four years, the CareerLab has made significant improvements in its services and approach to provide best-in-class resources for all employees. The center is also working to develop career support models and resources that are flexible and anticipate evolving business needs.
Kraft’s team is now conducting an impact study on the CareerLab that includes a longitudinal study to determine how it has helped careers. His team is also measuring the effect of the mentoring program and learning labs on career development plans.
“From its inception, the CareerLab continues to be a progressive approach to career development,” Kraft said. “An increasing number of companies are now opening in-person career development centers to provide a higher-touch type of service to employees.”