For this newsletter issue, we handed the reins over to a team of Customer Success experts at SV Academy who asked their recent graduates, "What will it take for you to stay at your company for the next 2-3 years?"
SV Academy prepares job seekers for an entry-level position in Business Development and Customer Success in weeks. But what makes SV Academy such a uniquely strong organization is the fact that 76% of their 2,000+ grads belong to an underrepresented group.
Here's what the team at SV Academy came to understand about how to retain top underrepresented talent. Take note.
We asked our Customer Success Program graduates employed within the last year what their company could do to make them stay another 2-3 years.
Across 34 individuals who responded, 84% were non-white, and 65% were female or non-binary. The top two resounding responses were:
- Clear career growth and promotion opportunities
- A transparent path to higher compensation
Respondents also reported other top retention initiatives including:
- the importance of fostering connections,
- better training, and
- improved work-life balance (including the ability to work hybrid or remote).
The overwhelming theme, however, revolved around the need to feel like a company is sincerely committed to its employees’ financial and career growth. And companies can implement many new practices to ensure career growth is fairly applied to the entire workforce.
Finding Inclusive Solutions To Career Advancement and Pay-Scaling
Wherever you sit in an organization, there are immediate steps you can take to ensure promotions and pay increases are transparent and equitable, and that the overall culture values the contribution of all individuals.
Change starts at the top. Here are some solutions to implement at the company level:
#1 Revamp company infrastructure to prioritize inclusivity.
- Review HR processes for systemic and unconscious bias. (This is its own topic, but many consultants specialize in this work.)
- Advocate for diversity in senior leadership roles across the company and on the board.
- Redefine professionalism for the company, making it more inclusive.
- Create a mentorship program to ensure all individuals have someone senior to them at the company who can guide/support them.
#2 Create salary bands that meet or exceed industry standards.
- Have defined salary bands, normalized to clearly-defined levels, and compared to industry standards.
- Schedule milestones (at least yearly) for reviewing pay, and clear criteria for how those decisions are made.
#3 Ensure there is clear and transparent career pathing.
- Set levels with clear, measurable achievements for growth. Communicate those clearly to employees, and work with managers to coach employees on what they need to show in their role specifically to move to the next level.
- Look out for places where self-promotion could outweigh actual achievement.
- Consider moving away from experience-based levels, as those often undervalue the career experience of employees who have upskilled or shifted careers. Focus instead on achievements or skills exhibited.
#4 Think about benefits more inclusively.
- Tech companies especially have prioritized the “cool” and "fun" benefits. However, our survey respondents wanted something more beneficial.
- Think about how your company can make work easier for people with different backgrounds and different family and community commitments. (e.g. return to office might be harder for families with young children whose daycares still have shortened hours or unreliable closures, while remote work could be challenging for younger individuals living with many roommates or family)
Take the framework you've started at the company level and apply it to your company's management, including yourself.
- Check on your leadership.
- How is your leadership team making promotion decisions? Are criteria clear and measurable
- How are they distributing work? Is everyone on the team getting a chance to take on the projects that could help them earn a promotion, or are opportunities given to just certain hand-raisers?
- What biases do they bring? We all have biases. How can we be more aware of how those color our decision-making?
- Whose work are they rewarding? Do you see patterns in those you manage?
- Check in on your own role in skip-level promotions.
- If you have to approve promotions, what are your initial reactions to who should and shouldn’t advance?
- Which of your leaders' team members are you keeping your eye on, and why? Might others be doing good work more quietly that you haven’t seen?
- Can your leaders clearly communicate to you their criteria for decision-making on promotions? Is it measurable, and also communicated to their teams?
- Work hard to create a diverse leadership team.
- Ask yourselves the same questions you’re asking your managers. Here are some common themes that can catch people—
- Do you tend to promote or hire leaders who work as you do?
- Are you waiting for leaders to “show themselves,” or “step into the role” before you consider them for it? Remember, some of your top performers might not feel it’s “their place” to “overstep.” Others might push themselves to do so, but be met with pushback that others from different backgrounds might experience.
- Are you prioritizing leaders you’ve worked with before, or from outside, when there might be another individual internally who can do the work? Is there an internal employee who could move into a leadership role that you’d otherwise hire externally for? What kind of support would they need to move into that position?
If you manage even one person, create a culture of transparency with direct reports to encourage career growth within the company.
- Have quarterly milestone meetings. Create a deliberate plan that outlines the possible trajectory or growth path for the ICs career. Include your direct report in putting together the plan, and make sure it includes clear and measurable achievements, ideally that map to the company’s career pathing.
- Conduct regular performance reviews. Make sure feedback shared is constructive, objective, and not a surprise—this is a good way to test if you’re giving constant feedback. Make it a two-way street—ask how you can better support your team, and if your direct reports have feedback for you. Not comfortable asking face to face? Run surveys or open up ways for people to give asynchronous feedback.
- Keep an open mind. Pay attention to the voices you’re hearing and listening to. Is everyone sharing their perspective? If someone shares an idea, request, or suggestion, are you open to it or do you instantly hesitate, falling back on some unconscious bias?
- Distribute work, especially high-profile work, evenly. How do you decide who takes on what work (or clients, or projects, or speaking)? Are you constantly relying on the same hand-raisers? Encourage team members to step up to projects that might get them more cross-team visibility or prep them for career advancement.
- Advocate for your direct reports. People have different comfort levels with self-promotion, and bias affects how others view that promotion. It’s your job to make sure your team members’ achievements are acknowledged across the organization. Practice this often, using specific, business-outcomes-oriented examples.
Ensuring fair and transparent pay and growth opportunities benefits every single employee. Luckily, targeted, intentional changes to create a true meritocracy are achievable and will go a long way to supporting individuals from all backgrounds as you work to maintain top talent.
The best resources for Customer Success teams this week
Join Me at the CS100 Summit Conference Sept. 27-29
There’s 11 seats left for the CS100 Summit in Sundance, UT. Come check out Silicon Slopes and meet top Success thought leaders like Maranda Dziekonski, Eugene Lee, Aaron Thompson, Kristi Faltorusso, and more.
Why CS Has the Best Opportunity to Hire, Retain, and Promote More Black Leaders
Customer Success, especially at the leadership level, is predominantly White. This piece wasn’t written to highlight a problem, though. We wrote it in partnership with the CS community last year to share tactics that will result in better hiring, retaining, and promoting Black team members.
Good Interviewer/Bad Interviewer
”Good interviewers understand that interviewing is as much about identifying talent as it is about attracting talent — they’re talent scouts and talent magnets.” Here’s a useful post for anyone who is part of the interviewing process (or wants to be). Because above all else, getting the right people to join your company and team is the most important thing you can do.
Customer Success in the Age of Uncertainty
In this piece, Peter Armaly, VP of Success at ESG, shares his clear-eyed perspective on what Customer Success teams face and how they should be thinking about their situation in this economic downturn. “Your customers are still invested in what your company offers. They still need your solutions and your help. All of what you need is in your control. You just have to start building and executing so that you can prove that what you do matters.”