Building Talent at Slalom

“To be the champion of your customer, you must first be the champion of your own people.”
—Sr. Richard Branson

Talent: The Starting Gate

There are many talent challenges facing organizations today, like retention, engagement, and knowledge transfer. A strong company culture helps Slalom Consulting navigate many of these challenges; our consultants are experienced, passionate people and our employee value proposition enables us to attract and retain the best consultants in the industry. But like many growing companies, we want to ensure that we’re investing in our talent, developing leaders for the future, and keeping our skills on the cutting edge.

Slalom Consulting—Nicola Russell

Nicola Russell is the Director of Slalom’s Talent Management group, which exists to develop and grow Slalom employees via innovative learning, career, and leadership development solutions. She is based in Seattle.

Our company’s success rests on our consultants’ knowledge, skills, and abilities, and our leaders believe strongly that our people are our greatest asset. Nurturing that talent is the driving purpose of Slalom’s talent strategy; in all we do, we strive to enable our consultants to grow professionally and provide ever greater value and service to our clients. To that end, Slalom recently formed a Talent Management team to focus on employee development, including talent selection, learning, career development, leadership, and performance management.

We’re building many of our programs and initiatives from the ground up, and in this blog series we’ll share the lessons we’re learning along the way about the importance of managing and growing talent- the last great competitive frontier.

Name that Competency
In building a talent strategy, a key initial step is to identify the company-specific competencies that will become the foundation for all other talent practices. Slalom consultants consistently demonstrate a set of characteristics and behaviors that enable their success and differentiate us as a community.  Those qualities are unique to Slalom and include specific behaviors, like looking around the corner to anticipate situations and stay ahead of trends. While everyone in the company could recognize those characteristics in our consultants, until recently we had never formally defined them.

We knew we could help ensure future success in our business by taking the time to identify what behaviors drove our past successes. It’s worth the time it takes to discover what these are. Done well, competencies promote consistent, well-understood criteria to aid in hiring, development, performance management, and promotion decision processes. Without clarity regarding the kinds of differentiating behaviors high performers exhibit, the behaviors that ultimately enable a company’s success, organizations will very likely suffer from the effects of less effective hiring and promotion decisions. They also run the risk of investing in learning and employee development solutions that offer no tangible business results.

The process of naming these behaviors at Slalom was extremely rewarding. Rather than using generic characteristics that you might see anywhere, we chose to include only those that are differentiating at Slalom.  Leaders and consultants across the company weighed in to ensure that the language used echoes the culture and spirit of the company. The final list of core and leadership competencies is truly a reflection of the unique behaviors that make our consultants stand out and enable our company’s success. Look for future blog posts to provide more detail on competencies and how to identify and align them in your organization.

Learn. Grow. Lead.

Other pillars of our talent strategy include Learning, Career, and Leadership Development, or ‘Learn. Grow. Lead’. We’ll delve into each of these in more detail in future posts, but below is a peek into each area.

Connecting employees so that they can learn together is a great way to build community and make the most of the knowledge that’s already present in your organization. The challenge for most of us is how to do that efficiently, especially when employees are busy and work in multiple locations. Classroom training may no longer be the most efficient way to deliver learning, but an abundance of new technology makes it easier to provide learning wherever people are.

With consultants across the country, we needed a scalable way to connect everyone in a learning environment and provide them with on-demand resources.  We decided to utilize a virtual classroom approach for the majority of our internal learning programs. Consultants from multiple offices can learn together in a virtual environment, removing the restrictions of a physical classroom and allowing our thought leaders to share their deep expertise across offices and geographies. While we’re also delivering local, interactive classroom sessions and eLearning where appropriate, the virtual classroom will connect our consultants with the broader community of Slalom learners. Making it easier for employees to learn is a win all around- it raises the bar on the collective IQ, spreads knowledge around the company, encourages innovation and increases competitive advantage.

In an industry where everyone is competing for great talent, providing flexible ways for employees to grow is a key differentiator. Our career model is unique in consulting and encourages our employees to chart their own paths based on what’s important to them, rather than pushing everyone up the same ‘up or out’ career ladder. Our consultants take on new challenges when they are ready, and they appreciate the flexibility of pursuing the roles and capabilities that interest them the most.

We try to provide a sense of autonomy and the chance to achieve mastery in whatever areas people are passionate about.  Initiatives that provide continued challenge and development without the pressure to change roles can enhance engagement and provide a great employee experience for our consultants.  As the world moves away from ladder-based career models, organizations that provide more flexible paths for growth will be have a strong advantage in both finding great people and keeping them.

It’s hard to know where to start with leadership development; all levels of management need coaching and support, so it’s tempting to try and focus on everyone at once. We’re fighting that urge and following industry best practices by focusing first on the most senior leaders, aligning each level as the learning flows down and leaders teach other leaders. Each office’s General Manager participates in a year-long executive leadership program that blends in-person workshops, self-directed modules, action learning projects, peer support, and personal coaching. A similar nine-month program for Directors will be released soon, led by the General Managers. We’re excited that our top leadership team is so engaged in growing the emerging leaders around them, and we believe this commitment will have a profound effect on both our teams and our business.

Growing an organization’s talent is a tremendous calling and a great responsibility. While the role of Talent Management is to create and support the processes of employee development, the true accountability for growing people and helping them deliver results ultimately belongs to leaders and managers. If we can enable them to help our consultants learn, grow, and lead every day, our business will succeed and so will we.

About Nicola Russell
Nicola Russell is the Director of Slalom’s Talent Management group, which exists to develop and grow Slalom employees via innovative learning, career, and leadership development solutions. She is based in Seattle.

One Response to Building Talent at Slalom

  1. Jennifer M says:

    Fantatic article. I would like to talk with you more about webinar speaking opportunities at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: